Father’s Day has always been awkward for me. The celebration of the day originated a century ago, from a land and a culture quite different from mine. The objective of the day is to honour the contributions and role of a father-figure. But what perplexes me the most is figuring out how the day’s objective can be achieved.

Commercialisation offers both an easy and an equally difficult way out.

A small gift of appreciation, convention says, to express your gratitude to your father. A card with some thoughts as well, to let your father know how you feel about him.

As the day draws close, I find myself lazing in bed and scrolling through endless online articles about Father’s Day presents I could get.

“10 Father’s Day presents he will love.”
“16 practical Father’s Day gifts your dad will actually use.”
“Father’s Day gifts that will become year-round favourites.”
“50 amazing Father’s Day gifts dads actually want.”

I’d read through descriptions of all the items listed in the articles, but then leave feeling dejected, and uninspired.

At 70, retired and unapologetically conservative in his beliefs, my father would not have needed or desired anything from these lists. A masterclass subscription would have died at the point when the TV required a connection to the internet. The smoothie blender would have ended up being blender-napped by my mother. The plush tie would eventually remain stashed somewhere deep in his wardrobe, unused, with the personalised cufflinks facing a similar fate.

What really, did my father need or even want, from me?

It made me think of the scores of items I have given him over the years, on days like and other than Father’s Day. It made me think of the things that he ended up using, and the things that he didn’t end up using.

Unfortunately, the things that he did end up using, didn’t sound particularly inspiring as Father’s Day presents. It read more like my Saturday’s errands list.

  • non-slip bathroom mats
  • low-cost exercise shirts and shorts
  • $1 reading glasses from the pharmacy
  • my old bedsheets

I felt sad after listing these household and nondescript items. The list reflected the items that my father needed the most in his life. It also reflected the passing of time, and of my father… growing old.

Behind each item given to and used by my father, was a need that surfaced recently because of something he had started losing.

Non-slip mats, because his agility and balance have deteriorated over time, and a fall in the bathroom becomes something that could change his life forever. Exercise attire, because the doctor said in an even but firm tone, that daily exercise was essential if he wanted to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s. My father had abhorred exercise in his youth.

Multiple $1 reading glasses, because his eyesight needed them. And because his mind has gradually found remembering them, difficult.

So, he litters the reading glasses liberally, everywhere. In his car, on the coffee table, on the dining table, by his bedside, in my apartment. So that when his mind forgets or when he misplaces them, there would always be a pair he had previously placed in his frequented locations, waiting right there to support him.

$1 eases the pain of misplacing an item.
$1 graces him with the ability to tell himself, that it didn’t cost much anyway.
$1 allows him to tell us, with some pride and bravado even, that misplacing yet another pair wasn’t such a big loss to him. At all.

The family would nod in agreement, and my father would steer the conversation toward the children and their recent achievements.

Interestingly, the gifting of my old bedsheets to my father epitomises my present relationship with him.

My father loves the study. It’s where he spends the most of his time at home. He reads, writes, and ponders in that space. He also uses that space to escape from the usual humdrum of life.

A disused sofa-bed from my apartment was donated to that space. That made him happy, to no end. There was finally a sofa in the study for him to rest. And sometimes, he chuckled conspiratorially to me, he would take an afternoon nap there, to escape my mother’s presence.

You need a bedsheet, I exclaimed.
You can’t possibly sleep on something that I’ve sat on countless of times!

Nonsense, he said.
I am perfectly fine with the sofa-bed, as it is. I am old.
And mind you, I slept in the jungle in my younger days.

Some exasperation followed thereafter. He refused new bedsheets, or a sofa-cleaning service, and I refused allowing him to sleep on fabric that indirectly encountered a thousand and one sidewalk benches.

Stubbornness is clearly hereditary.

Weeks later, I chanced upon something that solved the impasse. Upon getting married and moving out of my parents’ home, I had upgraded myself into a King-sized bed. The old Queen-sized bed had been placed in storage, along with its appropriately sized mattress, duvets, and bedsheets.

Not anymore, I thought to myself, as I gleefully dug into and pulled out the well-used and loved bedsheets.

The next day, I handed the bedsheets to my father in a recycled, paper takeout bag.

These are my OLD sheets, I emphasised.
They are made from bamboo and are cooling to sleep on.
They fit the sofa-bed perfectly, and are in similar tones to your sofa-bed.
You won’t be able to tell that there is a bedsheet there.
Please, just use these now.

Mmm-mmm. My father uttered, as he took the paper bag from me.
And in typical Asian style, said nothing more.

The sofa-bed never went unadorned thereafter.

These days, whenever I visit my father, I’d pop my head into his study while he played with the children outside.

I’d see my rumpled bedsheets on his sofa-bed.
Obscured by throws, but clearly used.

And I’d catch myself smiling.

Happy Father’s Day, Papa.

About Author

Ren W lives in sunny Singapore and writes about life and love. She appreciates the arts, architecture, and the little luxuries in life.

Through her posts, you will find Ren musing about her conversations with others, her observations on things occurring around her, and her views on trends developing around the world.

Ren writes casually. She occasionally eschews the rigidity and prescriptiveness of the rules of written communication, as she believes that the written form is but a poorer cousin to the intensity and expressiveness of the spoken word.