Hey Dads! This Christmas, Give the Gift of You

Our kids may want things, but they NEED time with their fathers more. This Christmas, instead of stuff, we should give our kids the opportunities to do more fun things with us. Here are a few ideas how.

Christmas is a special time for kids, but we can also use it as a way to build in more dad-and-kid time throughout the year
Christmas is a special time for kids, but we can also use it as a way to build in more dad-and-kid time throughout the year

A while ago, I wrote a piece (the most popular FWF post of 2013) in which I asked a bunch of dads how they want their kids to remember their dads and childhoods. The clear and consistent response was that dads wanted, more than anything, to be remembered as a constant, loving presence in their kids’ lives.

Buying the things on our kids’ Christmas lists is good and all, but it doesn’t really do anything to further this goal of building a childhood full of happy Dad-and-Kid memories that they can hold onto through their lives. Using Christmas as a way to purchase things that create opportunities for time together can. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Buy Games You Can Play Together

Two Christmases ago, Santa got Nick a Wii. One of the things I like about the Wii is that gameplay is accessible to adults (it also gets you moving, as opposed to sitting and pressing buttons). in the years since, Nick and I have spent countless hours playing the 12+ sports included in Wii Sports Resort, racing each other as Sonic the Hedgehog (him) and Knuckles the Echidna (me) in Sega All-Stars Racing, competing in many events in the Mario & Sonic Olympic games, and, most rewardingly, conquering the LEGO Star Wars Complete Saga together as Jedi and Padawan.

Playing these games together is often Nick’s pre-bedtime reward for finishing dinner and doing his homework, and it is a highlight of my day, too. Even now that Minecraft and other solo iPad games are creeping in, we still make time for our Wii time.

Even better than gaming together is shutting down the screen and having “family game night“. Our current favorite board/card games to play are Telestrations (a combination of Pictionary and the telephone game), Apples to Apples jr., Sorry! and Uno. I recommend buying a few family board/card games and scheduling in time to play regularly.

I hope that Nick looks back on his time playing with me fondly, and that he remembers it more than solo Minecrafting.

Nick and I at our local minor league baseball stadium. An experience we'll remember more than a typical present
Nick and I at our local minor league baseball stadium. An experience we’ll remember more than a typical present

2. Buy Things That Support Common Interests

Both Amy and I come from skiing families. A few years ago, Nick was old enough to start. For Christmas, we bought him kids’ ski lessons at Mt. Peter, a tiny ski mountain about 40 minutes north of our house. The (very reasonably priced*) lessons were every Tuesday after school from January through March, and Nick could ski for free after his lessons. I bought a Tuesday-only ski pass for myself, and for three months, each Tuesday was spent driving to Mt. Peter and back (I used these car rides to introduce my son to Elvis, the Beatles, Pat Benatar, and punk rock) and skiing together after his lessons. Time and money very well spent.

I have a friend whose son is very mechanically inclined, and every Christmas Santa gets his son one of those gonzo mechanized LEGO sets for them to work on together. The hours they spend working on these is great bonding time, and they also get a tangible reminder of their work together after the project is finished. Legos are great, but Lego sets that become father-son projects are a gift that keeps on giving. (In fact, Lego recently started a very smart ad campaign on this very theme).

Amy and Nick are into Harry Potter and she may give him her set of HP hardcovers in the next few years- a great excuse to spend time reading the books together.

Regardless of what it is that you and your kids like to do, why not have Santa bring presents that give you more opportunities to do them together?

3. Buy Experiences

Research on happiness shows that money buys far more happiness if it is spent on experiences instead of things.

A few Christmases ago, Nick’s favorite present wasn’t a toy at all, but an envelope. In it was a note stating that “We are going to Disney!” Amy and I had budgeted for this trip for a while, but this is the first Nick heard of it. That Disney trip was an incredible family vacation, and we have the memories and pictures to hold on to. I’m sure Nick doesn’t even remember he got considerably fewer gifts that year.

Yes, I know Disney is not in every family’s budget, but there are options at every price range. A much smaller option I’m considering for this Christmas is a four-pack of tickets to our local minor-league baseball team.

If you are a dad who likes the outdoors, buying a small tent for Christmas and attaching a note about when your first camping vacation will be would make for a cool present and a way to lock in a weekend dad-and-kids adventure. (plus, the tent can be used in the living room for a test run after the tree is put to the curb)

Family memberships at many cultural institutions pay for themselves in two visits. In my neck of the woods, family memberships to Storm King Arts Center, the Bronx Zoo and the NYC Botanical Gardens are very reasonable. By buying a membership, you are much more likely to spend a few Sundays over the course of the year out on a family trip, as opposed to spending the day watching your football teams lose.


Our kids may want things, but they NEED time with their fathers more.

Toys and games are great, and I’m not advocating taking the thrill of ripping away Santa’s wrapping paper from our kids, but perhaps we would all be better served by shifting the types of presents we give- less stuff more Dad-and-Kid experiences, They’ll remember the gift of your constant loving presence more than any present under the tree.

What do you think about these ideas? Any examples to share? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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* I actually use this as an example of a “Loss Leader” pricing strategy in my Intro to Business class. Mt. Peter loses potential profit on the lessons, but more than makes up for it over time with future lift tickets, rentals, food, and customer loyalty.

DISCLAIMER- I do not have any relationship with any of the brands or places mentioned in this article. I don’t roll that way.

7 thoughts on “Hey Dads! This Christmas, Give the Gift of You

  1. My dad had three girls but we all loved fishing and so did he. One year we all got fishing poles and our own tackle boxes filled with new bobbers, hooks, worms, and fishing line. On one of our first trips we all practiced how to cast and how to reel in the fish along with other important fishing tips. I think it is important to bond over hobbies that involve the whole family. Our daughter who is three currently loves to paint. So for my birthday, I wanted a paint set and blank canvasses. I was able to paint with her and draw something for her.

  2. I love these suggestions and totally agree about quality time with people who matter the most being one of the best things about Christmas. The idea of getting experiences is such a good thing and it’s what my wife got me for Christmas last year when we were about three and a half months away from becoming parents. She’d organised a weekend in Liverpool (which is only about 2 hours drive away) where we did things like go on a Beatles tour, see a comedy night and explore the city.

    For Fathers’ Day, about two months after becoming parents, we went out to lunch together and then to a pottery shop where we marked the day by decorating some plates and mugs with paint footprints (our baby son’s not our own). We’ve got a load of photos of this, which is also a great souvenir.

    • Hi Jonathan. I totally agree that you can appl this same sentient to couples time. In fact, my wife and I had our 10th year anniversary this summer and instead of gifts, we threw a huge party for our friends and family. It was a night we will remember a long time, well after a new set of earrings or whatever fades. Couple vacations are a great way to go, as well.

  3. I have a friend who’s dad always gives her a gift during Christmas of a summer vacation – her and her dad. Usually it’s white water rafting or something similar, but it’s a nice idea I’ve stored in my Father Rolodex to share with my kid when she is of age.

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