Hey Dads: Year-Long Presence Is the Best Christmas Present

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

Regardless of what you and your kids like to do, why not have Santa give you more opportunities to do them together

The best gift you can give your kids is your consistent presence. Happily, instead of buying your kids the latest junky plastic thingamabob they have their eye on, we can use Christmas (or Hanukkah) gifts as a as an excuse to purchase things that create opportunities for time together. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Buy Experiences

Research on happiness shows that money buys far more happiness if it is spent on experiences instead of things, especially experiences purchased in advance, as looking forward to a fun experience is also fun.

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. This year, I purchased a much smaller option- 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.

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. Feed 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 reasonably priced intro 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 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.

Amy and Nick love reading together, and, over the years, she bought Nick the Harry Potter and Narnia series. These books give them both the gift of a half an hour every night cuddling and reading before he goes to bed. What can be better than that?

3. Buy Games You Can Play Together

A few 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, Sorry! and Uno. I recommend buying a few family board/card games and scheduling in time to play regularly.


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

10 thoughts on “Hey Dads: Year-Long Presence Is the Best Christmas Present

  1. Exactly! Spending TIME instead of giving THINGS is perfect and will last a lot longer than any materialistic item. Love these ideas and think I’ll use one or two of them when my daughter is older and can play more. I’ll be sharing this on my social media pages! 🙂

  2. I agree that time together is precious, but it’s for this reason that I feel like a completely shitty father for choosing to offer security to my family by doing the only job I’m capable of that provides them with a roof over their head and food on the table. It’s especially times like Christmas when I feel extra rubbish about myself for not being at home as often as I would like purely down to my job. Being a soldier is hard, being a father is hard, but combine the two and you are constantly beating yourself up for sacrificing time, for longer term benefit, which is why we try to make the little time we do have together as special as possible. Some great tips on making activities special, but when I hear other dads say things like “The best gift you can give your kids is your consistent presence.” All I hear is “You’re a crappy father.” This is completely my issue, you cannot control how I interpret what you say, and I need to learn to be more positive about what I do and the time I do have with my kids, but posts like this really don’t help. What about the dads who can’t see their kids, other than every other weekend, because their mum is using them as pawn in a bitter divorce; what about the dads who don’t get to be with their kids because they are on extremely low income wages and have to take 2 jobs. Stuff like this is great in principle, but in the real world life somehow gets in the way.

    • I’m so sorry to have triggered these ferlings.

      The #1 job of a father is to provide for one’s family. So you are doing your most important job.

      Your sacrifice and service is commendable, and I thank you for it. These are lessons- service and sacrifice- you are teaching your kids in a way that few others can.

      Obviously, you have a much more difficult career for getting family time. I participated in a DOD webinar on supportinhilitary dads and was overwhelmed by the challenges you face.

      Finally, i firmly believe that having the right priorities (as you do) and doing your best under your circumstances is 95% of being a good father.

      Take care

      • And, to butt in here with my two cents….Tony, you’re an awesome father for all the reasons Scott mentioned and the fact that something like this upsets you goes to show how much you really care.

        A truly crappy dad would read the post, say “meh” and go about being a crappy dad. It’s obvious you’re a great husband and father, so don’t feel like you’re anything less man! And Merry Christmas by the way!

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