"Gift-giving . . . is a skill at which I really stink."
That's marriage therapist Robert Paul, echoing the thoughts of many a man trudging through the holiday crowds looking for a gift for his wife. What about some fancy soaps and towels? Wait, didn't she mention something about a teakettle? Grrr … I'm so bad at this. Maybe you've been in those mall-worn shoes, searching — and settling, finally — for some treasure you hope will help your wife feel loved. Perhaps you're also familiar with the underwhelming reactions to a gift that has missed the mark: the brief pause, the polite smile, the gracious "Thank you. It's very nice."
I've been there. The blue sweater. The flowery bedspread. The red teakettle. They weren't awful gifts, but I knew I could do better. Worse, I knew that she knew that I could do better.
The toaster fiasco
In his book Finding Ever After, Paul recalls a holiday when his chosen gift — an "unusually attractive" four-slice toaster — prompted the old ho-hum response from his wife, Jenni. But later that day, a friend drove up with a load of free manure for Jenni's garden. "She did a happy dance right there in the kitchen," Paul writes. "How could I have known that a pickup full of composted cow dung was the key to her heart?"
Not many guys can say that their gift lost out to a pile of cow poop. But Paul's reflections on the toaster episode are worth notice: "There are times I throw my hands up in exasperated wonder," he writes. "But I'm enthralled with the adventure of getting to know my wife. My constant learning makes her feel loved and cared for."
Constant learning. I think that's the real gift we give our wives, even if it sometimes comes wrapped in colorful paper. And this shouldn't be a skill we're totally unfamiliar with. After all, most husbands wouldn't be husbands without some modest ability to learn about a woman. But as the years of marriage tick by, we can lose some of that enthusiasm and curiosity for learning more.
Being a good gift-giver just means recalling the art of pursuit, of trying to win a girl's heart. So tune in. Pay attention. Remember comments about her interests and needs. Observe her reactions to different gadgets, clothing items and experiences that could cheer her heart or make life easier.
Write down the comments and your observations. Then, when it's time to shop, review your notes, mix in some creativity — another trait you may have neglected over the years — and pull the trigger with confidence. Practical, expected gifts are good, but think outside the wrapped box. Think experience. A weekend together in Seattle. Tickets to that play she's always wanted to go to. A pack of day passes for the local spa or pool … and a promise to hold down the fort while she's away. Whatever the gift ends up being, it's the natural result of the real gift: constant learning.
Learning is the key to gift-giving. And clearly this all happens during the 300-something days of the year that are not that December morning when you decide to do your shopping.
After all, it takes time to find a decent batch of manure.Vance Fry is a senior associate editor of Focus on the Family magazine.
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