For the first seven or eight years of my life, in addition to Christmas presents from all the usual suspects—mom and grandma, aunts and uncles—every December the mailman would deliver some odd gift in a plain brown wrapper. These parcels were always addressed in the same fussy fashion: “To Master H.W. McGruther, Esq.” No sender’s name or return address. When I quizzed mom about the origin of these charitable contributions to my arsenal of holiday detritus, her answer was always the same. “Your father.” I wanted to think differently about dad and his parcel post parenting, but these unmarked boxes always contained more questions than answers.
“I HATE football—what am I supposed to do with a Jets helmet?”
“What the hell’s an Ant Farm?”
“A toy Doctor kit?! Does he think I’m a three-year-old?”
Every time I ridiculed the man who wasn’t there about the gift I didn’t like, mom launched into the same threadbare diatribe about the spirit of giving, then closed with a line straight out of an ABC After-School Special. “He’s your father and he loves you very much—nothing else matters.” Mom’s guilt trips worked like a charm. My greed and self-absorption plummeted, dad’s stock on the Love and Caring Index held steady, and mom’s’s Wisdom Quotient went through the roof. To regain her faith, I gamely diddled with dad’s dumb gift ’til New Years Day, then banished it to the back of my closet. When my birthday rolled around January 21st, mom would smile confidently as I tore into every fantastic gift she’s typed her fingers to the bone to finance. Slotcars. Tennis rackets. G.I. Joes with kung fu grip. A Dynamo label maker.
“Now THIS is a gift I can use! Thanks, mom!”
“I’m glad you like it. Now stop labeling everything in the goddamned house and go write your dad a thank-you letter. He’ll love hearing from you. “Thank him for the baseball mitt, but don’t mention you’re left-handed—it’ll only embarass him.”
Though I wrote those thank-you letters as instructed, eventually the plain brown packages stopped coming. Was it something I said? Did my hand-written letter for last year’s Mr. Potato Head seem less than sincere? We moved recently—maybe dad didn’t know our new address. Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter. Feigning interest in either the man or the feeble tokens of his affection had grown tiresome. Mom’s zeal to dignify dad’s memory had also waned. Ten years is a long time to pretend to care—especially for someone I never knew. For Mister H. W. McGruther, Sr., I’m sure the feeling was mutual.