My mother will only drink coffee that is seventy perfect heavy cream and pure cane sugar. She buys to-go cups with funny, French names. She likes little designs in the shapes of leaves and, for the most talented of baristas, star-constellations. Since she rarely drinks coffee, this has yet to completely break the bank.
My father likes black coffee. He scrunches his nose up at Coffee-Mate. He laughs at my mom for taking eleven minutes to fix up one cup of joe. If we get their coffees mixed up (unusual, but not unheard of) he will drink it, but begrudgingly. He desires nothing more than a mug of black coffee.
It is because of this phenomenon that my family consistently over-does Father’s Day. By nature of our go-all-out-no-holes-barred-you-only-live-once style of party planning, headed by my latte-loving mother. (This is the same woman who threw her four-year old daughter a full-scale English Tea birthday party for seven little girls.) We have tried for the last nineteen years to come up with new, exciting ways to show our father appreciation for all that he does. We soak hand-made cakes in orange-rosemary glazes. We shop for watches with buttons without real functions. We gather silly Hallmark cards painted with red-cheeked, laughing fathers and large-mouth basses. We celebrate all day with games and internet trivia.
My father enjoys these things. He smiles and chuckles at the right times. He says thank you at every moment we could possibly wish, but he’s never over-joyed. It never becomes clear on his face that he’s having a wonderful time. Each year we try harder and harder, and he’s always the same: pleasantly amused. It always feels like he’s doing us a favor instead of the other way around.
So, in preparation for this Father’s Day (June 15!) I decided to do something totally new: I asked my father what he wanted to do. He immediately looked down, hummed to himself, and was quiet for two minutes. When he looked up he said, “I don’t care, I guess. Go to the pawn shop downtown? Get more light bulbs from Home Depot?”
That’s when it occurred to me, for the first time, that we always try and do things that would make us happy. My father hates orange-rosemary frostings and expensive watches. What he does like is black coffee. He likes driving trucks, and boxed Betty Crocker cakes, and going to antique currency shows.
So that’s what we’ll try this year. We’ll get a store-bought box of sugar cookies and visit the different pawn shops. We’ll avoid coffee with foam and raw sugar. We’ll keep it simple.
Which is what I hope to keep in mind for all of the upcoming decisions regarding my father: just ask. Soon he’ll be looking for the best retirement communities in the best states to retire and his desires should be the only thing in focus. He won’t want a resort or a country club, he’ll want a place he can fish and laugh and not have to pretend to enjoy silly party tricks—and we’ll have to understand that simply by asking.