Trying to change someone else's tune

My father has been in a bit of a funk lately. Life in general has been overwhelming for him and the weather combined with the holidays always tends to add to that funk. It's particularly frustrating because Christmas has always been something my family rallies for in spite of any other set backs. A week or so before my due date, I told Rich, "this is exciting! It's like Christmas only we don't know when it's going to come!" He said that he thought labor would be a little more painful than Christmas but I told him he obviously doesn't see the lengths my family has gone to for the holidays in the past. Labor might seem like a walk in the park by comparison.

As we kids became adults, it became harder for my parents to rally to the Christmas spirit. They would always fret over the gift to give all of us, but never really mastered the art of receiving gifts from us. As kids we never gave gifts to our parents. My family is not the sentimental type, ignoring anniversaries and birthdays on all counts unless some outside party made a big deal of it. So my parents managed to avoid all those "soap on a rope" type gifts from their children. It never seemed odd to me.

Once I became an adult, though, I wanted to get them something. Long ago, Jeremy and I were in Wal-Mart in Christiansburg a few weeks before Christmas and I noticed a SONY boom box. My father has always been a music lover. He bought turntables and amplifiers in Hong Kong during his tour in Vietnam while at the same time refusing to spend the extra 10 cents to ride above deck on the boat ride across the city. He had his priorities. Had he been born in another era, he could have been that guy in High Fidelity. So after much hemming and hawing, we bought the boom box with money we only kind of had at the time. It was $99. I've spent that much on sushi dinners nowadays but at the time it was a hell of a lot of money.

Daddy had been buying CDs of his favorite music at various hock shops around town without actually owning a CD player of any kind. He had already amassed quite a collection of untapped classics by that December when he opened his gift. My father doesn't make a big show of things. I think he said something like "ah wow" but in an understated tone - no exclamation point at the end of the sentence. My mother later told me that his first concern upon opening it was that it was too expensive of a gift for me to buy him and they should offer to pay for part of it.

Once he opened it, though, and started assessing its features he became completely enamored. For a little boom box, it puts out a pretty good volume. It has equalizer settings on the front versus those standard Rock/Blues/Classical settings others offer. It was compact so it could fit on a shelf in their crowded house. And it opened up a whole new world of music for him again.

That Christmas I had the special treat of getting my father a gift that literally changed his life. Daddy now probably has a music collection that far surpasses the albums of his youth and may even rival my own collection as far as volume if not artists themselves. All of them were purchased at hock shops or discount stores. I'm not sure he's paid over $5 for a CD. Each CD has a post-it note on it with is favorite track numbers listed to make it easier for him to program. I can't tell you how many times I have walked in their house to hear Phantom of the Opera at volume 11 blasting from the top of those filing cabinets in the family room. I would have never even guessed my father liked Phantom of the Opera.

The gift we couldn't afford back then was worth every penny.

Unfortunately, that was 1998 or so and I don't think we've found another great gift like that since. My father is having a hard time. We don't tend to use the word depression in our family, but if it walks like a duck and mopes like a duck and wrings its little wings like a duck, it might just be depressed. I wish there were some sort of gift I could find for him this year - another item that Rich and I wouldn't quite be able to afford but would buy all the same that might bring him out of this darkness. I wish it could be another TV moment where he'd open the box and there would be that glow coming from it like in jewelry commercials.

But it's less than three weeks from Christmas and nothing's coming to mind. I'm not sure the magic answer would come from a store anyways. Maybe a winning lottery ticket and a Xanax would fit in a jewelry box and I'd just add in a tea light to get that glowing effect when he opened it.