The worst person to shop for is your significant other's dad

This is not a gift guide. It is more of a primal scream into the abyss.

A gift.
(Image credit: Illustrated | boygovideo/iStock, Apple)

I consider myself to be an incredible gift giver. I'm on the alert for ideas all year long, recording in my note app whenever a family member or friend mentions a new interest or hobby. By September, I often know what I am getting almost everyone on my list. Almost.

Every year, the exact same name remains unchecked on my list as Christmas nears. Because I never have a frigging clue what to get my boyfriend's dad.

For years I thought this was a personal problem. It's not that I don't like or know my boyfriend's parents — quite the opposite, I adore them. This December will mark our eighth Christmas together; at this point, we're family. Plus his parents always give me the most thoughtful and beautiful gifts, treating me as if I was their own child: A first-edition of one of my favorite books, the perfect New Year's Eve dress — heck, I even get my own stocking!

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Meanwhile, I am pretty sure on four separate occasions I've given my boyfriend's dad socks.

So let's get this out of the way: This is not a gift guide. It is more of a primal scream into the abyss.

I can't help you. I don't have a clue what you should get your significant other's dad. But just know you're not alone: No one knows.

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The universality of this problem came to my attention recently when a coworker shared that after many years of toiling she'd at last come up with the perfect present for her boyfriend's dad. The news immediately filled me with the kind of envy that makes you wish some horrible circumstance might befall her. In a way, one did: "I wanted to get him heated slippers lmao but it seems like they are either sh---y or cost like $200," she wrote back when I asked if she'd ordered the gift yet. Now I almost feel tempted to spend an inappropriate amount of money on my boyfriend's dad so at least I don't have to think about this anymore.

Moms, it should be noted, do not pose nearly the same problem. Moms typically have a thing. She likes food? Great, there are a bajillion things you can give her. Maybe she's really into, like, turtles, and you can get her a thoughtful turtle-related present. You can never go wrong with a spa day! Moms, in my experience, are the parent you first establish a relationship with, and by now maybe you even have your own thing together.

Dads, though, are an annual struggle. Google isn't much help — gendered gift guides are kind of a crock, and would have you believe dads' only interests are sports, leather, alcohol, and cigars (what is this, 1950?). If your S.O.'s dad doesn't like football or grilling, you're basically S.O.L. And especially if the dad happens to be your father-in-law, or someone who's been in your life more than a year or two, you can't even resort to something simple and easy like chocolate and/or wine, the ultimate I had no idea what to get you presents. There is an unspoken pressure to do something thoughtful and personal, but a dearth of helpful suggestions from anyone.

I have the utmost respect for anyone who figured out from the get-go the cheat of a "joint parent" gift, when you can get something vaguely home-oriented, like a nice tea towel or platter, put both parents names on it, pat yourself on the back, and call it good. I made the mistake of doing separate presents from the start, a bid at being the favorite significant other, which has gravely backfired, because there is no going back to a fused present once you've started with separates.

Really, the ideal course of action is to tag yourself onto your partner's gift. I highly recommend this method if it is available to you; after all, shopping for your dad is never as difficult as shopping for someone else's dad, so just make your partner do the heavy-lifting and slap your name on the card. It's practically foolproof. Alas, my boyfriend is doing a joint gift with his brothers this year, leaving me high and dry.

As of now, I have 22 more days to figure out the perfect gift, to read guides and dismiss ideas (a fancy keychain? Too pedestrian. A carafe? But wouldn't he have one already?). But I fear, just as every other year, this will be a wash. Maybe it is time to admit there simply are no great gifts for the father of your significant other.

Just in case, I have already ordered a pair of socks.

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