author Jackie Madden Haugh talks about gift giving

As if chased by a mean googly-eyed monster, I ran from my little brother to the safety of my bedroom. Behind the closed door, I clutched the king-sized Aba Zabba in my plump, tight-fisted six-year-old hands, and hung onto the gooey taffy for dear life.

“I want it back, you Indian giver!” Timmy screamed.

My body was thrown against the door to restrain his entry, I quickly ripped apart the wrapper and shoved the 10-inch peanut butter paste into my mouth. Sure I had given it as a gift, but I’d since changed my mind.

After inhaling the bar, I opened the door to find his four-year-old tear stained face waiting. For a brief second, I suffered a pang of remorse. How could I’ve been so cruel, especially when I just downed two bags of Peanut M&M’s?

Spending the rest of the afternoon sequestered in my room as punishment, I began to understand that selfishness was not in my best interest. Not only would it result in a severe tongue lashing from my mother, but it could also be the source of someone else’s pain. The revelation I had as a first grader set me on a course of generous gift giving for the next fifty-two years.

My quest for atonement began at school. I adored sharing homemade cookies my mom baked with my classmates, particularly loved watching their faces light up as they devoured every sweet morsel.

Later, flush with babysitting money, it was off to the mall to locate fun trinkets for my family and friends. Watching them open their gifts with unabashed excitement, especially at Christmas, brought true understanding to the phrase “it’s better to give than receive.” Their pleasure became my pleasure.

Over the years, I became quite proficient with my gift-giving prowess. I had a knack for locating just that right special something for each individual. This one particular holiday season, however, I found myself in a quandary. What could I buy my father? At 96 what would he need? He didn’t go anywhere, so a new sweater or pair of shoes would be a waste of money, and candy had no sentimental value. Finally, in one tender moment, the answer dawned on me.

After my dad had moved in with me, our nightly routine was always the same; dinner, pills, brush the teeth, change the diaper, and a kiss goodnight. One evening, as I readied to leave, he took my hand and asked, “Do you have time to chat?”

Unfortunately, conversations with my dad are never an easy task. Due to his deafness, I virtually need to scream to be heard and I find myself repeating the same thing over and over. Tired and annoyed, knowing I still had bills to pay, laundry to do, and dishes to wash, I sat back down and said, “What do you want to talk about?”

“Tell me about your day. Was it hard? Can I help you?”

Looking into the sweet, cornflower-blue eyes I adored as a child; a smile crept over my tired face. His eyes clearly radiated with unconditional love for a woman he still viewed as his little girl.

“Okay, if you tell me something new about your childhood.”

And so began the first of many evenings together. Two kindred souls gently meshed tightly telling tales, laughing, smiling, and all intermixed with tears of pride knowing we belong to one another.

With these special moments, I’ve come to appreciate that the best present I can ever give anyone is quite simple. It’s the gift of my undivided attention and a moment of my time. The bills can wait, and there’ll always be laundry to do, but I knew I wouldn’t always have my daddy to keep me connected and grounded. And he was a gift to me.