TIME Opinion

Why You Feel Weirdly Depressed on Labor Day

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A brief summer erica bartel photography—Getty Images/Flickr Select

Because you're mourning your lost youth. On the bright side, folders are on sale!

Come, children, time to don your traditional back-to-school scowl, for it’s Labor Day weekend! Time to wear fake mustaches while dressing up like early labor leaders Matthew MacGuire and Peter J. McGuire, both credited with suggesting the holiday in 1882. Time to sing hymns in honor of the workers who perished in the Pullman Strike in 1894. And don’t forget to leave a quarter under your pillow for the Union Dues Fairy to collect!

Just kidding, we all know what Labor Day is really about: mourning all the fun stuff you didn’t get a chance to this summer. Most holidays offer up equal doses of delight and disappointment (Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Christmas) but on Labor Day, that balance is especially stark: whatever summer fun you’ve had by now is pretty much all you’re gonna get.

And that’s terrifying, because, let’s face it: the “last” barbecue of the summer is probably also only your second. You might be drinking a freshly made mojito, but it’s the first one you’ve had in years. Your bikini body definitely didn’t happen, and that vodka-soaked watermelon probably never will. You never even downloaded Anna Karenina, let alone finish reading it.

Summer, like everything else that glitters, is never as golden as we think. On Memorial Day we envisioned three months of bliss, punctuated by the satisfying “clucks” of opening beer cans. We never really let go of the school-age idea that “summer” is a break from real life, which it’s why it’s depressing to look back and see that life has been going on like usual this whole time. Even when we’re older and have jobs and responsibilities, it’s hard to shake the idea that we should have this time off.

So the idea of “summer” as a season-long vacation is so deeply ingrained that we can’t believe it’s not real — instead, we convince ourselves it’s just happening somewhere else to someone else. Cue the Labor Day ennui: we have somehow “missed out” on the summer that everyone else was having! Where was I this whole time? Just at work like a total chump? During the summer? Quick, hand me that moldy beach towel so I can wipe my tears. It’s a collective entitlement to summer relaxation that morphs into a shared melancholy when we think we’ve been robbed. Cue the vacant stares over Labor Day hot dogs, the heavy drinking of pale ale, the furious application of sunscreen from a still-full tube.

Because midway through the Labor Day tailspin, it occurs to us that it’s not just summer we’ve missed, but youth. Having a summer break is the privilege of being young, and missing one means you’re officially a grown-up.

Then again, it could help to remember that summer vacations of the days of yore were probably not all they’re cracked up to be. You probably had to get a crappy job or go to a day camp. You couldn’t drive yourself to the beach yet, or have sex, or drink, or make any decisions of your own. If you were in college you could do those things, but you also had other stuff to worry about, like where to get weed or how to get a job or whether your high school friends still liked you. In other words, even back when you had a summer vacation, you probably thought someone else had a better one.

So, cheer up! No need to mourn for summertime lost. And look on the bright side: you can still get affordable office supplies at the Staples Back to School center, for all the work you’ll be doing in the coming year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MONEY Gas

Labor Day Gas Prices Are Cheapest in Years

friends consulting a map while sitting on the back of a car
Cavan Images—Getty Images

Gas prices usually drop in the fall. This year, prices at the pump began falling in early summer and kept on heading down, resulting in the cheapest holiday weekend for gas since 2010.

Earlier this month, an Edmunds survey indicated that as many as three-fourths of all Americans were likely to take a road trip before Labor Day weekend marked the unofficial end of summer. According to AAA, nearly 35 million Americans will be heading at least 50 miles away from home over the holiday weekend, and 86% of travelers will be embarking on their journey by car.

This means that roads are likely to be jammed over Labor Day. There is some good news for those stuck in traffic, however. It’s been years since gas has been this cheap over Labor Day weekend. “AAA expects gas prices to have little impact on the number of people traveling for Labor Day, though lower prices could help make travel more affordable,” a statement from automobile association explained.

Gas prices dropped steadily throughout July, with the national average hitting $3.52 at the end of the month. As of Thursday, a gallon of regular gasoline was averaging $3.43 around the country. That’s about 13¢ cheaper than prices were a year ago at this time. In fact, the last time that gas was priced this low leading into Labor Day weekend, it was 2010. Gas prices spiked to around $3.75 for Labor Day 2012, for instance.

Even though gas prices are cheaper, that doesn’t really mean they’re truly cheap. As recently as the fall of 2008, the national average stood at around $2 per gallon, thanks to a falloff in demand due to the economic crisis. In any event, drivers should always be taking advantage of easy ways to save on gas. Two no-hassle strategies to consider: credit cards with 5% cash back on gas purchases, and Walmart’s Rollbacks on Gas program. The latter involves using various Walmart-branded cards (prepaid debit, gift cards, plain old credit cards) to pay for gas, with savings ranging from a flat $25 off to 15¢ off per gallon. These options can save you money at the pump this weekend, but the clock is ticking on both. Walmart’s gas savings program ends September 8, and most credit cards only pay 5% cash back on gas through the end of September.

TIME Culture

In Rain or Shine, Americans Celebrate Country’s Birthday

From naturalization ceremonies to fireworks, hot dog eating contests to flight delays, Americans enjoyed the summer sun or braved harsh weather to celebrate their nation’s birthday late this week.

Hurricane Arthur made landfall in North Carolina Friday morning with winds whipping along at up to 100 miles per hour. By early Friday evening, it approached southern Massachusetts, particularly affecting Cape Cod, where a tropical storm warning remains in effect. The storm was expected to dump over an inch of rain every hour and leave more than eight inches total before the storm blows back out to sea.

Arthur had a particularly strong impact on travel. Along the Eastern Seaboard, the storm crippled travel as airlines canceled or delayed thousands of flights. But things picked up by early evening, with New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport reporting average delays of only about 15 minutes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

And while fireworks will light up the night sky Friday in New York City, Washington, D.C. and other cities across the country, Boston celebrated Independence Day with fireworks a day early in hopes of avoiding Arthur. Revelers watching fireworks light up the Charles River, however, were evacuated by Massachusetts State Police 20 minutes into the show, and rain began to pour shortly thereafter.

Also in the nation’s capital, President Barack Obama spent part of the day at a naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens, including many members of the armed forces and their spouses. He and first lady Michelle Obama will host a reception on the White House lawn Friday evening for service members and their families to view D.C.’s fireworks show.

In the middle of his busy day, the President received a Fourth of July message from his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. Putin wished Obama a happy Fourth of July and called for improved relations between the two countries. Tensions between Putin and Obama have been high in recent months as the political situation in Ukraine has deteriorated, and especially after Russia annexed Crimea earlier this year.

In New York City, competitive eaters celebrated the holiday by participating in the annual Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. Joey “Jaws” Chestnut ate 61 hot dogs and buns in 10 minutes to retain his champion status. In the women’s competition, Miki Sudo consumed 34 hot dogs and buns to unseat three-time defending champion Sonya Thomas, also known as the “Black Widow.”

Many other Americans, however, were more content to enjoy one, maybe two hot dogs on what was a day off for many. Check out the gallery above to see how the country celebrated Independence Day.

TIME movies

Top 10 Movies to Watch to Remind You How Great America Is

Hands holding American flag
Getty Images

Rain on July 4? No problem. Just stay inside and watch these films

Large swaths of the country are expecting a very soggy July 4 weekend, which will throw a major wrench in everybody’s barbecue and beach plans. But buck up, guys, it’s not so bad. A rainy Independence Day is a great excuse to stay inside, crank the A/C and have a patriotic movie marathon. So grab some beers and celebrate this day like a true American: sitting on the couch.

Note: because this is America, you’re free to watch whatever movie you choose. (Freedom! America!) But, if you’d like some guidance, we recommend these films, because in their own special ways, they’ll all remind you how great this nation really is.

1. Independence Day Like, obviously. You have to watch this and then imagine what this country would be like if Bill Pullman really were our president.

2. Coming to America* Seeing the U.S. through an African prince’s eyes will make you appreciate it even more.

3. The Patriot You have to throw a little Revolutionary War action into the mix. You just have to.

4. National Treasure If you don’t love Nicolas Cage, then you don’t love America.

5. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid* Just a good old-fashioned Western featuring some good old-fashioned outlaws. AMERICA.

6. Inside: Chipotle* The Chipotle franchise is one of the best things America has ever created. Might as well learn a little something about it.

7. Team America: World Police Because obviously.

8. Grease* If you don’t love Grease, you’re lying. Watch it and allow yourself to drift back to America’s simpler times.

9. Forrest Gump* Tom Hanks. Enough said.

10. Rudy* This inspiring, uplifting story about college football will make you want to wrap yourself up in an American flag and high-five Uncle Sam.

* Streaming on Netflix.

MONEY Shopping

What America Spends on Fireworks for July 4

4th of July Fireworks on the National Mall
4th of July Fireworks on the National Mall, Washington, D.C. Matt McClain—The Washington Post via Getty Im

Just how fascinated is America with fireworks? A look at all the different ways dollars are spent provides some illumination.

American consumers are on pace to spend $13 million more on fireworks than we did last year to celebrate Independence Day. That’s partly because the Fourth of July falls on a Friday in 2014, partly because the costs of pretty much everything rises year after year, and partly because, well, we just really love fireworks.

How much do we love them? The staggering number of pyrotechnic shells (more than 40,000!) used in the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks show in New York City, the country’s biggest and most famous display, is one indication. The typical bill rung up by average Joes buying fireworks in stores ($100 and up) constitutes another. And who is doing the bulk of the buying in these situations? Well, the core demographic for fireworks sale, according to one store manager, is a “middle-aged” guy for whom blowing stuff up and shooting rockets into the air just never gets old.

Here’s a look our Fourth of July fireworks fascination, by the numbers:

More than a Dozen Kinds of different pyrotechnics used in the biggest public fireworks displays, like the one at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., which incorporates aerials with names like the Diadem, Peony, Crosette, Horsetail, and one you may have actually heard of, the Roman Candle.

45% Portion of Americans who say they’ll enjoy July 4 with “fireworks/community celebration,” per a National Retail Federation survey.

Less Than $100 What the average customer spends on fireworks according to one store owner in Biloxi, Miss. And who is the average customer? “Middle-aged males,” one South Carolina fireworks store manager explained. “That’s your regulars that buy them just for the heck of it.”

$100 to $300 What the comparatively big spender drops, on average, on fireworks in one store in North Augusta, Ga. “You do have those people that come in and spend $500 to $1,000,” as well, the store manager said.

$1,500+ Cost of a Platinum package for ten friends to enjoy the fireworks show in St. Louis from the vantage point of a swanky rooftop bar.

$5,000 to $30,000 The range in price for putting on fireworks display for the public, according to Ace Pyro, a Michigan-based company.

11,400 Estimated number of injuries caused by fireworks that were treated in U.S. hospitals in 2013.

More Than 40,000 Ballpark number of pyrotechnic shells used in the Macy’s Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza in New York City, which is 55 times more fireworks than the average show in the U.S. The total cost of the show is not made public, but Boston’s display, which is smaller, runs about $2.5 million.

$60,000 Amount that one fireworks stand in South Carolina expects to ring up in sales while open for a month just across the border from North Carolina—where at least 80% of the customers come from.

$675 Million Expected total for consumer sales of fireworks in the U.S. in celebration of July 4 this year, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. That figure would represent a $13 million increase over last year, and $75 million more than the sales total of 2006. The fact that July falls at the start of a three-day weekend this year is expected to boost sales.

MONEY freebies

Skip the DUI and Get a Free Ride Home on July 4

Handing Over the Keys.
Jacom Stephens—Getty Images/Vetta

There are literally hundreds of ways to get a safe ride home after the July 4 parties have ended this weekend, including one service that's amazingly free.

The Fourth of July is right up there on the list of America’s drunkest holidays, with fireworks shows and beach parties beckoning revelers to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. By most accounts, it’s also the deadliest day of the year on the roads, with an average of 127 people dying in car crashes every Fourth of July.

As if that’s not enough to encourage you to plan ahead and find a safe way home during the holidays, the cost of a DUI conviction could easily run $20,000 or more for a first-time offender. Also, bear in mind that extra state and local police will be working over the weekend, with efforts including but not limited to an increase in random checkpoints for drivers under the influence, among other offenses.

So please, for a million different reasons, don’t do something as stupid as getting behind the wheel when you shouldn’t. There’s really no excuse.

To help keep drunk drivers off the road, the AAA Holiday Safe Ride Program amazingly offers free rides, as well as a car tow, to anyone who has had too much to drink on a major holiday and shouldn’t be behind the wheel. It’s not necessary to be a AAA member; anyone can use the program to get a safe ride home.

The service is rolled out on all the major party holidays and drinking occasions, including New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Super Bowl Sunday, and, of course, Independence Day. New Year’s sees the biggest demand by far for the service, and the Fourth of July is generally the second-most popular day for drivers under the influence in need of a free tow and ride home.

Heather Hunter, director of AAA public relations, is quick to point out that not every AAA club around the country is participating. And those that do—in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Florida, New Mexico, Texas, southern California, and elsewhere—want drivers to know they should think of the program “definitely as the service of last resort,” cautions Hunter. For many reasons, “You’re much better off if you can plan in advance for a safe ride.”

The association does not have national statistics on how many drivers actually use the service, which is known by different names like “Tipsy Tow” and “Tow to Go” in different parts of the country. One of the few branches that does provide data regarding its free holiday towing service, AAA Arizona, says that it has given free rides and tows on holidays to roughly 500 drivers over the last three years. “That’s 500 drunk drivers we’ve kept off the roads,” says Linda Gorman, AAA Arizona’s public affairs director. “We’re proud of that.”

Regional clubs around the country vary in terms of what’s allowed and not allowed with the service. AAA Arizona gives a free one-way ride to one person only, anytime from 6 p.m. on July 4 to 6 a.m. the following morning, and the person’s car can be towed a maximum of 10 miles. “This isn’t a taxi,” Gorman clarifies. “The driver will only take you home. You can’t get a ride to the next party or another bar.”

In addition to AAA’s brilliant service, there are plenty of other ways to get home safely after a party. Like a taxi. Or a designated driver. The latter could be a buddy, or a stranger for that matter. The nonprofit DrinkingandDriving.org keeps a list of designated driver services around the country, and at last check it had 615 possibilities in 46 states on file.

One of the more interesting recent developments in the world of drunk-driving prevention is the rise of anti-DUI apps such as BeMyDD and services like Shuttle Dudes, which allow impaired drivers to hire someone to pick them up—and drive their car to boot. The safe driver might come in a scooter or bike, which he’ll fold up and put in the trunk of the customer’s car.

Hiring someone to pick up your car and drive it (and you) home generally costs somewhere in the range of $15 to $30. A taxi probably runs around the same, more or less, and you can split that with friends who also shouldn’t be driving. No matter what the price, it’s nothing compared to the potential costs of driving drunk.

MONEY Food & Drink

Meet the Guy Who Totally Makes Up the Fake Holidays We Celebrate

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Shayla Hunter

OK, we dig National Donut Day, too. But what's up with "holidays" like Oreo Day, Froot Loop Day, and Tater Tot Day? One food blogger can explain all.

If you have ever Googled the name of a holiday—one that’s traditional and familiar, or one of the quirky ones out there like Talk Like a Pirate Day—you’ve probably come across a holiday-themed website with a calendar listing a staggering number of events, annual celebrations, and “holidays” that you never knew existed.

This month, for example, kicked off with National Heimlich Maneuver Day on June 1. June 2 was dedicated to National Bubba Day—to, you know, celebrate all the folks nicknamed or actually named Bubba. National Donut Day always takes place on the first Friday of June, with giveaways on June 6 this year. National Iced Tea Day followed a few days later, with free Teavana beverages at Starbucks on June 10. Looking ahead, June 22 is National Onion Ring Day, and on and on.

Whole months are also dedicated to different organizations, products, and campaigns. May was both National Barbecue Month and National Hamburger Month, which seems like overlap. It was also Date Your Mate Month and International Masturbation Month, which seems like a mixed message. June is, among other things, Aquarium Month, Candy Month, Dairy Month, and Rose Month, and who could forget that most essential of events: Accordion Awareness Month.

June 18 happens to be a busy one for fake holidays: It’s Go Fishing Day, International Panic Day, International Picnic Day, National Splurge Day, and International Sushi Day all rolled up (ha-ha, like sushi, get it?) into one dizzying jumble of a day. The appropriate way to celebrate, I believe, is to splurge on a fancy new fishing pole, go fishing, then have a huge panic attack out on the water out of concern for the state of global relations. Oh, and throw in a picnic at some point, ideally with friends from overseas. And with sushi too.

But how to celebrate these days is probably not the right question. Instead, we might ask: Where do these holidays come from? And why should we give a flying fig? (Fig Newton Day, btw, is January 16.)

Jaded consumers might think that these days and months are just created out of the blue, whenever some random dude is bored or some company or association decides it wants a “holiday” for pumping up sales and marketing products. And guess what? After putting on my ace reporter fedora hat and investigating the origins of many of these days, I can confirm that, yeah, that’s exactly how a lot of these events are created.

National Splurge Day was created on a whim two decades ago by a woman from Chicago billed as “America’s Premier Eventologist,” Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith. What motivated her to whip up what she calls a “holidate”? “I became tremendously bored with the Traditional Holidays (and we know who they are) when I was 38,” Sioux Koopersmith said via e-mail. She explained her thought process this way: “Let’s get rid of the 2-faced Holidays where a Person has to SHOW-UP at a relative’s or put on a happy face; or buy a present or do something only because it is part of the Fabric of Modern Life. So I created my own, which I like much better.”

Similarly, Tom Torriglia, a professional accordionist based in Italy who regularly plays in northern California, explained via e-mail how he created National Accordion Awareness Month back in 1989: “It was established as simply as me deciding it would exist.”

While the National Onion Association is actively promoting the upcoming National Onion Ring Day, the organization curiously had nothing to do with its creation. Instead, an association spokesperson offered some suggestions for celebrating O-Ring Day (swap ideas for recipes and dipping sauces and “maybe have an onion ring tossing contest?”), then steered me to John-Bryan Hopkins, a food writer from Birmingham, Alabama, and founder of the popular website Foodimentary. Hopkins has 845,000 followers on Twitter, and his was named one of the 140 Best Twitter Feeds by TIME last year.

And yes, Hopkins freely and proudly admits that he just made up Onion Ring Day a few years ago. In fact, he’s created hundreds of such “holidays.” In a phone interview, Hopkins explained that when Foodimentary.com went live in 2006, there were already around 175 food-related holidays—many, like National Donut Day, established during the World War era—listed on various calendars. “I filled in the rest,” he said, to ensure there was at least one food holiday for every day of the year.

What’s more, from time to time, he gets rid of some holiday that doesn’t get him excited and replaces it with one that’s more appealing. “They’re just like my little children,” Hopkins said of the holidays he creates. “I might wake up a little groggy one morning and decide that I don’t like what’s being celebrated that day. So I make it a new one.”

For instance, Hopkins wasn’t a fan of Kitchen Klutzes of America Day, which supposedly takes place on June 13. “That was one I hated. How stupid of a day is that?” So, presto, change-o! With a quick update of his online calendar, he redubbed June 13 as the sure-to-please Cupcake Lover’s Day. “I’m not Mr. Health Food Celebration Day,” he said. (Froot Loop Day is another of his babies.) “I like the foods that America really likes.”

When asked to name his favorite self-manufactured holiday, Hopkins offered two focused on beloved mainstream comfort foods: National Oreo Cookie Day, which he subbed into the March 6 slot formerly held by National Frozen Food Day (“You want to celebrate frozen food in early March?”) and National Tater Tot Day, which shares billing with Groundhog Day on February 2.

Interestingly, what Hopkins enjoys most about Tater Tot Day—besides, you know, the pure deliciousness of Tater Tots—is that it was declared bogus a couple of years ago. In 2012, a Dallas Observer reporter called up the folks at Ore-Ida, the brand that produces Tater Tots, to get more info about the day, and the company had never heard of it. Hopkins owned up to his creation in an e-mail to the reporter. “You got me! Yes indeed! I created this holiday in 2009,” he wrote.

What’s there for Hopkins to love about this? Well, despite the debunking, “nobody cared,” said Hopkins. “People still want to celebrate Tater Tots and Tater Tot Day. They Tweet about it, they share recipes, and it’s a trending topic that day. I just think this is the best thing ever.”

Hopkins explained that the creation of a holiday takes a little time to take root. “The first year, it’s just me telling people to take my word,” he said. “By year two, the news people believe it because it was around the previous year. When year three comes, it’s like it was written in the Bible.”

In a way, the establishment of a holiday in this fashion by some random foodie blogger is just as valid as an event carefully concocted for maximum impact by a big company’s marketing department. Perhaps even more valid. At least Hopkins isn’t trying to sell us anything, other than the idea that his Twitter feed is worth following and his faux holidays are worth celebrating.

That’s more than you can say for some online “holiday” calendars out there. At least one site, NationalDayCalendar.com, charges (reportedly upwards of $800) for a package that includes creation of a holiday, a listing on the site, as well as a framed certificate and the development of a press kit. The same site also charges $19.99 for individuals wanting a one-time virtual national day of recognition posted online for an anniversary, birthday, or other event.

Hopkins said that the idea of selling off holidays is “offensive,” and that charging for the creation of days “will eventually degrade its importance and even make food holidays a joke.” He lives in fear that one day, people will grow bored with food holidays, and that his website traffic and Twitter following could both collapse. “I keep thinking people are going to stop being interested, that I’ll Tweet something and no one will care,” he said. “But it doesn’t happen.”

To keep people interested, Hopkins insists, fake holidays must be created the proper way—with integrity. “I take what I do seriously,” he said, “and want to protect it from abuse.”

TIME Family

A Brief History of Father’s Day (and Why I’m Against It)

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Girl Giving Dad Father's Day Card Fuse—Getty Images/Fuse

I’m just going to come out and say that Father’s Day makes me a little uncomfortable. Ambivalent. Always did as a kid: “Sweet! A new opportunity to disappoint as a son!” And it still sits uneasy now that I’m a dad. What’s the big deal? I had kids. So too, statistically speaking, do most grownups at some point.

I never know what I’m supposed to do. Spend more time with my girls? I’d love to, thanks. After all, time is in short supply as we grind unswervingly back into the eternal dust from which we came. Hey, thanks for the tie.

Or, as with some dudes I know, should I use it as an opportunity to spend the day away from my kids? As if to commemorate the day by doing the exact opposite of what it’s all about. Like singing “God Save the Queen” on the Fourth of July.

Certainly the concept of fatherhood is a powerful — albeit loaded — one. The very word conjures every mythological titan from George Washington to Heathcliff Huxtable; from Darth Vader to God. We all, in one form or another, have daddy issues.

Given the conflicting range of emotions Daddy Dearest can sometimes evoke, it’s little wonder that spending on Father’s Day gifts is significantly lower than on Mom’s Day swag. The National Retail Foundation reports that just 64% of consumers plan to spring for a card for Dad. Compare that to 81% who said that they’d gotten one for Mom.

That’s not to say that brands aren’t actively trying to get you to part with your cash this Father’s Day (something that the Collective Dad, in His fiduciary wisdom, would no doubt frown upon). This week Dove launched a feel-good campaign celebrating all the things real dads do. This is ostensibly to remind us that dads are more than just the two-dimensional buffoons we see on TV and in the movies. It tugged at the heart strings, just a bit.

It is also part of a Unilever mission to sell soap products. Unilever, which owns Dove, also owns Axe body spray, which has taken a different marketing route with hypersexualized and arguably misogynistic marketing. Are we to believe Axe Bros grow up into Dove Daddies? What’s the deodorant for the midlife crisis set?

Fact is, Father’s Day was derided as a Hallmark holiday from almost before there was a Hallmark. One of the earlier groups to lobby actively for its creation was the National Council for the Promotion of Father’s Day — which was organized in 1938 by the Associated Men’s Wear Retailers in New York City. The holiday was finally signed into law in 1972 by Richard Nixon, who it turns out was a pretty good dad.

Bah, humbug, I know. Look. I love being a dad. It is the best thing I’ve done in my life to date and it will probably be the best thing I ever do. But most of us are simply genetically hard wired for this stuff. So how about some more progressive paternity leave laws, instead?

I decided to ask my favorite interview subjects what they thought: my daughters. I asked my 9-year-old what the difference is between moms and dads.

“A mother is sweet, soft and gentle,” she said. “A father is rough, funny and kind. And brave.” (For the record, she’s wrong: I am not brave. I am, however, soft.)

She also wanted to know why kids don’t have their own day. I told her that they do. It’s called summer.

I asked her younger sister, who just so happens to be turning six on Father’s Day this year, what the holiday means to her.

“It’s a special day,” she said, “because it’s my birthday.”

That, as much as anything, is what might turn me into a believer.

MONEY Odd Spending

What You Wish You Could Give Dad on Father’s Day — But Shouldn’t

Your dad might really be in need of a hearing aid, a fitness regimen, or some form of anti-snoring assistance. But Father's Day is probably not the day to tell him.

Father’s Day is an excellent opportunity to give your pops something he’ll really love. And, like all gift-giving holidays, it’s also a great chance to send him not-so-subtle messages about his lifestyle and habits via passive-aggressive presents.

This might sound like a funny prank, but be warned: While you may wish to give such gifts, it is not advisable to do so. Handing Dad a cheeky present is all fun and games until he turns the table on you. And make no mistake, he will.

When he does, you better brace yourself (especially millennials out there) because he has more ammo than you can possibly imagine. By the time Dad was your age, he’d already moved out of his parents’ home, got a first job (maybe even started a business), found a partner, and had a child or three. He’s the spitting image of the American dream—he’s bullet proof! You? Maybe not so much. Your latest brilliant idea involves buying your dad snarky presents on the day established in his honor. So if you go this route, don’t be surprised when your birthday present from dad is an all-expenses-paid trip to boot camp, a job search guide, or “How to Get Married Before It’s Too Late.” Remember: You started this.

So you probably shouldn’t go there. But if you were to do so, here are some ideas.

Protein Powder and Fitness Magazines

A huge tub of whey and a subscription to Muscle and Fitness might be a great gift for a dad who’s already extremely into working out, but could seem a little sarcastic if your father’s workout routine consist of one sit-up per day (when he gets out of bed). Another, more covert option? A Fitbit or other wearable fitness gadget. Everyone loves new toys, and dad will be forced to go outside for a while in order to play with this one.

Anti-Snoring Gift Box

If you really want to make your point about Dad’s power to wake the entire house with one deep unconscious inhale, be sure to give dad a real sampling of anti-snoring products. That means anti-snoring spray, anti-snoring nasal strips, an anti-snoring pillow, and my favorite: an anti-snoring jaw strap. Who cares that many snore stopping products might not actually work? As the Joker said, it’s about sending a message. Put them all in a pretty basket, with a bow on top. Dads always appreciate good presentation.

Soap

For whatever reason, giving nice soap (as opposed to other personal hygiene products like toothpaste or shaving cream) is actually pretty standard Father’s Day fare. This is good because you can achieve your objective—more, or at least better, bathing by the old man—without causing offense. Well, not too-too much offense. The standard route is an organic soap sampler, but if you’re interested in giving the clearest possible hint, it’s hard to beat a single bar of Dove in an otherwise empty box.

Cooking Lessons

The offensiveness of cooking lessons really depends on how hard everyone else in the family laughs during the reveal. If it’s more of an “ahhhhh” reaction with lots of head nodding (and maybe a few snickers), then you’re all clear. If everyone spits out their soup guffawing over dad making anything other than reheated Mac N’ Cheese, then your message will get through. But don’t expect any gifts from dad next Christmas. Or ever.

Hearing Aid

There’s no subtlety here. This is something many fathers need but do not actually want because it suggests they’re getting a littttttle over the hill. However, if you’d like to avoid yelling whenever pops is in the room, you might just have to force the issue. Before you do, though, consider this: Does your dad actually want to hear everyone’s dinner-table squabbling at family gatherings?

MONEY Shopping

Just Plain Awful Father’s Day Gifts, and What to Buy Instead

There are the Father's Day gifts that you think are funny or cute or clever, and then there are the Father's Day gifts that dads actually like and will use. Which kind are you giving dad?

Here’s a list of common Father’s Day gift categories that dads really don’t want, followed by what you should buy instead:

Gag Gifts
You might be tempted to have a little fun with dad on Father’s Day by purchasing something silly and embarrassing like “meggings,” denim swimwear, or another joke from this list of gifts so bad they’re awesome. You might think it’ll just be hilarious to see the look on dad’s face when he opens up an inflatable toupee, or a “Senior Moments” memory workout book, or adult diapers, or something else that makes a show of how old your old man is. Ha-ha-ha. Joke’s on you, uncool, bald, pathetic, incontinent old man! You know, dementia and death are probably right around the corner! Ha-ha-ha.

Granted, some dads might think this stuff is really a laugh riot too. But … probably not. Same goes for gag gifts that burp and fart. We don’t want them, nor do we appreciate the message sent when we’re given them. As one dad blogger put it on his list of Father’s Day gifts dad doesn’t want, “I understand that I don’t hide my body’s venting. But I realize every Father’s Day that’s how you see us. I’m just a cartoon fart machine to you.”

What to Get Instead: Almost anything, really. Heck, even some stupid “World’s Best Dad” T-shirt or mug—often on Bad Father’s Day Gift lists themselves—would be way better. Far better than that, though, would be something genuinely thoughtful and practical. It doesn’t have to be something the average person would consider a “gift.”

If you’ve noticed your dad’s wheelbarrow wobbles, or his favorite work boots have no more tread, or his college alma mater baseball hat is falling apart, go and get him a new replacement. Save him the trouble of a trip to the store. The elimination of a headache or a chore is a wonderful gift the average dad deeply appreciates. Above all, be sure that whatever you do or give implicitly demonstrates you see him as more than just a silly old fart machine.

Useless Gadgets
Just say no to anything that you’ve seen in the Sky Mall catalogue, and anything that you imagine might has or ever will be in the Sky Mall catalogue. Again, this basically comes down to knowing who the gift recipient is: Is your dad (or spouse) really the kind of person who would want—or even know what to do with—a wrist fitness monitor or a voice-activated golf cap?

Most dads hate to see money wasted, and hate it even more when the money is being wasted in their honor. Think about that before presenting dad with a dubious doohickey that’ll sit unused, unopened, indefinitely.

What to Get Instead: Some piece of technology that’s actually useful, and that dad actually wants. Dads aren’t tech idiots. They just like what they like, and they’re skeptical (for good reason) about the value of any hot new “must have.” Father’s Day, which should be a day of relaxation and enjoyment, isn’t the day to prod dad into embracing something unfamiliar. That’s sorta like giving a high school student homework on the day he graduates. It’s cruel.

If you know your father (or spouse) well, you should be in tune with his likes and dislikes, and what’s in his comfort zone. In some cases, it’s a great idea to give dad the newest version of his favorite e-reader or tablet, or perhaps even to splurge on the 70-inch HDTV you know he’s been dying to see in his living room.

If you’re pursuing this route, go the extra mile and make dad’s transition to the new tech as smooth, simple, and easy as possible. That might mean importing his contacts or e-book library, or taking care of the wiring and installation of the TV or video game system (yes, some dads are big-time gamers). Remember, Father’s Day isn’t the day to give dad extra work to do. Speaking of which …

Gifts That Put Dad to Work
Whereas moms may get “a dozen long-stemmed, obscenely expensive flowers” for Mother’s Day, the corresponding gift for fathers, according to Detroit News columnist Brian O’Connor, is “an entire flat of tomato seedlings from the farmer’s market for you to plant, weed, water and fertilize for the next three months.”

What to Get Instead: Feel free to buy those tomato plants—or some other gift that’s really something of a project—but volunteer to take responsibility, or at least share the responsibility, for them. Not just on Father’s Day, mind you, but for the long haul. Come harvest time, make dad his favorite homemade sauce, or if you can’t cook, slice those tomatoes up and serve them with fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

Gifts That Tell Dad He Should Change
Even worse than gag clothing gifts for dads are some of the clothes that givers actually expect dad to wear—and that cause him extraordinary discomfort as a result. Sure, traditional dad fashion may be embarrassing (black socks and sandals anyone?), but it’s even more embarrassing to see a blissfully uncool, out-of-it dad try to pull off donning the latest trends, be it skinny jeans, floral prints, or whatever else someone deems as “hip” at the moment. Or rather, to see a dad being forced to wear such clothing because one of his children decides it’s in his best interest.

Father’s Day is about fathers. It’s about celebrating who they are, not who you think they should be. The day you’re honoring your father is not the day to implicitly send the message that you think he should be more fashionable, or lose weight (would you buy your mom a treadmill for Mother’s Day?), or learn to cook, or try some cocktail that’s all the rage, or stop snoring, or change in any way. Yet some gifts unsubtly send just those messages, and they come across not as helpful, but as disrespectful and insulting.

What to Get Instead: His tried-and-true favorites. Whatever brand of cigars, Scotch, craft beer, sunglasses, or sandals he favors is a can’t-miss gift. Stop fooling around and get the man what he likes. By doing so, you’ll demonstrate you know him well, and that you accept and love him for who he is.

Or you could just get a “World’s Best Dad” T-shirt. At least he can mow the lawn in the T-shirt without drawing snickers from the neighbors. That’s more than you can say for skinny jeans.

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