TIME People

How Thomas Jefferson’s Wartime Record Shaped His Life

Thomas Jefferson, American president.
Print Collector / Getty Images Thomas Jefferson, American president. (1743-1826)

He wrote the Declaration of Independence—but he fled when British troops arrived

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

On June 4, 1781, nearly five years after authoring the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson fled Monticello just minutes before the arrival of British troops. His term as governor of Virginia had just expired, and Jefferson declined to continue his service, leaving the state without leadership during some of its darkest days.

In his defense, Jefferson made a blunt admission. With Virginia under invasion by a “powerful army,” Jefferson felt he was unprepared by his “life and education for the command of armies.” As a result, Jefferson wrote that he “believed it right not to stand in the way of talents better fitted than his own to the circumstances under which the country was placed.”

The legislature eventually appointed a governor and launched an investigation into Jefferson’s conduct. When Jefferson later sought the presidency, his conduct would be used against him. He was called the “coward of Carter’s Mountain,” a reference to the woods that Jefferson traversed when he was in flight from Monticello. Another critic, a South Carolina congressman named William Loughton Smith, said Jefferson deserved little credit for his revolutionary writings because he had fled “in times of danger.” There was no great merit in composing “famous written works,” Smith said, if he had done so “without risk of personal convenience.” Jefferson felt so burdened by accusations against him that he wrote that the wound upon his spirit would be cured only by the “all-healing grave.”

Jefferson clearly was ineffectual at stopping the waves of invading British forces, led first by the traitor Benedict Arnold, then by William Phillips (whom Jefferson once had entertained at Monticello when Phillips was a prisoner of war) and finally by Lord Cornwallis and Banastre Tarleton. Jefferson spent much of his life defending himself against the charge of cowardice, and tried until nearly the day that he died to present his side of the story to historians. Indeed, there was blame to go around. The militia often were reluctant to turn out. Many members of the legislature and the Governor’s Council fled Richmond, prompting the Assembly’s relocation to Charlottesville and culminating in Jefferson’s flight from Monticello.

But what did Jefferson learn when he was literally on the run, at a time of such torment?

Like so much about Jefferson, the lessons may seem contradictory, but they help explain the man – and president – that he became.

Jefferson, of course, wanted a weak executive as governor of Virginia because of his concerns about putting too much power in the hands of a man who might then become a new tyrant. He also had concerns about the power of a standing army. In the early weeks of the invasion, he was reluctant to go too far in calling out militia, which had been subject to false alarms. Some militia men were also concerned about leaving their families and farm undefended, and did not have the proper clothing or arms.

Indeed, when the Continental Army officer Baron von Steuben repeatedly complained about Jefferson’s inability to turn out militia and supplies, Jefferson responded weakly: “We can only be answerable for the orders we give and not for their execution. If they are disobeyed from obstinacy of spirit or coercion in the laws, it is not our fault.”

But as the British continued to march at will across the state, and as Jefferson learned of draft riots and mutinies, he finally seemed to have an epiphany.

“Go and take them out of their Beds, singly and without Noise,” Jefferson wrote about recalcitrant militia. If they were not found the first time, Jefferson continued, “go again and again so that they may never be able to remain in quiet at home.”

Years later, Jefferson conveyed a lesson to one of his successors in the governorship. A governor should not worry about gaining approval for every action in the event of an invasion if other government officials are unavailable, Jefferson explained. Such a delay “might produce irretrievable ruin.” Jefferson did not believe that the framers of the Constitution intended that its words should be followed so rigidly “that the constitution itself and their constituents with it should be destroyed” due to the lack of authority to repel invaders. Thus, Jefferson concluded, “an instant of delay in Executive proceedings may be fatal to the whole nation. They must not therefore be laced up in the rules of the judiciary department.”

Jefferson, of course, had been responsible for considerably more than “an instant of delay” when the British invaded Virginia, but, he insisted, he had acted when necessary. Jefferson’s Federalist enemies would say Jefferson failed to learn the lesson of the invasion, namely, that a stronger federal force was needed. Jefferson, however, believed the system had somehow succeeded, with the militia eventually turning out and the British defeated with help from the Continental army and French forces.

Twenty years after the invasion of Virginia, Jefferson sought the presidency in part because he was concerned that Federalists would be too quick to wage an unnecessary war against a European power. He considered his victory of 1800 a second American revolution, believing the “reign of witches” had ended.

As president, Jefferson applied another lesson of the invasion of Virginia when he signed legislation that established a military training academy at West Point. The British had easily gotten past Virginia’s defenses, and Jefferson hoped that the academy would produce men who would design better defenses and educate officers who were in line with his thinking.

Then, throughout the eight years of his presidency, Jefferson sought to resist those in Congress whom he believed would push the nation into war. While he did send vessels against Barbary States pirates and vowed that the nation would fight “like men” if a war was necessary, he used an array of measures, including treaties and a controversial embargo, in an effort to avoid a major military conflict. Time and again, Jefferson wrote friends of his desire to keep the nation at peace based on what he had experienced during the Revolutionary War.

“I think one war enough for the life of one man,” Jefferson wrote a friend in 1808, “and you and I have gone through one which at least may lesson our impatience to embark in another.”

Michael Kranish is the author of “Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War,” published in February 2010 by Oxford University Press. He can be reached through his website, http://www.michaelkranish.com.

TIME Holidays

The Dark History of Fireworks

Fourth Of July
Hulton Archive / Getty Images circa 1960: An American flag flies on a flagpole while fireworks explode in the background

Explosions are a great way to celebrate Independence Day—and also a great way to get hurt

A spectacular pyrotechnics display almost never disappoints. So, the week before Independence Day in 1964, New Yorkers with a view of the Hudson River were delighted by a preview of the fireworks they weren’t expecting until days later. Assuming it was a planned lead-up to the Macy’s Fourth of July show, they clapped and cheered, per TIME — and only later learned that they’d witnessed the accidental eruption of a barge full of fireworks, which killed two crewmembers and injured four others.

“So thoroughly institutional have fireworks become these days that the postwar generations hardly think of them as dangerous,” TIME lamented.

But Americans had been downplaying their dangers for more than a century by the time of the barge explosion. Fireworks first became a Fourth of July fixture in the mid-1800s, according to Fireworks, Picnics, and Flags: The Story of the Fourth of July Symbols. These early incendiaries were unrestricted and widely available to the general public, who came up with inventive and sometimes inhumane ways to use them: throwing them at horses, for example, or putting them under milk bottles and flowerpots to create explosive bursts of dangerous shrapnel.

Not everyone saw the patriotism in blowing things up, of course. The book excerpts a Pennsylvania man’s diary entry from Independence Day, 1866:

July 4th is the most hateful day of the year, when the birth of democracy is celebrated by license and noise. All last night and all of today, the sound of guns and firecrackers around us never stopped. It is difficult to feel patriotic on the Fourth of July.

Statistics offer an even grimmer snapshot of the harm done by an unregulated fireworks industry: Over the course of five consecutive Fourths, from 1903 to 1907, 1,153 people were killed and 21,520 more were injured, per the Fireworks authors.

Those numbers have declined over the years, although they’re still high enough for alarm. In 2013, the worst Fourth for fireworks casualties in over a decade, more than 11,000 people were injured and eight were killed, either from head and chest trauma or in house fires resulting from the blasts, per the Washington Post.

In recent years, the most devastating explosions have occurred where fireworks are manufactured and stored—for example,in 2000, a Dutch fireworks factory blew up with such force that it leveled 400 houses, killing 17 people and injuring more than 900, according to TIME—but it’s still worth remembering that a more complete Fourth of July wish might be for the holiday to be not just happy, but also safe.

Read the full account of the 1964 fireworks accident, here in the TIME archives: Safe & Sane

MONEY Holidays

QUIZ: Are You Smarter About Money Than the Founding Fathers?

Cheapskates, spendthrifts, and astute money managers

Founding Fathers signing Declaration of Independence on back of $2 bill
Eric Anthony Johnson—Alamy

 

TIME Opinion

How the Declaration of Independence Can Still Change the World

Declaration of independence 1776 from the Congress of Representatives. Signed by John Hancock, President of the Congress
Universal Images Group / Getty Images Declaration of independence

The key is that its language is inclusive

Three weeks ago Britain observed the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the charter of liberties King John was forced to issue to his barons in 1215. Most contemporary commentaries took the opportunity to point out how far short that document fell of modern principles of justice. It benefited only the great nobles, not the common people; it was not, in any case, fully put into effect for a long time; and it contained some provisions, such as those relating to Jews, reflecting medieval prejudices. As the Fourth of July rolls around once again, some commentators will undoubtedly make similar points about the Declaration of Independence. Yes, the Declaration declared that “all men are created equal,” but it thereby left the female half of humanity out of account. It said nothing about slavery, which then existed in every colony and obviously contradicted its principles. It referred to “merciless Indian savages” whom the King had incited against the colonists. In short, the authors and signatories of the Declaration did not use the language that is fashionable in the 21st century, and thus it is a relic from another time that is irrelevant to our world today.

That view misses two very important points. Earlier generations have revered both Magna Carta and the Declaration because they were critical milestones in the development of modern ideas of liberty and government—milestones that can only be understood in the context of their own times, not according to 21st-century views. More importantly, the authors of the Declaration used universal language which has inevitably led to the extension of the rights and freedoms they championed to more and more of humanity. That language is why the Declaration of Independence still has the power to inspire progress.

Because we have taken the principles of the declaration for granted for so long, we must remind ourselves of how revolutionary they were in 1776. It was “necessary,” Thomas Jefferson and the others wrote, “to dissolve the political bonds” which had connected the Americans and the British, because the royal government no longer met the standards for just and effective government that they themselves were defining. The colonists were acting, they wrote, in the face of “a long train of abuses and usurpations,” acts by the King that in their opinion violated the long-standing principles of British law that had developed over the centuries, and especially since the Glorious Revolution of 1688, during which parliamentary control over the Throne was solidified. The King had refused to allow colonial governments to function properly. He had sent troops to the United States to enforce his will, and quartered those troops among the population. He had tried to deprive large numbers of people the right to elect legislators, and much more. But his government—like all governments—did not exercise power by divine right, only insofar as it respected established principles and traditions of liberty. That idea was shortly to set not only the colonies, but much of the western world, aflame.

In its most famous passage, the declaration asserted the ultimate authority of human reason. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” it said: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Yes, it is true that the colonies had not, and for many years would not, extend all those rights to poorer men, or indentured servants, or slaves—but their language made no exception for any of those categories. Thus, the Declaration established a contradiction between their principles and existing conditions in the 18th-century world. That contradiction was bound to lead to further political struggles. So, although the Founding Fathers referred to “all men”—the Constitution, written 20 years later, generally referred more broadly to “persons”—it was equally inevitable that women would clam their rights as well, and that the logic of the founders’ language would allow that progress, too.

No one understood this better than Jefferson himself. Fifty years later, in the spring of 1826, he was invited, along with the few other surviving signatories, to attend a celebration of the signing in Washington. He began his reply by regretting that illness would not permit him to attend. (Indeed, his remaining ambition was simply to survive until July 4, which is exactly what he and his fellow signatory John Adams managed to do.) Yet he proclaimed the enduring significance of the declaration he had drafted:

“May it [the declaration] be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”

And so it was, through most of the rest of the 19th and 20th centuries, on every continent.

The struggle for these principles, however, has proven to be an enduring one. In much of the world reason is once again fighting with superstition, and finds itself in retreat. In our own nation, inequality threatens to create a new aristocracy that will ride upon the backs of the masses. The principles and language of the declaration remain by far the best defense against oppression and superstition. Most importantly of all, it is only upon the basis of impartial principles that new coalitions for justice can form. The Declaration of Independence remains a precious part of our heritage—one which we simply cannot do without.

The Long ViewHistorians explain how the past informs the present

David Kaiser, a historian, has taught at Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, Williams College, and the Naval War College. He is the author of seven books, including, most recently, No End Save Victory: How FDR Led the Nation into War. He lives in Watertown, Mass.

 

MONEY Odd Spending

How to Get the Biggest Fireworks Bang for Your Buck

Try a combo pack.

fireworks in the backyard
National Geographic Image Collection—Alamy

Last year for the first time, Americans spent more than $1 billion on fireworks, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. The bulk of those purchases—$695 million—went to backyard displays (commercial events accounted for the rest).

If past trends are any indication, this year we’re on track to shoot off even more Roman Candles, Brocades, Peonies, and other exploding shells—not least of all because the Fourth falls on a weekend.

Fireworks vendors say that you can put on a nice DIY display for between $100 and $300. But to get the most bang for your buck (sorry—couldn’t help it), William Weimer, vice president of Phantom Fireworks, the country’s largest pyrotechnics retailer, suggests buying assortment packages. Containing multiple shells in different colors and patterns, they cost from $50 to $1,500. One of Phantom’s most popular, the Legion of Fire ($200), contains 9 shots and lasts for 51 seconds. (See it in action here.)

Check out this gallery of some of the most popular firework effects. You can get the whole shebang (sorry—did it again!) for less than $100.

  • Peony

    150630_EM_BestBackyardFireworks_Peonies
    Doug Steakley—Getty Images/Lonely Planet Images

    The most common fireworks effect: a sphere that dissolves into colored stars ($25).

  • Chrysanthemum

    Chrysanthemum
    Zolt Levay—Getty Images/Flickr Flash

    A round burst that leaves a visible trail of light ($17 for 16 shots).

  • Dahlia

    Dahlia
    Jeff Hunter—Getty Images

    Like a peony, but with fewer and larger stars. In this shot, it’s the blue burst at the top left ($25).

  • Palm Tree

    150630_EM_BestBackyardFireworks_PhantomPalmTrees
    courtesy Phantom Fireworks Palm Tree

    A rising trunk, followed by fanned-out “fronds” ($10 and up, usually sold in combination packages).

TIME Family

Martini Stones, a Time-Locked Cigarette Case and Other Vintage Father’s Day Gift Ideas

Father feeding daughter sitting in high chair
H. Armstrong Roberts—Retrofile/Getty Images Father feeding baby, circa 1960s

TIME thought the items from 1963 offered "a touching composite picture of the National Daddy"

Father’s Day dates back to 1910, just a few years after Mother’s Day came into being, and in 1963 TIME noted that the holiday was also following its precursor on the road to commercialism. But rather than bemoan the materialism, the magazine used it as a window into the state of fatherhood in the United States.

Father‘s Day, which is beginning to edge into equal, if less throat-lumping, status with Mother’s Day, came and passed last week in a blaze of angled advertising,” TIME noted. “The things the stores picked out for special Father‘s Day promotion (after the usual collection of ties, bathrobes and gold-plated putters) added up to a touching composite picture of the National Daddy.”

So what exactly did these gifts tell us? For one thing, dad needed some help:

Up at last and out of doors, he is a dear, incompetent bumbler, forever picking a spot in a high wind for a game of cards (the solution: a magnetized playing board and card deck for $10). He is equally inept at the barbecue, getting mixed up about the orders for broiled steaks—for which he needs a $4 branding iron to remind him which should be rare, medium and well done. Making the martinis is also a struggle: to solve the how-much-vermouth problem there are Martini Stones ($3), to be soaked in vermouth, then dropped into each glass so that all Dad has to do is ice the gin and pour it in.

Other takeaways were that dad had no will power (“a cigarette case with a time lock that will open only at preset intervals”), was young at heart (“an I Am an Executive pencil box”) and needed help making decisions (“a swiveled silver dollar mounted on a paperweight, for mature heads-or-tails judgment”).

It’s enough to make you think twice before getting your father some inadvertently meaningful tchotchke. At least there’s always room for another necktie.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Bringing Up Father

MONEY freebies

These are the Best Father’s Day Freebies & Deals

UFC Gym in Chicago, Illinois
Josh Hedges—Zuffa LLC via Getty Images UFC Gym in Chicago, Illinois

Thank dad and demonstrate your great money sense at the same time.

For Father’s Day 2015, families can take advantage of promotions and giveaways at restaurants, museums, zoos, theme parks, and more—even a free workout in a mixed martial arts-themed gym.

Food

Father’s Day doesn’t have quite as many freebies as Mother’s Day, but there are still a bunch. Here are the five best giveaway promotions:

Beef O’Brady’s: Dads eat free (up to $10 value) at participating locations on Father’s Day, with the purchase of another meal of equal or greater value.

Brickhouse Tavern and Tap: From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., dads get a free brunch entree with the purchase of another entrée.

Hurricane Grill & Wings: Free entrée for dad with the purchase of another entrée in the party.

Medieval Times: Any day through Father’s Day, dad’s ticket to the dinner show is free with the purchase of a full-price adult ticket.

Spaghetti Warehouse: All dads are entitled to a free order of 15-layer lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs on Father’s Day.

Zoos & Museums

Zoos in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Columbus, Kansas City, Louisville, and Milwaukee are among the many offering dads (and usually, granddads) free admission on Sunday, typically with the requirement of at least one paid admission. Many museums, like the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Seattle’s Museum of Flight, and the transportation museums in Buffalo and St. Louis, have the same deal.

Theme Parks & Attractions

Dads get free admission to Jungle Island in Miami, the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho all weekend (Saturday and Sunday) with the purchase of another admission. Other theme parks, like Wild Waves in Washington, offer two-for-one tickets for dads and their kids on Father’s Day. The Georgia Aquarium is yet another attraction with free admission for dads on Father’s Day, with the purchase of one other admission.

Workouts

Depending on the dad in question, this freebie could a blessing or torture: UFC Gyms around the country are offering free fitness camp instructional workouts to dads and up to three guests (minimum age: 12) on Father’s Day. Space is limited, and UFC is encouraging families to sign up asap.

TIME Holidays

What Happened After the First Juneteenth

Juneteenth Celebration
Kent D. Johnson—AP Photo Re-enactor Marvin-Alonzo Greer is shown during a Juneteenth celebration at the Atlanta Cyclorama and Civil War Museum, June 20, 2014.

It was back in April that we marked the 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox Court House. But word of the Civil War’s end didn’t reach Texas until June 19, 1865.

As TIME explained in 1997:

Texas got the big news a little late. On June 19, 1865–nearly a month after the Civil War ended and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation–General Gordon Granger of the Union Army landed at Galveston, Texas, and read aloud General Order No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

Spontaneous celebrations broke out in Galveston and spread around the state–and thus the holiday of “Juneteenth” began.

What followed, however, was more complicated than the early celebration suggested. Proof could be found in a New York Times story from that July, headlined “The Negro Question in Texas.” The story reported that Granger’s order had specified to the people of Texas that the freedom of the former slaves “involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves.”

It seemed that the people of Houston didn’t quite get the message: freedmen were being interrogated as to whom they belonged to; if they did not name someone, they would be accused of idleness and put to work for the city. “[So], if this was an outbreak of the old spirit, a drawing distinctions based upon color alone, giving white men the right to be as idle as they please, but not tolerating idleness among the blacks; allowing whites to work where they please, but sending blacks ‘home to their masters’ or to the public works; it is a system which will have to be changed at Galveston, or wherever it is entered upon,” the Times concluded.

It took years before Juneteenth celebrations expanded. One remnant of early commemorations can still be seen in cities like Houston, where the still-in-use Emancipation Park was created after the freed population pooled money in 1872 to purchase the land in order to use it for Juneteenth celebrations.

More than a century later, in 1997, Congress recognized Juneteenth with a joint resolution, commemorating the fact that “Juneteenth celebrations have thus been held for 130 years to honor the memory of all those who endured slavery and especially those who moved from slavery to freedom,” though it is not a nationally recognized holiday. At least one place, however, will mark the 150th anniversary with major festivities: Galveston, Tex.

Read more: Here’s How America Observes Juneteenth

MONEY Shopping

The One Big Problem With Father’s Day Gift Guides

ugly ties in a pile
Getty Images

An actual real-live dad was consulted for this story. Imagine that!

We’ve all heard about how hard it is to pick out Father’s Day gifts. “Finding a Father’s Day gift ranks right up there on the difficulty scale with rocket science (at worst) and holding a plank for more than a minute (at best),” states a Glamour post accompanied by the prerequisite list of fashionable Father’s Day gift ideas. “Dads never seem to want anything until something breaks or gets lost.”

How awful. Doesn’t Dad know that his stubborn contentedness with what he has is getting in the way of your desire to spend an afternoon at Nordstrom and buy him something?

Certainly, Father’s Day gift-buying guides proliferate because selecting dad presents is such a pain. But that’s not the only reason. Father’s Day gift guides are also everywhere because children and spouses want to show their genuine appreciation for all that dads do (which is really nice), and the fact that retailers and advertisers love the opportunity to prod shoppers into buying supposedly manly merchandise that men wouldn’t buy for themselves (which is less nice).

Wanting nothing on Father’s Day is more or less considered a crime. More importantly, due to a mixture of obligation, guilt, and sincere affection, givers want to get something for the men in their lives. Hence the need for gift guides that theoretically help givers find the perfect “must-have” for a guy who, remember, doesn’t want anything. (Side note: Dads don’t use the phrase “must-have.”)

The big problem about Father’s Day gift guides, then, is that they are created much more with the giver rather than the recipient in mind. What’s more, these lists of Father’s Day gifts often seem to be compiled without any input whatsoever from actual, honest-to-goodness fathers.

This explains why Father’s Day gift guides are overloaded with cutting-edge gadgets, grooming products, luxury watches, stylish clothing, artisanal bourbon marshmallows, and what have you. These items are not necessarily about what dads want, but about what the givers want the dads in their lives to be like. They want dads to be hipper, smell and look better, and generally be trendier and less clueless.

Let’s think about this for a second. On the one day of the year devoted to fathers, the message accompanying many gifts is not simple appreciation for who dads truly are and all they do but nudges that say: Man, you need to get your act together. There would be upheaval if similarly passive-aggressive Mother’s Day gifts were handed out to implicitly tell Mom: You have awful taste and your appearance hasn’t been up to snuff lately.

Dads could be insulted by being force-fed these kinds of gifts. More often, they are received with a forced smile and a sense a puzzlement as to how much of a mismatch the item is with the kinds of things he truly likes. Detroit News finance editor (and genuine-article dad) Brian J. O’Connor recently pointed out many dos and don’ts (mostly don’ts) for Father’s Day gifts, in order to help givers avoid “having to slink back to Bed, Bath & Beyond or to waste your money shipping a return to that twee, ‘personally curated’ hippie store on the Web.” Among the many don’ts are items relating to Dad’s hobbies (if he wanted it, he’d have it), almost any kind of clothing, and anything personalized (coasters, tools, grilling sets, etc.).

To this, I’ll add the advice that if you must consult a Father’s Day gift guide, at least go to a source that the dad in your life knows and respects and therefore has a prayer of jibing with his sensibility. If your dad is a regular on Pinterest or etsy, or if he’s a big reader of Glamour, Seventeen, or Real Simple, or if he shops all the time at Nordstrom, Pottery Barn, or Bed, Bath & Beyond, that’s great. By all means check out their Father’s Day gift suggestions.

On the other hand, there’s a problem if you’re getting a Father’s Day gift based mostly on what you like—or perhaps what you want your dad or husband to be like. This is how dads wind up with scented candles on Father’s Day. They may be “manly” scented candles that look and smell like charcoal, but they’re scented candles nonetheless. And if your dad isn’t a scented candle kind of guy, what in the world are you doing buying him scented candles?

Likewise, if your father never looks at Esquire, InStyle, Details (or MONEY for that matter!), and would chuckle at the thought of dressing like any of the slick, trendy hipsters on the pages inside, then these resources should be dismissed, or at least their recommendations should be considered with extreme skepticism. These kinds of Father’s Day lists swear that your dad really does want a vintage $400 camera, a drone, $1,300 penny loafers, men’s makeup products, and perhaps a fancy wireless digital thermometer with Bluetooth connectivity for grilling meat.

If you truly know your dad, you should know whether these are the kinds of things he’ll like or be annoyed or mystified by. And if he says he really doesn’t want you to buy him anything, maybe, just maybe, you should believe him.

MORE: This Father’s Day, Your Dad Actually Needs a Tie
The Worst Father’s Day Gifts — And What to Buy Instead
What You Wish You Could Give Dad on Father’s Day, But Shouldn’t

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