“I don’t want anything for Christmas,” my dad told my brother and me this week. “I just want you to show me how to get Netflix on my TV.”
“Why Netflix?” I asked.
“So I can watch ‘The Crown,’ ” he said. “Season One. Does Netflix let you start from the beginning?”
“It does,” my brother informed him.
“I also want to watch ‘The Handmaid’s Tale.’ How do I do that?”
“It’s on Hulu,” we told him. “But you can use our password for it, too.”
“I’m going to need the instructions all written out, very carefully. Be explicit.”
“And laminate it,” my mom added sensibly.
“Yes, laminated,” my dad agreed.
It’s that time of year to buy last-minute holiday presents. As usual, I’m still on the hunt.
Buying presents for my parents became an exciting responsibility after graduating college, once I had a job that meant enough money to buy something more than bargain basement college sweatshirts or coffee mugs. As an adult, I could consider what family members actually wanted or might need. In fact, I had a duty to do so. My parents had been essentially perfect in gift giving for 20-some years. It was time for me to return the favor. Sometimes I lived up to the responsibility, and sometimes I didn’t.
Take books, for example. Recently I’ve become cognizant of the fact that if I don’t pick right, if I don’t read family-members’ moods and most recent interests correctly, the book will be banished to the basement, never opened. (My mom is the exception. She will read anything my brother or I give her, because we gave it to her. This is how she does things.)
Clothes can be problematic, too. Even when I track down a very flattering, hip dress shirt for my dad, for example, he will wear it once or twice and then put it away in favor of some hand-me-down that I used to wear in high school.
“It’s comfortable,” he says of the old track pants, track suit combo.
Regardless, my brother and I try hard, year after year, to match our parents’ interests with our finances and imaginations and understanding, demonstrating our love and attempts at maturity in currency.
One year, around when my dad retired and had more time and inclination for the television revolution/renaissance we’re all living through, I bought him a Chromecast device so he could project video from his phone, laptop or tablet onto the TV.
“This is just what you need,” I explained. “Mom can show you how to get your shows. You can get ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Madmen,’ ‘House of Cards,’ whenever you want.” He’d been saying how he was glad to have the time now, he could get to all the programs he’d missed. He just needed access to them.
“Very nice,” my dad said when he unwrapped the little box.
But it turned out that their TV didn’t have enough HDMI slots, so to plug in the Chromecast, you had to unplug something else and then replace it afterward. I fumbled through the routine once that Christmas night. A few weeks later, I asked how the Chromecast was going.
“It’s a little too complicated,” my dad said.
Even my mom, math teacher and family tech whiz, didn’t really want to deal with it. She, by the way, was happily enjoying the fleece I’d bought her.
“Well, maybe it’ll be useful someday,” I said, with my typical interest in wishing problems into the future.
“Definitely,” my mom said.
It’s been a few years since then and the shows have changed. My dad already has seen “The Wire” and relevant prestige and non-prestige television. (Retirement, as I understand it, is pretty nice.)
But there are new shows to watch, some of them unavailable on cable.
So it makes sense that the present he really wants is a connection to the new world unfolding on the internet just out of reach. He’s not a Twitter user, and is no connoisseur of copy-paste. He learned to text recently, though. So now I guess he thinks there are possibilities.
My brother and I will be getting him more than a set of instructions for Christmas, plus something decent for our mom. But we’ll be writing the Chromecast list, too. It will be clear and simple this time, so our dad’ll be able to fire up my mother’s aging iPad, skim over to Netflix and watch like any millennial. He’ll have grown and matured and embraced new tastes over the course of the year, just like we have.
And we’ll have finally gotten him a useful gift.