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Introducing Christmas Dad – the most difficult person in the world to shop for.


Earlier this year, there was a buzz around a certain type of man dubbed “Waterstones Dad” by Gavin Jacobson in the New Statesman. This term refers to a centrist and politically neutral individual who is fond of books and may also have a strong admiration for Jeremy Paxman.

Books in his collection include Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, How to Be Right by James O’Brien, Ben Ansell’s Why Politics Fails and Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind by Tom Holland. It will come as no surprise to anyone that, as a middle-aged man, Waterstones Dad avoids fiction like the plague.

I have concerns regarding the idea of a “Waterstones Dad,” particularly because it seems to mock Waterstones, a bookshop that I personally adore and will fiercely support. However, my main issue is this: unless you reside in a small, privileged group of centrist swing voters who both read Harari and make £90k annually, it is unlikely that you have encountered a Waterstones Dad in real life.

I frequently visit Waterstones and notice that the only fathers present are exhausted-looking individuals who seem to be grumbling, “We’re here for books, not toys” and “You already have all the Bunny vs Monkey books.” I believe that the stereotype of the “Waterstones Dad” is non-existent. However, a similar figure, known as “Christmas Dad,” is currently a dominant force in the market. Allow me to introduce you to this demographic.

The concept of “Christmas Dad” is not as clearly defined as “Waterstones Dad.” He could have a high salary or a lower one, be retired, and reside anywhere in the country. His only distinguishing characteristic is being a father. During the holiday season, it may seem like the publishing industry is solely focused on catering to him, but this is not the case. Rather, it is catering to those who need to buy him a gift soon.

The Top 50 list from The Bookseller is a precise representation of the stereotypical “Christmas Dad.” In recent weeks, titles such as Jack Reacher’s book and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s self-help book have held the third and fourth spots respectively. Other notable titles include Richard Osman’s book, one by Jeremy Clarkson, Patrick Stewart’s autobiography, and David Mitchell’s book about the monarchy. There are also popular annuals from Private Eye and books written by the guests of Gary Lineker’s popular podcast. A book on behavioral strategies titled Surrounded By Idiots can also be found on the list. This trend will continue until January when Christmas Dad will give way to the perennial successor, Post-Christmas Self-Improvement Mum.

There are a plethora of books, and an equal number of fathers. However, it’s important to keep in mind that despite the titles, Christmas Dad won’t be the one purchasing them for himself. While Waterstones Dad may have a strong desire for self-improvement, Christmas Dad has very little agency. However, this doesn’t mean he won’t receive any of these books. In fact, he will receive most of them, often in duplicates. On Christmas morning, he will open them and feign gratitude, muttering something along the lines of “I’ve been meaning to read this.” However, he will likely set them aside in order to play with the drone he bought for himself a few weeks prior.

There is a clear justification for the abundance of Christmas books about fathers, which highlights the true essence of having a father. Dads are notoriously difficult to shop for during the holiday season. While this may be a generalization, in my personal experience, dads tend to simply purchase things they want instead of waiting for them to be given as gifts. They also tend to be less vocal about their desires compared to other family members.

And woe betide the dad who dares to have an actual hobby. My dad, for example, is a keen angler. For years, this meant that every Christmas present he ever received was fish-themed. Pictures of fish. Ceramic fish. Ties shaped like fish, even though he was a plumber and therefore had no practical need for them. With the benefit of hindsight, I would have clocked the slight twitch in his eye as he unwrapped yet another fish-themed gift, and understood the intense pain that came from only being known to his loved ones as The Fish Guy.

Searching “gifts for dad” on Google yields a flood of cliché options such as USB mug warmers, multitool key rings, and hubcap-shaped clocks. These one-time-use novelty gifts fail to convey the sentiment of knowing who the recipient truly is, despite them being the most important man in one’s life.

Books can be a tricky gift, as book preferences are very individualized and specific. For example, my dad enjoys fantasy books with illustrated maps at the beginning, but not all fantasy books with illustrated maps fit his taste. I once attempted to buy him a book that fit this criteria, but learned that he only enjoys a very limited selection within this genre. Going even slightly outside of his comfort zone would have been just as ineffective as getting him a romance novel.

Wouldn’t it be better to choose something fresh and trendy? There are many options available. In the month of October alone, there were numerous new releases catering to different types of fathers. For the traditional dads, Nicholas Shakespeare wrote a biography on Ian Fleming. For the hipster dads, Johnny Marr penned a book about his guitars. For the older hipster dads, Philip Norman wrote a book about George Harrison. For the intimidating dads who are hard to approach at the school gates, Rudy Reyes from SAS: Who Dares Wins wrote a “life philosophy” titled Hero Living. For fathers with multiple children (one of whom has already gifted them the new Jeremy Clarkson), Kaleb Cooper wrote a book. And for my own father (please stop reading now, Dad), Paul Whitehouse wrote a book on fishing.

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I recently gifted my father with a copy of The Rest Is History, the physical version of the podcast hosted by Dominic Sandbrook and Tom Holland. He devoured it eagerly. Although he had not listened to the podcast before, the book’s style of concise and authoritative popular history was like a powerful weapon targeting his mind.

Several weeks later, we attended the live performance of Sandbrook and Holland at the Hammersmith Apollo. For those like Holland, it was a return to their roots. The audience, comprised of thousands of holiday dads, calculated how much the hosts made from selling 3,000 tickets for £40 each, while conversing in unique podcast tones. It was truly inspiring to witness. My father is now a devoted fan of Tom Holland and I can proudly revel in the satisfaction of giving him something he genuinely enjoys. Although I have never defused a bomb by snipping its wires in the correct sequence, I imagine the feeling is similar to selecting a book that brings joy to my dad.

It can be easily misunderstood. If I were to receive the latest memoir from Tyson Fury’s father, entitled “When Fury Takes Over: My Bare-Knuckle Life As the Head of the Fury Family,” I would likely begin the new year feeling very uncertain about my role within the family. However, Simon Garfield has recently published three brief biographies about famous fonts, including one that offers a critical reassessment of Comic Sans. Whoever gifts me these books will truly understand me.

I had a moment of realization when I saw the new Garfield books displayed on the shelves. It made me come to terms with a truth that I have been trying to avoid – I am a Christmas Dad. It’s highly likely that I will receive some of the books I mentioned as gifts for Christmas. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Unlike Waterstones Dad, Christmas Dads have nothing to be ashamed of. Being a Christmas Dad means having a loving family who put in more than the minimum effort to consider your interests.

In the interest of honesty, I must disclose that I have a personal stake in this matter. My book about the experience of baldness will be released in April. Will it be popular among readers? The answer is uncertain. However, I am hopeful that many people will purchase it as a gift for their fathers next Christmas, simply because their fathers are bald and they are unsure of what else to give them. Whether I want to or not, my financial stability relies on the holiday sales to fathers.

Source: theguardian.com