|This post is written with permission.|
I'm super jazzed about this! I love that Allan wants to learn something new, that he wants to be more in touch with music, one of his great passions. I also love it because it speaks well for his mental health. Allan lives with depression, and this is a good barometer of how well it's managed right now.
But besides all that, Allan is incredibly difficult to buy gifts for, and his birthday has been a source of hurt feelings for me in the past. I would think long and hard, plan and shop, only to receive a tepid response, a polite thank you, and I'd know the idea fell flat. Nothing I gave him ever got a "wow". Anything "wow," he just buys for himself.
I've been aware that this dynamic touched on some bad memories from childhood: my father would reject gifts from me and my siblings. Birthdays and Father's Day was an occasion for him to tell us we bought the wrong size, or spent too much money, or didn't understand what he asked for, or whatever we did "wrong". Yeah.
That's the backdrop.
And this culminated in the Great DFW Debacle of 2003.
Allan's favourite author is David Foster Wallace, and he is a huge fan of Infinite Jest. Allan's also a collector-slash-hoarder. In his late 30s he was collecting (among other things) different editions of Jest. The British edition, a paperback with a new cover, a copy Wallace signed for him at a reading, and so on. I had heard Allan talk about an edition of Jest that contained a printing error. It had cache because it was from a limited print run, the typo being fixed in current printings.
Months before Allan's birthday, I hunted for a signed copy of this edition. I emailed with several people, found a copy in the UK, double and triple confirmed that the typo on whatever page was indeed there, and bought it. I had never done anything like that before, and I was so pleased with myself! At last, I had an awesome gift for Allan. I also told him that I finally had a special gift that he would love. Told him more than once, because me. A lot of build-up. Sigh.
After much anticipation, the big day arrived. Allan opened his gift, looked at me blankly and said, "Why did you buy me this?"
. . . .
. . . .
He already owned a copy of Jest with the typo.
I was heartbroken.
He said, "Well, signed is nice. I didn't have this edition signed."
I decided, that's it, I'm done. I'm not doing this anymore. Here's a gift card or some cash, go shopping. To me this felt thoughtless and generic, but over the years, he has enjoyed it.
* * *
When Allan turned 50, I created a scavenger hunt for cash in various denominations hidden all over the house. He mostly suffered through it. He loved finding the money, but didn't enjoy playing the game. Back to gift cards.
Last year I actually gave Allan a gift he truly enjoyed. I had taken a wonderful short city trip with a very dear friend who I hadn't seen in many years. I also travel a bit for work. Allan was envious. So for his birthday last year I arranged a short trip to Victoria, and he really enjoyed it. That was quite expensive (rental car and hotel) and we couldn't do it that annually. So, a great idea, but a one-off.
I also want to add that Allan usually makes a big fuss over my birthday and it's always great. This issue only goes in one direction!
So that's the backstory. The announcement of a special gift for his 60th -- already exactly what he wants -- was more than exciting. It was a huge relief.
* * * *
A postscript. Some months after the DFW Debacle, in a Red Sox discussion forum that Allan belongs to, someone posted a question: "My wife gets me birthday presents I don't really like. Should I tell her?" Allan posted a reply: No. Do not. Under no circumstances should you ever tell her.