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Alice Azania Jarvis: A present for the dad who wants nothing

In The Red

It's my dad's birthday in three days. In other words: yesterday, since funnily enough this column isn't written live as you read it (though that would be good, wouldn't it? Me sat here at a computer, fingers poised over the keyboard, waiting for you to turn to the page).

As you do, I texted him asking what he wanted. And as he always does, he insisted he wanted nothing. Parents do this. It's their shtick. When you do buy them something (which you knew you would all along – and, to be honest, they probably knew you would too), they chastise you like you've done something truly awful, like, I don't know, stolen the gift straight from a grandmother's kitchen. Though possibly they'd be happier with that, so strenuous is their insistence that they don't want you to spend any money on them. "DON'T spend any money," texts my mum in the run-up, not just to her, but also to everyone else in the family's anniversaries.

Of course I will spend money anyway – though, as it happens, I quite like my gifts to look like they've been stolen straight from a grandmother's kitchen. Particularly when it comes to my dad, for whom I rarely buy anything other than food or drink: jars of pickles, tins of gentleman's relish, slabs of cheese, bottles of wine (though this is always a hazard, since I know precisely zero about wine other than the fact that I quite like it). But whatever: the point is it's all a dance, this offering, this denial. In truth, my dad probably doesn't want anything (this being a man who once gave away most of his good clothes, only to replace them with a few odds and ends from a charity shop). But most of the time, when we say we don't, we really do.

After all, who doesn't like presents? My other parent (known in some circles as my "mother") performs a similar ritual of denial to my father. But I know that deep down, in her heart of hearts, a Diptyque candle won't hurt. Nor will a bunch of flowers, or a bottle of fizz. We all do it: we all tell other people we don't want anything, while secretly hoping they stump up enough for a box of chocolates, at least. The only time we don't is when we're getting married. Then – well, it's a gifting free-for-all. Wedding lists, present tables, engagement showers. Even tax breaks! It's the most admirable thing about the whole institution.