A Hustler's Guide to Father's Day Gifts

Whatever you're planning for Father's Day, I'm absolutely sure it won't come close to what's going on at my house this weekend. I am, quite literally, organizing a three-ring circus. There will be carnival games, bingo and outdoor movies (but no clowns—too creepy). Trust me, if I could have rented lions and tigers and bears, I would have done it. Admittedly, this extravaganza is not just in honor of Father's Day. June also marks my son's birthday, my husband's birthday and my birthday. And it's the end of the school year—an important thing when your better half is a schoolteacher.

So with the wisdom and restraint that my friends and family will tell you is my hallmark, I have launched into extreme party-planning mode. I've spent hours searching the Web for "polka-dot cutlery," "street stripe laminated cotton" and "circus cupcake toppers." And I'm pretty sure that I am now the No. 1 consumer of circus-themed birthday decorations ... in the world. (Yes, I know we're in a recession—money is tight for us too—but I cannot help myself. I am compelled by this tiny lunatic voice in my head that constantly whispers to me, "More. Bigger. Color-coordinated." I've always been this way; you wouldn't believe the extravaganza that was my wedding. People are still talking about the bathroom baskets.)

So, it's clear that my son is set in the celebration department. He will one day be able to look back at the pictures of his first birthday party and say, "My mom loved me enough to climb a 30-foot ladder in a futile attempt to turn my grandparents' backyard into a big top." (Note: For those now itching to curse me out for my profligate ways, don't bother. There's nothing you can say that'll stop me; just ask my mother.)

But I was a bit stymied about what to do for Cory, my husband. I mean, this a big deal: his first birthday celebrated with his son, his first Father's Day and his first summer vacation without a gallbladder (I may have mentioned this in an earlier column, but he had surgery about a month ago—he's fine now). That means a big present, right? If I were indifferent about the care and feeding of my new son, I would take Cory on a trip around the world. Of course, we can't afford that, but you get my drift.

My plan now is to get him an Orvis fly-fishing outfit—the whole works from rod and reel to the crazy hat. It's perfect; the man loves to fish and might even cry with joy. But I'm still agonizing over whether I should do it. It might ruin my marriage. From what I can tell, fly-fishing isn't actually a hobby, it's a lifelong commitment, a sacrament … like shoe shopping. And if I give the man the means by which to fish, I will be giving him tacit approval to spend hours and days alone in the great blue yonder trying to con a trout into biting a fuzzy piece of string while I mope at home with my son, Gabriel. (I can hear a million wives who've made this mistake screaming at me to return the equipment now.)

But I've thought it through, weighed the pros and cons and decided to go for it. Don't saint me yet. I'm not really doing it for love. I'm giving my husband hours of outdoor fun for one reason: for an unmitigated position on the high ground. I don't need him to be around at 6 in the morning, when the trout are jumping and my son is sleeping. I love lazy weekend mornings with Gabriel. What I need from that rod and reel is for Cory to feel guilty about all the fishing. So, on a Wednesday at 8:30 p.m., when Gabriel is acting like a drunken old man, crying and laughing at the same time, waving his bottle crookedly and banging his head on the pillow, Cory will feel compelled to step in and I can read a magazine. The guilt from one morning of fishing should also allow me at least a facial and a few minutes on Facebook after work, maybe even the occasional mani-pedi.

A brilliant plan, right? (Note: For those now itching to curse me out for my manipulative ways, I wish you luck. Your condemnations have nothing on the anxiety moms get when they have 39 things to do and three and a half minutes before the baby wakes up. I say, all's fair in love and child rearing.)

And you know, now that I'm thinking about it, I suspect fly-fishing (and possibly golf) was invented by women so they could barter for some quiet time. Can't you imagine? About 15,000 years ago, the gatherers (women) were getting the fruit and nuts before it was their turn to watch the kids and roast dinner. The hunters (men) were walking behind them (a little too close) and asking them questions without waiting for answers. "Do we need all those nuts? Why can't you get the really good fruit on the other side of the delta that my mother uses? Oh, while you're over there, don't forget to be on the lookout for a carcass, preferably fresh, but not too fresh—the last one you got was too fresh."

At the end of their rope, the gatherers sent the hunters fishing, even though they didn't really need fish. And boom, suddenly a culture becomes what the anthropologists call agro-pastoral. The men followed the fish while we worked on the next stage of social evolution (which I think was the invention of the wedge shoe). Then fishing became a "passion" characterized by lying about the ones that got away and waxing nostalgic about the great outdoors, and nothing got done on weekend mornings for about 14,000 years, until we figured out that those mornings were perfect for shoe shopping. This of course led to the modern parental bartering system, in which 30 minutes of tantrum duty was worth two hours of solo shoe shopping. Or was that two tantrums and one bedtime story or toothbrushing equals one hour of shoe shopping or two hours of fishing? Wow, reducing complex human behavior into prehistoric parables is fun. Though I haven't yet figured out where golf fits into all this. (Note: For those now itching to curse me out for my sexist ways, I say write your own parable.)

So, I'm done. I've got a circus coming to town for Gabe and a new hobby for Cory. Though I'm told that fly-fishing is a calling or some such nonsense like that. And now I'm celebrated out until at least the Fourth of July. And I'd like to thank you, Orvis, for improving my work-life balance and possibly making me wife of the year. Oh, and don't worry about this column ruining the surprise; I'll just tell him I wrote about shoes and he'll never read it.