I should start by saying my daughter’s fine. When I heard the thump, though, I thought I’d broken my baby girl. Actually, my first reaction was “What the heck was that?”

Pulling up the blinds in the bedroom, I had no idea what would make that noise down at my feet—this double whump-thump. I looked down and it all made terrible sense. My 6-month-old had rolled herself off our bed where I’d sat her. Whump: her hitting the floor. Thump: her head bonking the banister.

I still fight against shame thinking about it. She was completely fine … but what if?

“What if” keeps me up at night as unwanted thoughts intrude, nightmares of terrible ways I could let my family down. For years, the best way I found to exercise those demons was to share this story with everyone I met. I just needed to get the info out there and see if people would unfriend me on Facebook. What I found shocked me–nearly every parent I told had a similar story. I heard tales of accidents that made me feel like I was doing PRET-ty well, all things considered.

These confessions of imperfect fathers ended up being a surprise gift for a dad in need of encouragement.

Need a gift for dad? Try some encouragement

Dads live in the eye of a storm, trying to keep our family in that sweet safe spot as the wind whips and the torrents surge. Life is chaos, and it turns out that many of the things we love most are fragile. We can’t keep our family sheltered from the storms, try as we might.

Sisyphus was this dude from Greek mythology who did something super messed up. Some god caught wind of Sis’ shenanigans and thought, Enough of that. Punishment time: Sisyphus had to roll a boulder up a hill. If he got it to the top, he was done. But the gods rigged it—he could never get it all the way up there. He got distracted, some bird pecked his toe. It rolled back down. Like pinball, but all the fun sucked out.

Fatherhood can feel like that—another day, another boulder, never getting over the hump of finding complete safety and security for the family. It’s exhausting. 

As a dad, here’s what helps me get out of the Sisyphus hopelessness. And if you’re looking for a gift for dad, it’s where I’d start.

1. Give dad the gift of recognition.

Reese Bobby drilled a terrible mantra into the head of his racing legend of a son, Ricky Bobby: “If you ain’t first, you’re last.” I resonate with that sentiment (even though my father was way better—I see you, Dad!). I focus more on my failures than I do my successes.

So when looking for a gift for dad this Father’s Day, consider reminding him of the ways he’s succeeded–especially the things that don’t feel like wins. Cutting the grass doesn’t feel like a win. Neither does taking out the trash. They’re just things dads do, right? Yet, they make an impact. Homes would be stinkier. Grass would be taller.

Hebrews 3:13 (NIV) tells us to “encourage one another daily … so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” As a dad, I’m tempted to focus only my failings, calcifying into a bitter man. Help us remember that even though we might break something sometimes, we’re also building something. God made us dads to be successes. Perfection and success don’t live on the same block. If you’re trying to be perfect, you’ll be a success, but you won’t be able to realize it.

Which leads me to my next gift idea.

2. Give dad the gift of forgiveness.

I’m wading into deep waters here–your dad might have done terrible things. If that’s the case, I’m not saying to just willy-nilly up and forgive everything—not without a lot of processing, counsel and prayer.

But even if your dad is a great guy, chances are he’s got something he regrets doing (or not doing). Something like when I let my daughter slide down a slide all by herself (she was 1), and she ended up in the ER with a cut lip and a scar that might last forever.

Ugh, I was so confident in that moment—the slide was so tiny and I was right there watching, phone in my pocket for a change—and still it happened. I remember all the parents crowding around as her lip gushed blood, offering crumpled napkins and hesitant advice. I could read the accusations in their eyes. Now I realize they were just mirrors reflecting my own shame.

Ephesians 4:32 recommends we “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” That’s a great verse to apply to a father!

Why not try asking your dad if there’s anything in his parenting journey he regrets or would have done differently and process it through with him? Tell him it’s okay, you forgive him. And if you can see the positive side of what happened, like something it taught you, feel free to share that. Lighten dad’s load by letting him know he doesn’t have to carry the weight of that moment with him any longer.

Get together with your friends and learn the Art of Parenting.

3. Give dad the gift of growth.

Legendary movie dad Tom Callahan left a big impression, even though he only lasted about 12 minutes into the movie. He expressed belief in his son, “Tommy Boy,” and dispensed wise advice, including, “In business, you’re either growing or you’re dying—ain’t no third direction.”

That applies pretty well to fatherhood, too. I saw a sign in my gym the other day that read, “You don’t stop exercising because you get old. You get old because you stop exercising.” Two bumper stickers, one point: As dads, we’re never done learning.

Dads, what if we judged ourselves according to how we father tomorrow?

I’m 42, and I cut my own grass for the first time two weeks ago. I was so proud.  It took me two hours—one hour to cut the grass, and when the mower needed refueling, one solid hour trying to figure out how the gas can worked. It feels ludicrous to me to feel pride in doing something that is Dad 101, but I’d learned and grown.

There’s a way for every Dad to grow—some part of life he hasn’t yet experienced or conquered. Find him a gift that helps him to see it. Has your dad read your favorite book, seen your go-to movie, or played the game you would totally crush him at? The opportunity to learn is the real gift that keeps on giving—take that, Jelly of the Month Club. Shift your focus from what he has been, done, and liked, to what you dream for him in the future. No more diminishing returns—you’re restarting the process!

4. Give dad the gift he doesnt know he wants.

I tried this with my dad once. I saw someone using a “headlight”—a flashlight you strap to your forehead—and thought, I bet my dad would like one of these! So that’s what he got from me for Christmas. When he opened it, he was (pretty obviously) unimpressed. He thanked me, but he looked down at it like, “Where can I store this piece of junk?”

Two weeks later, I got a random call from my dad. “Guess what?!” he shouted. “I used the headlight thing!” Ah, sweet vindication. I was so happy. Not only did I give my dad a gift he liked, but I’d been able to give him something he never knew he wanted.

Trying out these gifts might flop in the moment, but there’s a strong chance you’re going to get an excited call like I did as your dad realizes, “I really needed that.” The more time you spend with your Dad, the more you’ll be able to choose those surprisingly useful gifts.

The hope dads need

Writing amidst the rubble of his broken city, Jeremiah finds the courage to write about the hope dads need: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Us Dads need to know we’re capable of building something in a breakable world, feel grace covering our mistakes, and that tomorrow can be better than today. That’s a father I’d be proud to be. Ditch the “World’s Best Dad” mug and get to work on these gifts. Trust a Dad: We’ll love them.

Copyright © 2022 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Andy Allan lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Sara, and three kids, Ellie, Bodie and Asher. You’ll find him biking Lincoln’s trails or watching the latest Fast and Furious movie. Connect with him at andrew.allan@cru.org or on Twitter at @KazBullet.