The Joy of Giving

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“She just wouldn’t let me buy her anything.” Jessie’s grandmother said, as she expressed her frustration to me about their morning trip to an arts and crafts festival. Jessie had spent Friday night at her grandparents’ house. Early Saturday morning, Jessie’s great uncle and grandmother took her to the event. Many attendees made purchases. Jessie’s grandmother wasn’t one of them, much to her dismay, as she wanted to buy something for her 13-year-old granddaughter.

After the festival, Jessie’s grandmother dropped her off at the library, as I had reserved a table at the library’s book fair for Jessie and me to promote my book. Before leaving the library, Jessie’s grandmother checked out the other authors’ stands. She came back to our table and told us, “I met an author who wrote a book where the story took place near a city I grew up in.”

A few minutes after Jessie’s grandmother left, Jessie whispered, “We need to go buy that book for Grandmommy.” I might have thought of this eventually, but her young brain works faster than my old one. Prior to leaving the event, I purchased the book and asked the author to sign it.

When we got back to Jessie’s grandparents’ house, Jessie walked in the front door with the book hidden behind her back. She couldn’t wait until Christmas. Her grandmother’s face lit up when Jessie handed it to her.

Gift giving! Yes, it’s the time of year when shopping days are counting down. But in this calmer, pre-Christmas season, I realize Jessie’s approach is the right one. The joy is in the giving, not the receiving.

Last week, I stopped at the dance studio to pick up Jessie from her ballet class. I arrived a few minutes early, so I peeked through the window of the studio to catch a glimpse of her dance routine. My eyes widened when I saw four high school-aged girls lifted Jessie above their heads. They spun her outstretched body around in a circle, 6 or 7 feet above the floor. When they put her down a few seconds later, she gave a quick glance to the window to see if I saw what had just happened. Oh, I saw it all right!

My gift to Jessie was that I didn’t run into the studio yelling, “Don’t drop my baby!” As the tallest girl on her elementary school’s cheering squad, Jessie was always the “lifter,” not the “liftee.” Now, as she dances with older girls, being twirled in the air is an exciting first for her. I’m still learning as a father, but I’m pretty sure Jessie wouldn’t have approved if I had run in with open arms ready to catch her.

At the same time, though, Jessie gave me a gift. After her quick glance, I noticed the corners of her mouth curved upward. She was glad I was there to see her flying. Okay, maybe she wasn’t flying, but let’s just say Dad’s more comfortable when Jessie is the “lifter.”

In the weeks ahead, tired, frantic shoppers will be out in full force. Yet it’s good to remember we can share gifts each day and, in many cases, without spending a dime. A smile, a hug and a good deed go a long way. Not running in to embarrass your child is good, too. I think one of the most appreciated gifts, though, is sharing our time with others.

So, when you’re searching for a parking space or standing in a long line at the store, remember that some of the best gifts are free and don’t require a trip to the mall or an online shopping spree.

And when the holidays end, don’t stop giving gifts. We can experience the joy of giving every day.

Patrick Hempfing had a 20-year professional career in banking, accounting and auditing before he became a father at age 44. He is now a full-time husband, stay-at-home dad and writer. Follow him at


Categories: Dads, Family, Giving Back, Parenting