Shopping with and for daughters can be a frustrating ordeal, especially for single or divorced dads, but it doesn’t have to be.
It’s that time of year again when dads like us are challenged with the task of shopping for our daughters. Quite frankly, I hate to shop. Unless I’m buying a house, a car, or a kick ass sound system, I’d rather munch on a bag of kale under a dirty bridge.
As the primary parent in our own domains, however, we don’t always get the option to avoid the mall. This year, I find myself in a deeper quandary. My girls are older and their tastes are more, well, girly. Up to now I’ve bought them all the phones and computers they could ever need. Now that they’re asking for clothes and makeup, I’m in over my head. Fortunately, I’ve learned a few strategies over the years for coping with these foreign requests.
1. Just ask them what they want
I don’t do subtleties. If I did, I suppose I might still be married. Manipulation is lost on me and unless a request is specifically stated, I’m likely to ignore it completely or, literally, not have it register at all. I have learned to just ask my girls what they want.
Not like, “Hey, what do you want?” as we’re passing each other in the hallway, but I have them create gift websites where they upload pictures, post sizes, colors and a link to the store. I also ask that they prioritize what they want and list the prices. They don’t always get everything on their lists, but if they prioritize, they will get the things they want most.
I have one tech savvy daughter and one who refuses to pick up her iPad unless she’s moving it to get to her snacks. For her, I ask her to write down, in detail, what she wants, where to get it, and all of the pertinent information.
I share their lists with relatives and ask that the relatives tell me what they have bought from the list to ensure there are no duplicates. This method does require a bit of logistical maneuvering, but in the long run, it has been the most effective and least stressful way to make everybody happy.
2. Shop online as much as possible
I’m a huge advocate of online shopping. The links I force…ahem…ask my kids to provide on their websites, usually link right to the item they want. The rest of the information is on the site they created, or the paper they wrote it on, to which I can refer back (e.g., size small, tan, etc.). All I have to do is place the order and whip out the credit card. This is much preferred to actually walking into a store.
If you’re a tightwad like me, consider looking for deals on other websites. Amazon.com sometimes beats competitors’ pricing. I have Amazon Prime, so most of my shipping is free. If an online store doesn’t offer free shipping and the store is close by, I usually, though begrudgingly, just go pick up the item.
Lately, my girls seem to want things from online specialty boutiques. I really have no clue what some of the stuff is, but it makes sense to their teenage brains. Shipping is usually unavoidable in those cases. Buy early, as some of these sites can take much longer to ship.
3. If (God forbid) you have to go inside a store, get help immediately!
My daughter asked for a long list of makeup for Christmas this year. Outside of the frilly names like “naked lady” blush and “get real” eye liner, I would have thought she listed the ingredients for a nuclear bomb. Either way, I knew I was out of my element.
Walking in the front door of a rather posh makeup-only store, I made eye contact with the first sales person I saw and slapped the list down in front of her. “I need these four items,” I said matter-of-factly.
“Well, we don’t carry, this, this, or this,” she said, scratching the items off my list with a red pen she oddly happened to be holding. She seemed disinterested in helping me, or perhaps just busy doing something else. Again, subtleties. Who knows?
“But you carry that one?” I asked, pointing to the last item on the list and not dissuaded by her tone or demeanor.
“Yes,” she said.
“I’ll take it.”
She walked towards the back of the store, as though beckoning me to a secret hide-away. She spoke in hushed tones. “Here is what you’re looking for…but if you buy this, then you also need a remover to go with it.” Was this a secret? I wasn’t sure.
“So once you put the makeup on, it’s difficult to get off?” I asked curiously.
“Oh, yes, your daughter should also have the remover,” she assured me.
“Well, she puts her make up on every day,” I insisted. “Why not just leave it there?”
I had either stumped the sales lady, or irritated her. I couldn’t exactly tell by the dead stare. “Would you like to buy the remover, or not?” She asked.
I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Since they’re a set, why not?”
We men don’t like asking for directions or making small talk, but we like wandering around makeup and lingerie stores even less, particularly when the unmentionables are for our daughters. Make eye contact with the first employee you see and ask him or her to either get the item for you, or take you directly to it. Whatever you do, don’t let them drop you off near the item without holding it in your hand before they walk away. This is a trick they do to get you to buy more stuff because they know you don’t know what the hell you’re looking at. I once got left looking for an item so long I couldn’t find my way out of the store. Other customers thought I worked there. True story.
Referring back to the list I get from my girls, if I can’t pull up their websites on my smartphone, I take a picture, or bring their list with me and hand it to the store employee with very simple directions. “Go get this for me.” Generally, they are more than willing to help. Women seem to be especially amused by my incompetence, which triggers their instinct to help…or mother me, or whatever. It doesn’t matter why they’re doing it, only that it gets done.
4. If you have to go, stay engaged
Now, here’s the hard part. I do occasionally go with my children to the mall, particularly after the holidays or birthdays because some shmuck gave them money to spend. The kids are not yet driving and I’m not comfortable dropping them off at a mall and driving away.
I’m of no value to anyone trying to match outfits or colors for any purpose. As a color blind individual, I have on more than one occasion worn clothing for several years believing it was one color only to find out much later it was another. Quite frankly, since Joan Rivers died I lost interest in the Fashion Police, or any scenario, really, where the word “fashion” might be used.
That said, it’s tempting to zone out with your smartphone, run to the food court, bang your head against a glass wall, or anything to keep your mind off the fact that you’re in a mall for the sole purpose of looking for girl clothes and makeup, or glitter and stickers, or whatever it is they do there. But don’t forget to stay engaged.
My daughter had birthday money to spend recently and asked that I run her to the local department store. “I won’t be long,” she said, lying through her braces, but with the sincerity of a puppy.
I sat on a short wooden bench in the women’s department. I’m of the opinion that there should be an enforceable law that chairs and benches line the walls of women’s clothing and shoe departments for the millions of men forced to go along for the ride. Unoccupied places to sit can be difficult to find. But I digress. Perusing my smart phone, my daughter came back discouraged. “I don’t see anything,” she said. “I guess we can go.”
I looked up from the phone and noticed a style of clothing I thought she would normally wear. “What about that orange top over there?” I said. “That’s totally you!”
“Dad, that’s hot pink.” She rolled her eyes. “I would never wear that.”
“Well, did you look at the sale rack?” I questioned further.
“I always go there first,” she said. (That’s my girl!)
We chatted about what she was looking for and I walked around the women’s department with her for a few minutes before we finally left the store. It was a small, but meaningful connection. She was fully aware of my incompetence, but appreciated that I tried. The fact that she didn’t suggest I wait in the car next time spoke volumes.
As we enter this dreadful season of shopping and good cheer, give at least a passing nod to other guys you might see in the shopping malls and department stores as a gesture of solidarity. But most importantly, and in all seriousness, take time to enjoy the moment with your girls. It’s a fleeting treasure you, and they, can have for the rest of your lives.
Photo – Vishnu Potluri