Father’s Day Gifts to Help Dad Get Through the Pandemic

These will bring a smile to his face.

A compact travel magnetic backgammon set with carrying strap
Photo illustration by Slate. Image via WE Games.

Quarantine is putting a cramp in graduation parties, Sweet 16s, and so many special occasions. But don’t forget: Father’s Day is coming! True, this year’s might be a Zoom check-in versus brunch with the whole crew. And no, gifts aren’t the point. But it’s pretty easy to send a thoughtful something while maintaining your social distance.

Since my kids aren’t in school at the moment, they don’t have teachers prodding them to remember to make Father’s Day cards. And since my family has two dads in it, we’re not going to end up with gifts that were stealthily chosen by a spouse. If I were going to treat myself, though, here’s what I might splurge on.

For the Dad Who’s Coping by Cooking

The best gift for a home cook isn’t an appliance or something fancy. (Most amateurs are quite specific about their dream stand mixers or chef’s knives anyway.) But you can’t go wrong with a kitchen basic. I prepare 99 percent of my family’s meals, yet I still skimp on the little practical tools that would make that labor so much easier. Why? I have no idea. We used the same decrepit oven mitt for more than a decade; I recently replaced it, and the new one makes me so happy. We only had one colander for ages. Not long ago I bought three more and that makes … a lot more sense. Also if someone gave me a bucket of Maldon, I would weep with joy, yet somehow I would never buy this for myself.

For the Dad Who’s Honing a New Skill

Some people are keeping journals, others are trying their hand at portraiture; some are plotting modern-day victory gardens, others are just learning to teach their fifth grader math. No matter what Dad’s up to, a pencil will help. I have always wanted personalized pencils because … why not? And this pencil sharpener is one of the most-used tools in my new home-slash-school.

For the Dad Who Misses a Civilized Evening Out

Many of us are panic-drinking a 5 p.m. glass of wine, but one of the particular pleasures I miss is going to an elegant bar and having someone else fix me a drink and then offer me a heavy bowl full of something salty. It’s a simple pleasure, but one I relish. It’s almost worth re-creating at home with a bottle of something special-occasion-y.

For the Dad Who’s Tired of Screen Time

Binge-watching is all well and good but there’s nothing better than a book. My friends at my local bookshop Books Are Magic offer a great subscription service (a brand-new, highly anticipated book a month—you choose whether dad prefers fiction or non-); the booksellers at D.C.’s Politics and Prose manage a gift subscription program—they tailor recommended titles to the profile you provide. One of my favorite publishers, New York Review Books, has a monthly subscription program too, if you’ve got a dad whose taste runs from Renata Adler to Patrick Modiano.

The other old-fashioned pursuit I recommend? Backgammon! It’s so gentlemanly but great fun: straightforward enough that you can teach a 10-year old but complex enough to be competitive, even intense. A travel set is ideal because you can set up outside—and I know we can all use some fresh air.

For the Dad Who Misses Going to the Museum

It is absolutely not possible to replicate the experience of visiting a museum while at home. But I’m bummed I missed the Donald Judd show currently installed in a shuttered MoMA, and I’d happily take a quiet hour to pore over its catalog. For me, no visit to a museum is complete without an espresso in the café; a homebrewed macchiato would help perfect the illusion. It’s not the same, no, but still: pretty nice.

For the Dad Who Misses Going to the Movies

There are streaming services aplenty—one kind of dad might prefer a subscription to the Criterion Channel, while another might like an upgrade to Amazon Prime, which brings with it access to a vast library. But both dads will enjoy candy in a movie theater box, which by some magic simply tastes better.

For the Dad With Real Flair

There’s not a lot of point in getting dressed up these days, but style is an everyday pursuit. An over-the-top print upgrades Baggu’s handy reusable totes. If we’re all wearing our comfiest sneakers, there’s no reason we can’t give them an instant upgrade with some colorful new laces. And we’re all washing our hands a lot. Moisturizing is key.

For the Dad Who’s Working Out at Home

We’re not going to the gym, true, but neither are we wasting two hours daily on a commute. Working out from home requires only commitment and a handful of gear. To me the genius of a good headband is not its ability to regulate sweat but that it can double as a system for keeping earbuds where they belong—the simplest upgrade but one that really helps the exercise routine. Also: A good mat changes everything.