I was on my way out of the driveway when my son came running to the car. His face was radiant
with joy when he said: "I have something for you, Dad."
"You do?" I asked, slightly annoyed by the delay. He opened his hands and showed me the best a
five year-old boy could imagine. "I found it myself." In his small hands was a marble, an old
racecar, a broken elastic, and various other items I have since forgotten. "Here, Dad, these are for
He was bursting with pride.
"I don't have time right now, my boy. I am going to the mall to get a few things for mum. Can't you
put them in the garage for me?"
His smile faded, and at the very instant I put the car back in gear, I felt my bad conscience
nagging me. When I came back home, I asked my son: "Where are those toys you had for me?"
"I thought you didn't want them, so I gave them to Adam." His playmate Adam lives on our street,
and I could easily imagine that the little guy had received the treasures with much more enthusiasm
than I had showed my son. My son's action hurt me, but I deserved it - not just because it
showed me how thoughtlessly I had treated him, but also because it made me remember another
It was the boy's big sister's birthday, and he had been given some money so he could buy her a
present. He browsed through the toyshop for a long time - the present had to be something
special. Finally, he found it: A chewing gum machine filled with brightly coloured bubble gum. He
was very anxious to show it to her as soon as he came home, but he firmly withstood the
Later, when all the big sister's friends had arrived, she began opening the presents. She cried with
joy for every present she opened - and with every cry the boy became more and more shy. The
eight year-old girls had spent much more money on the presents than he could afford. Suddenly
his present seemed small and insignificant. But he still waited anxiously to see her joy when she
opened his present.
At last she opened his present, and he saw how disappointed she was, indeed embarrassed. In
order not to lose face among her friends she could not thank him too exuberantly for the present.
She gave her friends a know-all smile. "Thanks," she said to him in a condescending tone of voice.
"It's just what I wanted." The rest of the girls desperately tried not to giggle.
The boy was hurt and confused. His otherwise beautiful present now looked like the cheap plastic
thing it actually was. He went out in the garden and started to cry.
Soon after his mother showed up and, in a soft voice, asked him what was wrong. He explained it
to her as best he could.
She listened, and then went inside the house. Shortly after the big sister came out to him. He could
see by the look on her face that she had been told to do it, but her sincere regret showed him that
she had not hurt him on purpose. She actually liked the chewing gum machine. He said that he
could understand that, and he actually could. She was only trying to be nice to him.
Now the story repeated itself. Instead of my big sister and me it was my son who had to decide
for himself whether or not it really was the thought that counts. And my reaction would have a
great influence on his decision.
I gave my children some money at Christmas so they could buy gifts themselves. It was very
difficult for them to keep quiet with what they had bought for me, especially for my son. Every
single day he asked if me I could guess what he had bought for me.
On Christmas Evening he demanded that I opened his present first. I unwrapped it and looked - it
was indeed the most wonderful gift I had ever been given. But I did not look at it with my 33
year-old experienced eyes, either. Instead I looked at it as an anxious child of five would look at
The gift was a small green plastic dinosaur. My son quickly showed me why this dinosaur was
something special: The claws on the forelegs formed a clip so I could fasten it on my clothes. His
eyes sparkled with expectancy and love - of the kind you only see in a child's look.
I knew how difficult it must have been for him to find a gift which showed his feelings for me in the
best possible way. So I thanked him in his own language. I fastened the dino on my jacket and
talked about how "cool" it was, and, yes, he was absolutely right - I loved it.
So the next time you see a grown man with a primitive paper tie or a "cool" tatoo of a caterpillar,
do not shrug your shoulders out of pity for him.
If you tell him that he looks foolish he may answer: "That may be, but I have a five year-old son
who thinks I am the world's greatest Dad, and I would rather wear his present than own all the
riches in the world."
And that is why I walk around with a green dino on my jacket.