When I was growing up it was easy. He only ever had one passion. Fishing. So every birthday, Christmas and Father's Day he got decorative flies, sinkers and lures, books about fishing, mugs with marine decoration, and so on.
When I started working and could afford more expensive things, it was warm woollen jerseys, jackets, fish-finder and compass and other gadgets for his little runabout boat.
Inevitably he aged and no longer goes out in the boat although he can't bear to part with it and it is permanently parked at the side of his house.
He's lost weight as he's aged, just one of those naturally lean men who pare down to thinness, and now he feels the cold in winter.
So in recent years I've stuck with warm clothing since he hates shopping and would otherwise continue wearing the same tired clothing until it literally fell apart on him.
But this year he turns eighty. Eighty! And I wanted something different, something that felt personal.
I racked my brains. My friends racked their brains on my account. He has no interests. All he likes to do is sit outside under the covered patio in his back garden and study the plants and shrubs and trees and the birds that visit.
Then, a few days ago, I found.....Brian!
Yes, Brian is a camellia, and Brian also happens to be my father's name. It may be pink, but I don't think that will phase my father at all since he was always the only male in an all female household - multitudes of pets over the years included.
It's not a perfectly formed little plant, but unfortunately it was the only one I could find. It is very healthy, despite a hole in one of the leaves (the perpetrator seems to have absconded though), so I bought it, and an attractive glazewear pot, and will pot it up for him for his birthday. I'd tie a blue ribbon around it as a nod to his masculinity, but, since he's a no-frills kind of man, I suspect that might be a little too much. Perhaps I will underplant it with deep blue trailing alyssum or pansies instead.
I think (hope) he will like it, and add it to the little vista he sits and ponders each day.