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What – and Why – To Get for Dad

Buying with purpose can inspire family engagement

By Jason Godin

“What should we get dad for Father’s Day?”

It’s a question posed perennially and privately among family members, and often leaves loved ones grasping for answers. A tie? Power tools? New shoes? Or as often, something dad may not really need.

To guide us, maybe we could take a lesson from the buying habits of millennials. For today’s youngest generation, it appears that the nature of gift-giving now includes why in addition to simply what.

In an online article “Why Millennials Don’t Want to Buy Stuff,” business consultant John Allan Dykstra argues that the roughly 70 million men and women born in the U.S. between 1981 and 1996 have changed the focus of purchasing, to the point where, for them, “value has moved elsewhere” when it comes to item worth. Millennials seek an item that “connects people to something – or someone – else.”.

Buying gifts with purpose, it seems to me, has potential for inspiring families to embrace lives rooted in faith. A son or daughter purchasing the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for their father in printed paperback – it averages an affordable $13 at various online booksellers – places in his hands a powerful tool for building faith basics. Learning would lead to sharing – first with his family, next with his local community – practical lessons that form a curriculum of collaborative actions that could change the world, or at least the world he deals with. And, if only for an instant, it would invite tech-savvy millennials to explore what is increasingly undiscovered terrain for them: faith resources.

In his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis warned about indifference metastasizing globally through an “economy of exclusion” that prioritizes money and markets over mankind. “The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase,” the Holy Father observed. “In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us” (54).

Knowingly or not, millennials appear to have taken this papal caution to heart with their purchase practices. Buying with purpose, paying for goods and services specifically to make a difference, point to an ethic that can lead to selflessness and generosity. It also suggests a marketplace where value is measured by quality, not just quantity.

As Father’s Day fast approaches, we might all do well to pay attention to these millennial developments, and consider the deeper value of the gift we give our father, for his good as well as our own.

Jason Godin is associate editor of Fathers for Good.