Dads across Central Oregon are practicing their acting skills and putting on their game faces in preparation for Father’s Day.

If you’ve been doing this Dad gig for a while, you’ve probably already perfected the facial expressions and verbal responses needed for opening gifts from your children. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, it’s like a box of chocolates and you never know what you’re going to get. If you’re newer to the game of opening a gift from a child, here’s what you need to do:

Big smile. Big eyes. Display of extreme excitement (oohs and ahhs, followed by some clapping or jumping around). Then say something along the lines of, “Wow — that’s amazing. I LOVE it.”

Some close variation of this ritual MUST be used, regardless of whether the gift you’ve just opened is great — like a new set of barbecue tools to replace the rusty, broken old ones you’ve been making do with. Or if it’s something a little … less desirable. Like a glittery pastel unicorn T-shirt that upon closer inspection you realize is actually made — and sized — for a very petite woman. A “fossil” they found while out on a hike, that you immediately recognize is an owl pellet with rodent bones still embedded in it. Or yet another piece of “World’s greatest Dad” paraphernalia.

If you value honesty but want to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings, you can omit the “I love it” part of the performance if the gift is an epic fail, but stick to the rest of the script. Then technically, you’re not lying when you say, “Wow — that’s amazing,” since “amazing” is a multipurpose word and most young kids aren’t highly attuned to irony yet. You can also substitute “incredible,” “fantastic” or “awesome” if “amazing” isn’t a word typically in your vernacular or you’re opening multiple gifts. Practice the routine in front of a mirror if necessary.

And don’t expect Mom to bail you out if you’re struggling to adequately express your enthusiasm for that haphazard pile of hot-glued Popsicle sticks, which is apparently a replica of the Eiffel Tower. She had to navigate the same scenario a month ago, and she wants you to fully embrace the experience too. If she’s the mildly vindictive type, she may have encouraged the kids to buy you that lime green teddy bear the size of a small pony, perhaps as payback for the faux-gold chain-link necklace complete with ticking clock pendant she received for Mother’s Day.

Sometimes though, the kids get it just right and you open the perfect gift. Like the pizza ax. Anything bacon related. A portable electric pump to inflate all the rafts and inner tubes before floating the river. Or a personalized “Star Wars” shadow box.

Of course, any artwork or letters your kids make or write to you should always be treasured, misspellings and all. Handy tip: If you’re accumulating way too many pieces of the kids’ artwork, take photos of each masterpiece and have them compiled into a photo display book. You can have extra copies made as gifts for grannie and gramps, which is a present they won’t have to fake enthusiasm over.

Sadly — kids giving dodgy gifts to their parents isn’t always something that disappears with age. In a series of posts about awful gifts for dad, some teens got their dad a kitchen safe in a not-so-­subtle hint that he needed to lose weight. For the uninitiated — it’s a plastic food container with a lock and timer to create a physical barrier between you and tempting foods. What dad wouldn’t want that? Said no one ever. More and more 20- and 30-somethings are surprising their parents with the gift of themselves when they move back home because they can’t make ends meet.

But no matter how inappropriate, off-base or unexpected some of the gifts are that you’re likely to receive over the years, they’re a great reminder that gift giving isn’t really about the object inside the wrapping paper. Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and all those other gifting occasions are about the time you share with your kids and the memories you’ll create. Those will remain long after the pizza ax is broken and the unicorn T-shirt has been regifted to an unsuspecting teacher.

— Kim Himstreet is the 40-something mother of two teenage boys whom she and her husband have raised while living in three different countries and three U.S. states.

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