The Best Father’s Day Gift, According to a Dad Who’s Been Through Hell

Don’t buy ties or coffee cups. Make memories. 

byJonathon Klein|
One child plays with a motorcycle helmet while two other children look on.
Jonathon Klein

My path to fatherhood hasn’t been an easy one. Maybe that’s why, to me, Father’s Day is far different from how it’s portrayed on TV or in film, with a dad resting quietly in a hammock, kicking his feet up, and swaying in the breeze.

After years of my wife and I trying unsuccessfully to get pregnant—followed by a worrying pregnancy during a global pandemic—our route to parenthood was through Foster to Adopt, a program for those who can withstand absolute hell. My dad experience included the normal sleepless nights, changing diapers, making bottles, getting spit up on, and cracking dad joke after dad joke until everyone groaned and yelled at me to stop. It also included the less-than-normal court fights, death threats, restraining orders, and the ghostly—and occasionally real—threat of my children being removed from my care, once while I was some 6,000 miles away from home

After several years of up, down, and sideways experiences in the Foster to Adopt system and all those years of trying to get pregnant, my house is now full. We have three bubbly children that test my patience and make me laugh hysterically on a daily and even hourly basis. They will forever be my family. They’d better be; they’re tattooed along the full length of my right arm. 

Part of my sleeve and my daughter, Gigi. Jonathon Klein

My title at The Drive is Managing Editor, Commerce. In this case, Commerce means I’m in charge of all the content that helps readers figure out what gear to buy. For many, Father’s Day is the time when we search frantically for boat shoes, driving gloves, or hysterical T-shirts as the perfect tokens of affection for dear old Dad. It’s what I got for my father for countless Father’s Days. And that’s what this post should be, a list of stuff to get for your father that he’ll never use.

But this is not that kind of post.

Instead of selling you stuff, I want to use this space to tell you that the best gift for the dad in your life—from my own experience and after years of not knowing whether I’d ever be a father—are the memories you make with him. 

Stuntin' Like My Daddy vibes intensify. Jonathon Klein

The state and local foster care organizations teach you a lot. They teach you what abuse looks like, how drugs affect a child’s development, why you’re needed in supporting an already taxed system that’s set to potentially become even more taxed, and a little about parenting. What they don’t teach you is that in order to give every child what they need, you need to love each child as if they were staying forever. That makes for an incredibly traumatic experience for both the parents and children, especially when children finally settle into your lives and hearts and are then abruptly taken away from you. This happened to us with two other foster children. Technically, it happened three times, but Gigi finally came back and stayed. 

What you can’t help is how, after those heart-stopping occurrences, you unconsciously begin to fear special moments. Like that of teaching my daughter how to fish or showing my son, Milo, how to hold a wrench, moments that are meant to be joyful but that shatter you whenever they resurface. Like when we first told folks about our first child, Parker. About how I was finally a dad. And then I wasn’t. 

Milo is unimpressed by the stuck in 1st gear pit bike we were riding. Jonathon Klein

Thankfully, that’s no longer the case. Our children are our children, and they cannot be taken away. Now, I’m savoring those moments, and that’s what I want every family to experience on Father’s Day: making memories. 

While it can be frustrating to have a three- or four-year-old asking you a million “Why, daddy?” questions when you’re in the garage, remembering that I almost didn’t have that is worse. Teaching them to steer our Can-Am, drive their electric little Jeep, wrench on our cars and bikes (hand me tools and turn some screws for now), getting into motorcycles, what the differences are between Formula 1 and World Rally race cars, and when the time comes, teaching them stick, and generally just having them next to me are the best gifts of all.

I’m thankful most of you will never know what it’s like to worry whether your children will be ripped away from you at any moment. On this Father’s Day, don’t take your kids for granted. Don’t think of their repeated questions as annoying. Don’t let them get away with just giving you a crappy “Best Father Ever” mug that you’ll never use. Take them outside, into your garage, or on an adventure and create memories you can cherish forever. 

And for those out there looking for the best present, don’t take your dad for granted and get them those mugs or ties. If your dad isn’t the one saying “Let’s go!”, there’s nothing wrong with you setting something up. Ask your dad to teach you how to pull a fuse, change a tire, or wrench on cars. Ask them how downforce works or why their favorite F1 driver is Ayrton Senna. Most of all, just go out and do something with them. That’ll be far better than anything you can pick up from Walgreens.  

Car-related or otherwise: What’s the best gift you ever gave your dad, or received as one? 

My everything.