Ask Design Mom: Retirement Gift

April 3, 2007

Ask-Design-Mom Question:
Dear Design Mom,
as always, I am a huge fan of your site. My father-in-law just retired this month from a 40-year career as a lawyer. We would like to congratulate him with a retirement gift, but are not sure what to give. He’s a very modest and sentimental man, so we are looking for something meaningful and unique. Do you (or your fab readers) have any ideas? Thanks so much, Allison

Design Mom Answer:
What a wonderful thing that I could ponder for a bit: honoring a person’s career. Thanks for the question, Allison. I would suggest three different ways to approach thinking about this gift.

1) Commemorate his actual day-to-day job that he will probably miss (at least a little bit) when he retires.

For example, you could hire a photographer or painter to do a portrait of the building he worked in. Let the artist come up with a beautiful way to consider the architecture — maybe an interior view like the picture above. And keep it small. A framed, 8 x 10, original oil painting or photograph is just the right size for tucking in his home office without calling too much attention to itself.

2) Look ahead to what’s next for your Father-in-law. What do you suppose he wants to do post retirement? Has he expressed interest in a second career? Spending time in the Peace Corps? Think of a gift that will help him make steps toward his next goal.

For example, when a former boss of mine retired, I gave him a few of my favorite children’s books and a how-to-publish-children’s-books handbook — based on discussions we’d had about children’s lit.

3) Commemorate the fact that his career provided for his family — and in particular your husband as a child.

This is tricker. Let me give you an example. Pretend your husband loved bike riding as a teenager. You could find a pint-size model bike (think a 6-inch trinket for the bookshelf) to symbolize the idea that your father-in-law’s 40 years of work enabled his son/your husband to own a bike, to live in an area where he could safely learn to ride a bike, and to be able to have the leisure time to have the hobby in the first place.

Again, my answer is more about how to approach the gift than actual gift ideas — mostly because I can see from your question that you want to give something really meaningful — and certainly, you and your husband are the best people to figure out what that is.

Design Mom Readers: What retirement gift would you give?

architecture photo via getty

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alyssa Coberly April 3, 2007 at 10:48 am

love the bike idea! one thing that i did for my dad last christmas was create a letter book. I mailed out letters to all his family, friends and some close collegues and asked them to write a letter to my dad about what a wonderful father/friend/collegue he is and then i made some handmade envelopes and put the letters in the envelopes and then in a black page photo album … he treasures it to this day – if you want some pics i can get them for you :0)


2 Azúcar April 3, 2007 at 11:53 am

My family are all book collectors. I’m sure that as a lawyer your father-in-law has similar appetites. A first edition of a book special to him is always a great idea.


3 ~cari~ April 3, 2007 at 12:05 pm

Oh, thank you for this post! My dad is newly retired but we haven’t “celebrated” it yet because his retirement conincided with a death of a family member so we’re waiting a little bit. My dad is the sentimental type also so any of these ideas would be wonderful. Thanks!


4 Ben and Laura April 3, 2007 at 4:03 pm

This is something I was actually just discussing with my husband today. My father will retire early next year and we wanted to do something to celebrate.
So, knowing what his passions are we are sending him (along with my brother and husband) to the Detroit Tigers Fantasy Camp. Since he’s a huge fan of the Tigers and loves playing baseball, this will allow him the chance to play baseball with some of the retired greats that he grew up watching.
You could do something similar…find something he’s passionate about and surprise him with a trip, or an experience that he won’t forget!


5 Allison April 5, 2007 at 1:57 pm

Wow! My hubby and I are both blown away with the wonderful ideas. You have set our wheels in motion. As luck would have it, he worked in a beautiful building that would offer a nice piece of artwork. Thanks designmom and readers for the inspiration.


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