Fathers: Give the Gift that Only You Can to Your Child

Ann Landers? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Many years ago I read a poem I greatly enjoyed in a newspaper column by Ann Landers. Unfortunately, I only remember a few fragments:

What will you give one small boy?
… a tinker toy?
No, give him a day he can call his own.

Can you find the poem with this partial information?

Quote Investigator: In the 1950s a poem was printed in multiple newspaper columns during the period around Father’s Day in the United States. Here is an instance published in 1956 in the Oxnard Press-Courier of Oxnard, California. The verse included the phrase “tinseled toy” rather than “tinker toy”. The author was anonymous [OXSB]:

What shall you give to one small boy?
A glamorous game, a tinseled toy,
A barlow knife, a puzzle pack,
A train that runs on curving track?
A picture book; a real live pet.
No, there’s plenty of time for such things yet.
Give him a day for his very own—
Just one small boy and his dad alone.
A walk in the woods, a romp in the park,
A fishing trip from dawn to dark.
Give the gift that only you can—
The companionship of his Old Man.
Games are outgrown, and toys decay—
But he’ll never forget if you “Give him a day.”

Other newspapers publishing the poem included: the Logansport Press of Logansport, Indiana in 1956 [LPSB]; the Millbrook Round Table of Millbrook, New York in 1957 [MRSB]; and the Augusta Chronicle of Augusta, Georgia in 1957 [ACSB]. Each time the poem was labeled anonymous.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1988 Ann Landers reprinted the verse in her popular syndicated newspaper column. The poem was sent to Landers by one or her readers, and the text incorporated small alterations from the 1956 version. For example, “barlow knife” was now “Boy Scout knife”. Landers wrote: “I hope every father who reads it will want to keep this copy”. No author name was given [ALSB]:

What shall you give to one small boy?
A glamorous game, a tinseled toy?
A Boy Scout knife, a puzzle pack?
A train that runs on some curving track?
A picture book, a real live pet?
No, there’s plenty of time for such things yet.
Give him a day for his very own.
Just one small boy and his Dad alone,
A walk in the wood, a romp in the park,
A fishing trip from dawn to dark.
Give him the gift that only you can,
The companionship of his “old man.”
Games are outgrown and toys decay,
But he’ll never forget
If you give him a day.

In 1994 the poem was reprinted in a book titled “Under Construction: Pardon the Mess: A Collection of Family-Building Thoughts”. This version included the alternate lines [UPSB]:

Give the best gift to that bright lad—
The companionship of his dear dad.

In conclusion, QI thinks that the verse the questioner was seeking appeared in print by 1956. The author was unidentified in all the cites located by QI.

(Thanks to Jimmy Dholoo whose query inspired the formulation of this question and motivated this exploration.)

[OXSB] 1956 June 6, Oxnard Press-Courier This Is Oxnard, Quote Page 1, Column 1, Oxnard, California. (NewspaperArchive)

[LPSB] 1956 June 17, Logansport Press, A Father’s Ten Commandments, Page 9, Logansport, Indiana. (NewspaperArchive)

[MRSB] 1957 April 11, Millbrook Round Table, Companionship, Page 2, Column 1, Millbrook, New York. (Old Fulton)

[ACSB] 1957 June 16, Augusta Chronicle, Paean in Praise of Fatherhood by Louis C. Harris, Page 3-D, Column 7, Augusta, Georgia. (GenealogyBank)

[ALSB] 1988 June 11, The Spokesman-Review Spokane Chronicle, “In lieu of toys, give son some time” by Ann Landers, [Poem title: Give Him a Day], Page C2, Column 1 and 2, Spokane, Washington. (Google News Archive)

[UPSB] 1994, Under Construction: Pardon the Mess: A Collection of Family-Building Thoughts, Compiled by Viola Walden, Page 153, Sword of the Lord Publishers, Murfreesboro, Tennessee. (Google Books Preview)

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