So we have a friend, having a milestone birthday, and his wife requested that we provide a gift of words. This friend is about the age of my children, and a creative type person.

The trouble is both my wife and I are technical people. We write well enough as we have both been published in journal articles and are teachers at heart. Creative is not our forte, and when we do write it is always with the bent of teaching. This is exasperated as the friend is about our children's age, their child refers to us as grandma and grandpa, and we are not 100% happy with some of his decisions. Nothing immoral in the decisions, just not what we would do in their situation.

So the last thing this person would want is to be preached at with their birthday gift of words, and both my wife and I would tend to do that. Any ideas on how to get an idea of something to write? An underlying motivation is that I want this to mean something.

Now a suggestion that I anticipate is that you should write about hobbies, but that is one of our "not happy decisions". They are saying that they want to save for a house. Fine, they don't make a lot of money, but at the same time he signed up for some acting classes. Again fine, but it conflicts with their stated goals: saving for a house. The acting was not going to lead to greater income, nor were they cheap. Writing about that, I will come across preachy.

So my block is a bit different than most. I know what I want to write about, but I fear doing so would be seen as a non-gift if not an insult. Any other ideas?

Update: I ended up writing a short note that ended up being encouraging and pointing out good habits. Also I gave him a book of poetry by Poe, one of his favorites. While an awesome suggestion, the grandchild in this case, is too young to write out words (less than a year). Also they bought their house. They both received large raises, and he gave up the acting classes on his own. All things worked out, although he is now making other choices I don't really agree with. :^)

  • 1
    Hi Pete. I edited slightly mainly to emphasize what I think is the actual question. Feel free to Edit further!
    – user
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 7:18

3 Answers 3


First of all put your troubles with their life choices aside. You have the rest of the lifetime of your friendship to preach to them about appropriate life choices and the need for consistency between words and actions. This is supposed to be a gift, so focus on what the recipient would enjoy receiving.

You have mentioned that the recipient enjoys acting. Perhaps you should buy them the script to one of their favorite movies or plays. That would be a gift of words. Not your own words, but nobody said the words need to be original.

Other gift of words options include...

  • books of poetry
  • books of philosophy (not self-help books about appropriate life choices!)
  • samples of beautiful calligraphy

Alternatively, buy those "grandchildren" of yours some paper and crayons and then teach them to create words for their parents. Frame the results.

Finally, if you are absolutely set on giving your friend some help in reaching their stated goals, give them a book on preparing to buy a house.

If all else fails, buy them some shares of ALPHABET Inc., google's parent company.

  • Thank you, that is a creative solution to give a a book of poetry or script and why I came here.
    – Pete B.
    Commented Jul 6, 2018 at 11:00
  • @PeteB. Obviously, this is absolutely your decision & just my opinion, but reading your question, you said this is a milestone birthday, that his wife had asked for a gift of words (something really special?) and that you want this to mean something. Can a book of poetry be all those things? On my husband's granny's 80th, her daughter wrote a poem and recited it to the whole room. It was all about her mother's little quirks, joys and loves. It wasn't a literary masterpiece but it was the sweetest, best present anyone could have given. If he's special to you, do you want to settle for a book?
    – GGx
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 7:20
  • @PeteB. As I say, just my opinion, you have to do what works for you.
    – GGx
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 7:20
  • @HenryTaylor the idea of getting the 'grandchildren' to write something in crayons is lovely. That's a very personal and sweet idea.
    – GGx
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 7:22

John, you’re in a room of creative types here. Many of us have given up very lucrative careers to be impoverished writers. Money is not the bee all and end all, it doesn’t make you happy — haven’t you heard? And although your friends want to save for a house, they are allowed to do that while pursuing creative dreams, even if it means that saving for the house will take a lot longer. A smart person realises where happiness lies and while it’s nice to own a house, if you trade your dreams for bricks and mortar, you are destined to a life of unhappiness (trust me, I did it).

You are judging their choices from your own perspective rather than trying to see it from theirs. You have said yourself that you and your wife aren’t creative people so you can’t understand and are not in position to judge the dreams and choices of someone who is. For a creative person the ultimate dream often isn’t to be rich, but just to be able to make a living doing something you love.

So, if you want to write something for them, you need to step out of your own shoes and walk around in theirs for a while. Stop looking at and judging this from your own technical and logical perspective and imagine yourself as a creative person. Imagine yourself dreaming of being the next Denzel Washington or Robert De Niro and write as if the dream is yours.

The best gift you can give this person in words is an understanding of what’s important to them, not what’s important to you.

Good luck!


The 'gift of words', that your friend's wife suggested, need not be your own. If she is the creative type then why not enlist her help with this project? If you both collaborate on this then maybe you can provide the technical expertise and she can provide the creative aspects of the project.

Without knowing what you are technically good at or how your friend's wife expresses her creativity, it's difficult to be specific, but ideas that come to mind are:

  • a photo-book with photos of key stages in the life of the birthday boy and a whimsical explanatory text beside each one
  • a journal with some inspirational words from each of his friends and family on each page
  • a book containing the words (poems, prose etc.) of your friend (assuming he is creative too).

Try to think of something that accords with your friend's character, personality or interests and you'll have a good chance of pleasing him.

Good luck with your project.

  • 1
    These are lovely ideas, Robert. Very personal.
    – GGx
    Commented Jul 8, 2018 at 6:56

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