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Giving a Perfect Gift Isn’t Rocket Science — It’s Good Etiquette

Daniel Post Senning, the great-great-grandson of etiquette icon Emily Post, on how to give a truly meaningful gift for the toughest people on your list.

This article was produced with our friends at DEWAR’S, who celebrate the selfless spirit of fathers everywhere who give of themselves for those they love.

Daniel Post Senning is great at giving gifts. Why? Because thoughtfulness is his family business. Senning is the great-great-grandson of Emily Post (the writer who prevented “American etiquette” from remaining an oxymoron) and a deep thinker on interactions. He understands that the thought only counts so much and that men haven’t been trained to think about presents. He wants to change that and, in particular, he wants to help dads. That’s why he wrote the forthcoming book, The Dad Diaries, and why he sees gifting as a singularly important etiquette issue. It can be the fastest way for men to tell their loved ones that they get it and they care.

“Gifting gets to the very heart of good etiquette: knowing yourself in the context of others and being aware of them,” Senning says. “One of the highest expressions of self is to show selflessness; a good gift demonstrates that generosity of spirit.”

In addition to gifts for occasions like birthdays or anniversaries, Senning suggests men consider what he calls “gifts honor.” The idea is to give another person tokens of gratitude for merely existing in the world, thus demonstrating that their existence is something to be celebrated. Showing that sort of appreciation for a person deepens relationships. That type of gift says, “I see you,” not, “I see that calendar over there.”

So how does a gifter find the perfect token? By interrogating their relationship with the person they want to make happy. Do they share an affinity? Are they in love? Do they enjoy working on stuff together? Are they family? The variations are as infinite as human affections but each relationship is finite and, in a sense, defined. When men grapple with that, they tend to better understand whether to get someone something to share (good whisky) or to show off (jewelry) or to signify a bond (totally depends).

Once gifters understand the nature of a bond, it’s easier for them to narrow the search. And Senning knows how to do that quickly. He says most really great gifts, whether aspirational, practical, or somewhere in between, fall into three buckets: luxury disposables (fine spirits, hand cream, cologne, or olive oil), commemorative keepsakes (trophies, pictures, art), and personal touches (ties, jewelry, watches). Each of these types of gifts offers gifts an opportunity to be creative and to prove their thoughtfulness.

“If you know someone’s dreams and aspirations, you can give them something that speaks to those,” Senning says. “But even if you don’t know where someone wants to be in five years, you can still think about things that will be practical. Think about what they do, what they talk about. You can find out a lot about a person simply by being a good observer.”

Senning laughs that, before he started wearing a suit, he thought it was a bit tacky or at least cliched to give a tie. Now he doesn’t. He’s happy to have them. People change and he appreciates that some of his loved ones saw that. And his loved ones — as you might imagine — are really good at taking it to the next level.

“My grandfather’s favorite tie was patterned using the signatures of all his grandkids,” says Senning. “There’s always a way to incorporate a particular interest or passion within the context of a traditional gift.”

Talking to Senning, it becomes clear that his focus is less on tradition than on the impulse behind etiquette and behind generosity. His fundamental skill is turning sentiment into action. It’s a tricky bit of alchemy, but possible if you’re familiar with the emotional chemistry of the thing and willing to occasionally have something blow up in your face.

“Gifting is a great way to practice acknowledging gratitude,” he says. “The value really can’t be overstated.”

For a classic gift that’s never out of style, give a bottle of double-aged, extra smooth DEWAR’S 12 Blended Scotch Whisky. Dubbed “The Ancestor” after founder John Dewar, it’s the perfect token of appreciation no matter what the occasion.