It's hard to hide the disappointment. You know how much loving thought and consideration has gone into it. You know it's been wrapped with care and attention, with a bow and a cute little card added for that extra frisson of festive expectation.
And then you open it. The corners of your lips curl upwards into a ritcus smile and you try to hide the telltale 'WTF!' expression your eyes.
Even worse is being under the spotlit glare of excited anticipation in your children's or your wife's eyes.
You try to show a glow of sincere gratitude, but it all comes out wrong when you say: "Ah well, it's the giving, not the receiving that's most important."
And thus, Christmas is ruined – because you're an ungrateful so-and-so who really REALLY wanted your family to Get It Right this time because every year, your spouse and spawn get it Oh So Wrong.
Yes, I'm talking about the Dreaded Christmas Gift to Dad.
Last year, I spied the long tubular wrapped object under the Christmas tree and gave it a squeeze the night before the Big Event. Too slim to be a bottle of fine wine; too blunt to be a Japanese chef's knife. So what could it be?
As I opened the present, my family's eyes burned into me. 'He's going to love it. THIS time, he's going to love it,' they were thinking.
And all I was thinking was: "What is it?"
It was a steel rod, with two pieces of wire strung either side.
"Go on, then," I said to my wife and three young children. "I give up: what is it?"
"Durr," said my nine-year-old stepdaughter.
"Isn't it obvious?" asked my wife.
"It's a cheese wire," she said. "Obviously."
"Oh. Great. Yes, it's fantastic. But how would it work on crumbly Stilton? Or an oozing Brie?"
And thus, as I said, Christmas was ruined.
Ungrateful. That's us dads. We know what we like, and we like what we know. We're uncomplicated beasts. Just as we like to be in control of the remote, we like to be in control of the presents we receive. And we don't like surprises – no matter how genuinely considered or thoughtfully thought-through. Just give us what we want. And then have a lovely Christmas Day.
But for others – the more petulant breed, like myself – Christmas is a chance to get that thing you've always coveted: that gadget, that device, that DVD, those tickets for a concert. And failing all of that, a nice big fat gift certificate from Amazon, or wherever, so you can indulge your own desires.
Back when our own dads were just dads i.e. not the grandfathers they are now, it was easy to please them. A pair of socks, driving gloves, a pair of slippers or even a tie was enough to satisfy. They had low expectations in those days.
But now there's more choice, more gadgets, more everything, and therefore we expect more – as long as it fits in precisely with our desires.
Yet our families continue to get it wrong.
Like my friend Mark, a dad whose teenage son bought him a book called The Road.
"It is set in some apocalyptic, desolate scene where a a father and son are travelling across America looking for survivors chased by a bunch of cannibalistic savages," he explained. "The father dies in the end and the son is rescued by a nice family!"
Or single dad Bob, whose daughters made him a lifesize cardboard cut-out...of a new wife!
Then there's Ian. "Last year, my daughters got me some exotic 'seaweed and seafruits' hair shampoo – a wonderful choice had I not suffered from male pattern baldness since 1997 and have been shaving my head since 1999,' he said. 'It is sitting in my upstairs 'man drawer' and likely to be consigned there forever or until I ever become follicly 'un-challenged!"
Or Fergus, whose wife went on a business trip to South Africa and came back with a retina-burningly bright tribal shirt. "Were I standing next to Nelson Mandela or strolling through Cape Town, the shirt would look perfect. But walking through London on a dank, grey day, it wasn't going to work," he said.
"The thought was well intentioned and I felt mean spirited to think it. But the shirt remained immaculately folded inside its plastic bag. I have not seen it in eight years, and thankfully peer pressure never pressed me to wear it."
But my favourite comes from Ben, whose mother-in-law bought him two lovely doormats. Surely a hint, if ever there was one?
And finally, a confession from a daughter, Elizabeth, who once bought her own dad some tumble drier balls – even though he didn't own a tumble drier.
So this year, wives, girlfriends and children, take a Yuletide lesson from a dad who knows and buy something like these...(in our house we call them Pink Ticket Gifts: presents from the heart of the lady!)
• A year of Sunday afternoons in the pub
• Exemption from cousin Sharon's wedding
• A weekend away with the lads
• A year of watching Top Gear without being interrupted
• Exemption from taking out the rubbish
And if all that fails, do what my wife does: casually ask your man what he'd like for Christmas while he's distracted doing something else, like watching Match of the Day, and then don't mention it again. But do it NOW, while there's time to forget the conversation ever happened. We're not that stupid!
Footnote to fellas: I'm trying a different strategy this year. I've located the objects of my desire via the internet and bookmarked them in the History of my computer. Hopefully my nosey wife will have a snoop, and win-win: she'll be so relieved I've not been looking at, er, adult material that she'll gladly fork out for a set of Japanese chefs' knives, as used by culinary genius Heston Blumenthal.
Dad, what do you really want for Christmas?