Instead of sending me something in the mail for my birthday, my daughter decided she wanted to wait until I visited so we could shop together.

It was a smart decision.

She bought me a summer dress perfect for dancing in hot weather. I know I will feel good whenever I wear it. Yes, the dress is pretty, but that's not what makes it appealing. It will always be special to me because it came wrapped in love.

Whenever I wear the dress, I will remember the special bond we shared while we shopped the laughter, the closeness, and the pure joy of being together.

I have another favorite summer dress that is so old that it has little pull-balls on it and the flowered pattern is faded from so many washings. But every time I wear it I feel special because of who gave it to me.

The dress was a gift from my father.

It wasn't often that he picked something for me so the dress is, indeed, special. He used to take me on shopping trips and buy me clothes when I was a little girl. After I "grew up," he gave me cards with money inside and told me to buy what I wanted.

My father passed away ten years ago but I still treasure those cards as well as every gift he gave me.

But the best gifts my father ever gave me didn't come wrapped in gift boxes. They are intangible gifts that can't be seen but I carry them with me every day of my life.

Besides his love, the two most precious gifts he gave me were the gift of self-confidence and the gift of the great outdoors.

I told him that many times but he never understood what he had to do with my passion for nature and for being outdoors. "Isn't that something you learned to enjoy on your own?" he questioned.

No. He literally took me by the hand and led me time and again to that great playground we call "outdoors."

My mother was always busy with the practical things in life. She didn't stop to thrill to the sound of a bird singing and didn't enjoy tramping through the woods for the sheer joy of it.

It was my dad who took me on hikes through the mountains while he showed me how to look for signs of deer and other animals. It was my dad who understood the fun of wading barefoot in a creek. And it was my dad who stopped the car when we were driving so we could enjoy a canopy of brightly colored leaves or the sight and sound of a waterfall.

I know he thought the best gift he ever gave me was the piano he bought for me when I was 12 and the music lessons he paid for. While that always meant a lot to me, it wasn't the best gift he gave me.

The best gift was those hundreds of hours we spent together bobbing around in a small boat on the bay, fishing, crabbing and talking quietly together. To this day, I regard those hours as the happiest time of life.

The boat was a small aluminum fishing boat with an outboard motor. Lunch was sandwiches wrapped in wax paper. But the finest meal on a big yacht couldn't be any better than what we had.

The gift of time together created memories that will last a lifetime.

Today, I see parents working hard to give their kids the latest video game or the "in" brand of sneakers. Even when money is hard to come by, monetary gifts are easier to gift than it is to give the gift of quality time.

In this starved- for- time society, it's hard for parents to create blocks of time to take a child fishing or for quiet nature walks. And too many parents can't turn their kids onto the great outdoors because they themselves never learned to appreciate the glories of nature.

That's too bad because a nature adventure is free for the asking and it provides the perfect opportunity for a parent and child to shut off distractions and just simply spend quality time together.

In the quiet times my dad and I sat in his fishing boat, I shared my dreams with him and he shared stories about his life. There is no way we would have had those deep conversations if we didn't have the quietude of time on the water.

When my father was making all those monthly payments on my piano, I know he was thinking he was giving me a great gift. When he took me on those dozens of fishing trips in his humble little boat, I'm sure he didn't realize the gift he was giving me was priceless.

When we give something wrapped in a gift box, we recognize it as a gift. But I've always believed the best gifts we give to our children and to others are those we don't recognize as gifts.

One commercial product claims to be "the gift that keeps on giving."

A father is the true gift that keeps on giving. Long after his time on earth has passed, a father's influence remains.

A father's love last forever. To a child lucky enough to have it, it is one of life's most meaningful gifts.