Saturday, June 18, 2011

WHAT is the DEAL with FATHER'S DAY CARDS? Am I right, people?

Today, there would be sarcastic quotes around the "dear" part.


If you wish to meditate upon our society's ambiguous and sometimes troubling attitudes towards fatherhood, you have an EXCITING opportunity to do so this weekend! Yep, just truck on down to your local grocery store, card shop, or pharmacy and spend some time browsing through their selection of Father's Day cards. Prepare to be astonished and possibly horrified by what you find. Now, of course, you can always go the sappy, sentimental route or the religious route. That's true of virtually every holiday or major observance. But if you want to go the "lightly humorous" route, Father's Day offers its own unique challenges. I'm sure I was not the only person who spent many minutes trying to find a card that I would not be completely mortified to send to my father and have him actually read. The card I wound up choosing this year had the following legend on its cover:
You Made Me the Person I Am Today! 
And on the inside, it read:
How Can You Sleep at Night? 
Followed, of course, by the cheerful tagline:
Happy Father's Day!
In retrospect, this seemingly-innocent little witticism is actually quite barbed and nasty. The implication is, "I am a neurotic and messed-up adult, Dad, and I blame you entirely. I am baffled by the fact that you can sleep while in possession of this horrible knowledge. Any creature capable of emotion would be tortured to the point of sleeplessness over this, but you apparently are a bloodless and unfeeling monster. Still in all, I hope you enjoy this holiday dedicated to you and your tyrranical kind." Kind of harsh, right? But believe me, it was the best one I could find. To peruse the Father's Day cards at the local store is to navigate an emotional minefield, I tell you.

The basic themes of "humorous" Father's Day cards are these:
  1. Dad, you are an alcoholic who cherishes beer more than your own children.
  2. You are a repellent and disgusting troll whose primary modes of self-expression are belching and flatulence.
  3. You are also a perverted old lecher who lusts after younger women.
  4. You use golf, television, and home improvement projects as excuses for avoiding contact with your own family.
  5. At home, you are merely a useless figurehead who serves no real purpose. Knowing this, you choose to spend your time parked in a recliner in front of the television.
  6. Your true importance to the family unit is as a provider of income. Money and work define you. In fact, I would like to use this very card as an opportunity to borrow money from you.
It's a pretty bleak picture, I know. But that's the basic message I get from Father's Day cards. I'm not the only one who's picked up on this. Here's a 2008 article from the Grand Rapids Press on the very same topic. I think the underlying issue with these cards is that we really do have an ambiguous attitude towards fatherhood in this country. The post-Industrial-Revolution male has no well-defined role within his own home. Women are still expected to be the ones who do the actual day-to-day raising of children. Maybe as traditional gender roles break down and new paradigms for family life are established, the public's nebulous opinion of this thing called "fatherhood" will evolve. For a check-up on how we're doing as a society on this matter, I'd suggest keeping an eye on the greeting card department.

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