Father’s Day Cards: When You Don’t Care Enough to Send the Very Best


by Heather

I heard a comedian once doing a bit about going to buy a birthday card and being freaked out by the overabundant variety of categories. Aside from the obvious birthday, wedding, anniversary and thank you cards, he went on to mention wacko categories like “I’m sorry your cat died of feline AIDS” cards and “Congratulations on the new hairpiece” cards. Ha ha. And I admit there are some odd occasions in the stacks of greeting cards. But today I had the opposite experience, and stared at rack after rack of cards and couldn’t find anything that fit.

As you all know last Sunday was Father’s Day. Just ten years ago I had to buy for 6 dads/grandpas, and now I’m down to 2.  Aside from my husband Dave (best dad ever, whoot whoot) I also eagerly get a card for Russ, Dave’s mom’s husband, who is the only grandpa my kids really know. My dad passed away last year and had been in poor health for a while and couldn’t really visit. The kids know him in pictures, but don’t KNOW him. And Dave hasn’t talked to his dad in years. Estranged may be the term, if you assume indifference and not enmity on Dave’s part.

I found a wacky one for Dave and a lovely one for Russ, and then, for nostalgia, tried to figure out what I would have sent to my dad. I always went to the funny ones, because while I could buy my grandpa one with a long poems about sacrifice and heroes and unconditional love and mean it, my relationship with my dad wasn’t close enough for that. We were more comfortable navigating this distance between us with humor. It took a few tries but there it was. Something about a TV remote. It conveyed affectionate teasing. No false gushing. I mentally sent it heavenward and turned to go.

Then my damn inner-Christian had to get involved. “You really should send a card to Dave’s dad. It would mean a lot to him.” Sigh. “Fine,” I said to Nice Heather. “I’ll do it. But I won’t lie.” I can’t buy a card unless I mean every word of it. So I set out to find a card that would wish him a happy Father’s Day but NOT present sentiments that we did not feel. I knew the “For My Father” ones with fishing poles were out. I switched to “Grandpa” thinking that would be safer. But they all said stuff like, “We love you grandpa you are so fun you make me feel like number one.” Well, my kids couldn’t pick him out of a line up, so that’s out. Under the “For Everyone” category, the cards all expressed deep regard and respect for the type of man he was. This is where I got one for Russ. But Dave’s dad is literally and figuratively not in the same category. I was drawn to a Darth Vadar one (if you know the history it’s obvious why), but the inside said, “To a Dad who’s out of this world!!!!” Ummm nope.

Frustrated (and running late) I went around to another aisle in the more generic “Thinking of You” and “Friend” sections, hoping to even find a “blank inside” option. Way way too much gushing. Where are the cards that acknowledge someone as part of our lives without breaking into “Wind Beneath My Wings?”

I just can’t believe we are alone in our ambivalence towards some key players in our lives, so here are some section headings I’d like to see Hallmark add to its Father’s Day line: “Emotionally Absent Dad: Even though you loved golf/work/church more than me, you never beat me. Thanks.” or “Sperm Donor: Thanks for the thick head of hair!” or “Good Enough Dad: You did your best and I’m not too screwed up” or “Feeling Magnanimous: Thanks for being there during a chunk of my life before abandoning us all–Nobody’s mad (expect Mom)!” or “Drunk Daddy: Without the sauce you rocked!” Maybe Shoebox could do funny cartoons about garnishing wages or meeting the “other” family. And those new musical ones could open up and play “Cats in the Cradle.”

I left the store feeling really bad. I want to acknowledge the man who donated half his genetics to my sweet Dave, who at one time was a dear friend to me, who, if he only made an effort, could be a true (and not just biological) Grandpa to my kids. Maybe I should have looked in the “Condolences” section, because honestly, he would be devastated if he knew how much awesomeness he was missing.
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  1. Heather,
    I love your card ideas for the drunk dad, absent dad, etc. 🙂 Thanks for this poignant and funny post.

    I hand it to all you out there that get cards for relatives on holidays, birthdays, etc. I can’t get over my self-consciousness (I’m wary of gushing sentimentality)so I always just write a tag and slap it on the gift – To: ______ From: Caroline. I should check out the humor cards. Those would probably be more up my alley.

  2. Heather, thanks for articulating this so well. I’ve had exactly this experience–looking to buy a card for someone for some occasion and finding that all the available ones said things I didn’t mean and didn’t want to say. More than once I’ve just thrown up my hands and gone with the “blank inside” cards.

  3. I always hate finding the right cards for some of these reasons too. However, if an e-card would be appropriate, there is a funny website, with cards right along the lines of your suggestions. I love their cards, but can’t imagine actually sending them to people most of the time, because they are that truthful and funny.

  4. I never give cards. I always wonder if people are horrified when I hand over a gift with no card attached. But I can’t bring myself to spend the money.

  5. I second the motion: Heather, start a card company!

    But, perhaps we need to be more creative in the way we read the cards.
    If the card says, “Your example as a father makes me want to be a better parent.” He can read it as “I was a good dad.” But you can mean it, “Thanks for showing me what NOT to do.”

    There’s something to be said for phrases that can have multiple meanings.

  6. I loved reading this post. I laughed out loud at a lot of it.
    My husband has a dad with that indifferent thing going on. Just thinking what I’d look for in that card makes me laugh.
    Thanks for waiting until my mission to leave Mom.
    Thanks for being a great provider and working hard while I was growing up(or were with the other woman all those hours–who can tell).
    I just love the way you joke all the time, Dad, like when you suggested we name a kid after you–what a riot.
    Dads like you prove that it is never too late to be a stand-up Dad. All it takes is a private detective, paternity test and suddenly my 34 year old big sister found herself a father who was finally willing to admit he got his girlfriend pregnant all those years ago.
    Not Senile Grandpa – When some Grandpas call their grandkids by the wrong name, you know its because their mind is going. Luckily, when you call my children by the wrong name I know its not senility, its indifference.

  7. I just tried to hunt up an ecard for my father who left me, at three years old, and my mother with my grandmother, in the backwoods of Podunk USA, while he took off with his present wife for Germany, and found it very hard, because most just aren’t the way I feel. I finally met the guy again eight years later, and almost moved in with him a few years after that. After loosing touch with him for nearly ten years he finally found me again. I had been looking for him as well, but has lost his phone number. Now we are trying to keep in contact, because neither of us is getting any younger, and no matter what happened in the past, he’s still my dad. Maybe I understand him a bit better in my later years, I don’t know. Maybe I just don’t want to have him die before I can see him again, but buying a card for someone whom I’m sad to say doesn’t deserve much in the way of thanks it difficult to say the least, but forgiveness has to start with me.

    So your suggestion of, “Feeling Magnanimous: Thanks for being there during a chunk of my life before abandoning us all–Nobody’s mad (expect Mom)!” fit’s perfectly. Mom still hates the living ground he walks on, but who can blame her?

  8. My “Christian” father no longer speaks to me because I’m gay. I’ve tried to repair that bridge and it’s not happening until I’m “over this phase…”

    I still look for a Father’s Day card every year, but settle for an ignored text message.

    I’ve always thought, I can’t be the only person out there with this same experience. But maybe I’m the only one silly enough to still look for a card.

    • Gianna what a loss for your dad!! And you are not the only person to keep looking for a way to reconnect. That’s called hope. And being a good kid. He may come around in time. Until then find parental figures who DO recognize your awesomeness.

  9. Brilliant ideas! I always manage to find a card along the lines of ” The most awesome thing about you is your really terrific kid, ME!” It’s honest. This year I found cards in the “from the cat” category. The cats haven’t been hurt like I have, they can be more generous in their praise.

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