Sunday was Father's Day, and one thing I was reminded of as I browsed the card aisle at CVS looking for a suitable Father’s Day sentiment is that card companies have a pretty narrow (and not very flattering) definition of fathers.
Looking at card after card gave a pretty clear picture of dads according to Hallmark. Apparently, we’re all lovable oafs with unlimited affinity for fishing, beer and recliners. What we don’t care for? Talking, having emotions, talking about having emotions.
Thinking back to May, when I was doing a similar shop for Mother’s Day cards, the picture became more bleak. Every card from a husband to his wife had some element of apology, some kind of "I know I don’t help out around the house enough" or "I know I never tell you how much I love you,” and every card from a young boy to his mom had a variation of the same joke: "You sure are lucky to have me!"
I wouldn’t make too much of it, but the thing is these card companies aren’t necessarily crafting these depictions out of thin air. Rather, I suspect they’re just trying to meet their consumers where they think they stand. In other words, Hallmark’s definition of fatherhood is a reflection of our generally agreed-upon idea of it.
That’s not a great sign.
Don’t get me wrong, some of these clichés apply to me. I do like beer, and I can sit in a recliner with the best of them. But the sense that those are the most important things about me, that every man should be a simple man, that it would be un-dad-like to care about more or articulate that care is what puts me off.
I certainly didn’t find anything among those cards that felt like an accurate reflection of my own dad. He, too, likes beer, and he recently got into fly fishing, but again, those are hardly his defining characteristics. There was no card that alluded to how he took up the cello around the time my wife and I announced we were expecting and learned to play a lullaby for my son. There was nothing that dialed in to his specific combination of hard-working, good-humored, thoughtful and affectionate.
When I told him about my card-buying dilemma he laughed and shared his own observation that all Mother’s Day cards are some version of “I love you,” but Father’s Day cards trend toward “You’re the best!”
It seems pretty telling to me that Hallmark has determined dads would rather hear that they’re winning at fatherhood than just receive a direct expression of love from their child.
I’m optimistic, though. I think that the card companies miscalculated — not just in my case, but in their overall assessment of what fathers are like. My work as a sports reporter has given me the chance to talk to a lot of men, most of them dads, and here’s the thing: They care a lot. They’re passionate about the work they do, the kids they coach, the lives they touch. And they don’t mind talking about it. They often relish the opportunity, in fact.
As it turns out, real men, like women, are complex creatures that don’t just shrug their way through life, feeling nothing deeply, loving no one enough to say so.
For my part, I hope to do better than this Jim Belushi sitcom version of a dad that card companies have cornered the market on. I hope to follow in my own dad’s path in creating a different impression of manhood for my son. I hope that when my boy reaches adulthood, he, too, has a hard time finding a good fit for me in the low-effort offerings of the CVS Father’s Day card aisle.