Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Confusion in Store, pt. 2 (Icy Pop)

Pity the fathers of the world. Greeting card companies are doing all they can to erode daddy's dignity. Or so I deduced while on a particularly tough assignment: to find a Father's Day card not only for my own father, but also for my new father-in-law.

Finding a card for Dad was pretty easy. There was exactly one card with an acceptable message, and I snapped it up with relief. The message sounded right — not too sappy, but also heartfelt in its praise of a father I love a lot.

Now. On to card #2. Adam's a close reader, so I knew already that anything I picked for his father would be mocked. My task, therefore, was to keep the mockery to a minimum.

It didn't look good.

Have you ever noticed how Father's Day cards all feature the same three designs? Fish. Sailboats. Autumn leaves. (It's a JUNE holiday, people.) Somewhere in Imperial Cardland, someone deemed as "sufficiently manly" these three icons. Allowable substitutions include mallards, lighthouses, and the odd seashell. But it must be a manly seashell; i.e., one that would have no place on a Mother's Day card.

Once you get past the paucity of designs, there's the problem of message. In terms of sentiment, Father's Day cards fall into four broad categories, expressing Distance, Thinly-Veiled Scorn, Solipsism, and/or the Back-Handed Insult.

What it says: "Although life is busy and we rarely spend time together..."
What it means: "We never talk, but I've banished my guilt with this $8 card."

What it says: "You should relax on Father's Day! Yeah, saying 'Go ask Mom' must really be taking it out of ya!"
What it means: "I really don't think you've earned this holiday."

SOLIPSISM (plus back-handed insult):
What it says: "Edison was the father of the lightbulb. Einstein was the father of relativity. Lucky you, you're the father of ME."
What it means: "Wow, your life's been a wash."

What it says: "What is a Father? A father is loving and patient and wise..."
What it means: "These are qualities I've admired in other kids' dads."
(A sly evasion. The card extols many fine traits, but never claims any of them for its recipient.)

I finally snatched up a hideous card, one with a blandly benign sentiment to counterbalance its irridescent-orange sailboat design. Adam thinks it might be kinder to send no card at all.


At 11:24 AM, Blogger Benedict said...

They all sound archaic; I imagined the back-handed insult + distance + solipsim + thinly veiled scorn could be:

Father, forasmuch as thou hast provided, I do respect thee. Now, in the autumn of your life, I, your obedient childe, pledge bear the familial honor when providence grant you rest.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger YelloCello said...

There's actually a whole other category of uber-religious cards. These have messages about how "fatherhood is tough, but you will have your reward in heaven."

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Kingmob said...

Ah, yes, I long for the days when Hawthorne and his ilk composed greeting cards all day!

At 7:07 PM, Blogger Benedict said...

They would do well to assign the Condolence Line to Edgar Allen Poe.


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