Dad, I looked all over... you weren't in Card Land

June 14, 1996|By Arthur Hirsch

Dear Dad,

You're probably wondering: What about the Father's Day card? Good question. What about it, what to make of it? More to the point, why aren't you getting one this year?

It's not for lack of looking. But after a while the stores and the cards all run together. Hallmark stakes out one end of the mall; American Greetings gets the other. Here and there an independent store offers much the same stuff. You hunt through about 2 million Father's Day cards, and pretty soon you're hallucinating sailboats, golf clubs, tastefully weathered barns and ducks, ducks, ducks. Ducks swimming in pristine ponds and ducks flying in the sunset and duck decoys sitting on antique roll-top desks.

Dad, what's with the ducks? Is it true that when you become a father you suddenly become obsessed with water fowl?

They seem to think so in Greeting Card Land, which figures on selling us more than 100 million Father's Day cards this year. These folks spend millions of dollars conducting focus groups and doing test marketing. They're trying to figure out what we want to say to you, Dad. They're supposed to figure out who you are.

I looked through cards until my fingertips were dry and peeling and couldn't find you anywhere.

I couldn't find you in the sappy section, where they make you out to be a campin', fishin', huntin', duck-lovin' composite of Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda and King Solomon. Browse through this section and pretty soon you're transported to a parallel universe. Suddenly "Leave It to Beaver" is a documentary. Suddenly everything is "Special": "For a Special Dad," "Special Thoughts," "A Special Message."

You weren't in the "funny" section, either. In the "funny" section they present you as a flatulent, TV and alcohol-addicted knucklehead who can't fry an egg without Mom's supervision. You're either making a fool of yourself on the golf course, sleeping through life or wandering glassy-eyed through hardware stores. It's still a sitcom, but now it's "The Simpsons."

It's not quite like this on Mother's Day. At least then the jokes are always on the sender: Mom, you're a saint for putting up with me, I never clean my room, blah, blah. You never see a Mother's Day card talking about Mom's drinking, or how she's always burning the meatloaf. Mom in Hallmarkland is parts of Mother Teresa, Martha Stewart and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

No matter. Either way you're talking through the greeting card industry.

Imagine that. Imagine I'm on the phone with you on Father's Day and all of a sudden I say, "Hold it, Dad. This is such an important day in our relationship, and I don't have clue what to say. But let me put a guy on the phone you never met before, a stranger from Kansas City, Mo., home of Hallmark, where you have never been, to tell you something very Special. That sound in the background, by the way, is a duck quacking "

I went to the Hallmark store in Towson Town Center and found people moaning about the card selection. You should have seen them. Moved by some combina-tion of love and obligation, they searched for their fathers in a world created by strangers.

I ran into a guy named Brock McPeters who was having a hard time finding cards for his two grandfathers, his stepfather and biological father. So many cards, so few choices.

This other young woman, Maureen Ennis, said she'd probably wind up making her own card out of construction paper because the Father's Day cards on the rack all sound "so cheesy."

Most years I can at least find a somewhat appropriate blank card to write something in. Struck out on that this year, as well. This year the blank cards are all either soft-focus or little kids in antique clothing holding flowers. The little-kid image worked for Mother's Day. That was last month. This month we have big problems. Or as they might say in Hallmarkland:

You were always understanding

when I needed you to care.

When I felt lost or frightened

you were always there.

Now I need your compassion

although it must be hard

to love a son despite the fact

he could not find a card.

Love always,

Arthur

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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