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Archive for Saturday, May 24, 2008

Greeting card companies giving dads their credit due

May 24, 2008

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Fathers sleep a lot, and they snore loudly. When they're awake, they like to fish or golf, but they're comically bad at both. They drink so much beer they're practically alcoholics, and they're complete couch potatoes, always watching television and hogging the remote.

At least, that's the less-than-favorable image of Dad on Father's Day greeting cards. It's a striking contrast to the poetic praise often expressed at Mother's Day. Many men say they are tired of the "put-down" cards and would like some affirmation for a change - and at least one greeting-card company is listening.

One father in Washington, D.C., who used to stay home with his kids and blog about his life as an at-home father, says the golf and fishing cards don't bother him, but he doesn't like the ones that make dads look incompetent.

"This idea that men are somehow biologically incapable of caring for their children is the sort of thing that I don't find particularly funny," said Brian Reid, father of two.

Not only greeting cards, but television and movies often convey the idea that Dad is unreliable with every parental duty from changing a diaper to picking the kids up at school, he says.

Greeting cards can be a good litmus test for the way society perceives various relationships and people. Companies want to sell cards, so they aim to hit a spark of truth. But generalizing in order to reach people can lead to stereotypes that then get perpetuated and take on a life of their own.

In an age where about 159,000 dads stay home with their children, according to 2006 U.S. Census numbers, it's hardly accurate to say that dads don't know what they're doing.

One Hallmark card at a Stop & Shop this season showed a cartoon depiction of "When dads pack lunches."

In the picture, some kids are eating lunch together, and one says, "Looks like I got a peanut butter and salami sandwich and a can of WD-40."

There you go: the stereotypical incompetent (and tool-obsessed) father.

But our culture might be headed away from that and offering credit to both units in the parental pack. Hallmark says it is offering more positive cards this year.

"Men have told us they would like to feel a little more appreciated," said spokeswoman Deidre Parkes. "That doesn't mean you can't give your dad a funny Father's Day card, but it can be maybe complimentary humor rather than a negative card."

Men who have children are getting tired of the often negative media portrayal of fathers, some say.

"They're either dumb, dangerous or disaffected," said Roland Warren, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit group based in Gaithersburg, Md.

Fathers increasingly want to see the value of their role reflected in the media, he said. They have taken on more of the homecare and childcare as more women have joined the work force, so their contribution at home takes on greater weight in their minds.

Is it so much to ask for a flattering card?

Indeed, the greeting card industry might be getting the hint. A recent trip down a greeting card aisle found one reporter hard-pressed to find many insulting Father's Day cards.

Sure, there was the one that said, "Celebrate Father's Day with a beer in one hand ... and a beer in the other hand." And there were at least two that implied Dad is married to the remote control.

But other than the small handful of "put-down" cards, most Father's Day greetings were thoughtful, appreciative and often quite mushy.

"I love you just like I did when I was little ... only now I appreciate you even more," reads one.

Another new Hallmark card with comedian Chris Rock carries the greeting, "Nobody ever says, 'Hey, Daddy, thanks for knocking out the rent. I sure love this hot water. It's easy to read with all this light."'

This Father's Day remember: Dads are people, too. Choose your card wisely.

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