Father’s Day is this Sunday, June 15, but please indulge my anti-card campaign.
In my twenties and thirties, Father’s Day brought about sadness and anxiety because of my broken relationship with my dad — yes, some would refer to this as daddy issues. I own it. This common phenomenon is quite the opposite of what is portrayed in the frilly cards clearly marketed to the women who are buying them, not the male species who are receiving them.
Just walk into any drug store at the beginning of June. Down the long aisle of Hallmark-days, you’ll notice a lot of wasted trees used to craft $3.95 Father’s Day notes in unimaginative cursive or cartoon script. The aisle is highlighted by fluorescent lights and the smell of vanilla candles in the next section — both created to make you lightheaded, confused, and apt to actually buy one of these less-than-thoughtful poems with pictures of golf balls, ties, and other “dad-like” images.
But every June I found myself in that damn store — I had to pick up my prescription of Prozac for the month of June, buy toothpaste or fem products. I passed by the aisle; the words “father” and “dad” pulled me in. Every year I figured I might be able to find a card suitable for my free-spirited cowboy dad who was having a good ole time in a bar somewhere in Wyoming. But, instead, I was surrounded by reminders of who my father was not, and I contemplated sprinting to the liquor aisle myself.
Anxiety set in as I thumbed through the cards, wondering where I would even mail the card if I found one that matched his character and how he contributed to my life. Was there a card in a section titled “Daddy Issues” that conveyed my lack of enthusiasm for my June CVS panic attacks, but gratitude for my resiliency?
I picked up the first card that stood out because it had a nature scene, which reminded me of the ranch I grew up on with my dad. It started out “For a Remarkable Man, A special keepsake,” and it had a bookmark attached to the outside of the card that said, “A special dad gives his family room to grow, faith, courage.” A bookmark? I laughed; “effing ridiculous,” I muttered. I gagged: “Clean up on aisle three” my mind intercom shouted.
The next one — “The love between a father and daughter is something to count on forever.” Now I was just getting angry, which doesn’t take a Hallmark poet to know what comes next … sadness. “Kleenex on aisle three.”
I perused for cards with fewer words; maybe they would be less sappy. I read on a cover, “Your love will always be with me wherever I go and whatever I do.” And another said, “A dad’s love stays inside a daughter’s heart.” Now these are true. I felt a giant lump in my throat, and I didn’t want to break down in the CVS aisle holding toothpaste, tampons, and Prozac. I took a deep breath. I found a reason to hate these cards — one had a fabric heart on the cover and the other pink wispy hearts — what sort of bullshit is that? What dad, especially a cowboy dad, would want a card like that? I visualized him somehow receiving my card and bellying up to the bar to read it; the fellow rowdy cowboys laughing at this mockery of a Father’s Day card.
I quickly went to the “Funny Cards” section to quell my soon-to-be, once-a-year CVS Father’s Day aisle melt down. These cards certainly deflected any serious issues or heartfelt messages; these cards were fuzzy and felty. They’re weren’t funny; they were stupid. I kicked the card stand, stubbing my toe. An older woman down the aisle opened a damn singing card just in time to cover the awkwardness.
I could always pay another $10 for the card with a fancy plastic cover used to “protect” whatever the hell it is that is so damn delicate and pay extra postage to mail it. “Papyrus” or not, these cards just appear to be more high-end, but really they are just thicker paper with messy glitter and pop-ups. I don’t want to stereotype what the male species likes, but I’m pretty sure your dad would be happier if you took that three to five bucks and bought him a jerky stick at the checkout stand.
Most of those years, if I got a card, it was a nice image on the outside and blank on the inside with a message of my own. Some years I never got a card because I didn’t know where to mail it. My dad died five Father’s Days ago, from alcoholism, and he was only 54. I was 34, and it was then that I remembered the incredible father he was when I was little, and I realized how his life so uniquely and positively contributed to my life as an adult daughter.
My cowboy dad did things for me that I assumed every dad did, like trading a pair of chaps for a Persian kitten for me, helping me make a harp out of pipe and fishing string for my music class, and driving a tractor to scrape the snow off of the pond so I could be the next Dorothy Hamill. He just happened to be an alcoholic. I realized most of my friends’ dads didn’t wear cowboy boots and a hat, and they sure as hell didn’t trade a pair of $500 leather chaps for a fluffball with a smooshed face.
Whether your dad is exactly what every kid would want and you are so grateful for him, or your dad is … unique in his own ways, I would venture to say that both of these dads don’t want something elaborate; here are some ideas better than cards.
• If you are lucky enough to live near your dad, make him dinner — whether it’s his favorite meatloaf or just ordering pizza, having dinner with your dad is way better than a card.
• If you insist on getting a card, then at least write a lot of funny, silly, memorable, loving things all over the card. Allow your words to shine, not the random person who wrote the script in the card. Or underline and heart-circle key words in the message of the card to show that you actually believe the words in the card.
• Write him a sincere letter. One of the last years of his life, I sent my dad a “Remember when” poem. I just wrote memories of beautiful things he had done for me. You don’t have to be a creative writer to convey a loving message to a unique father. Stay true to yourself and your words; there are many loving things that you can say that are true without opting to get a card that has a poem in it about “You are my hero dad” if that’s not how you feel. If you miss him, say so. If you think about him, say so. If you love him, say so.
• If your dad has passed away, you can still write that letter.
When you were little, your dad may have seemed like a perfect superhero. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t. We figure out who our parents are when we become adults — they’re human. Let’s remember our dads and be grateful for their contributions to who we are as their children.
Happy Father’s Day to my Cowboy Dad. I love you. I miss you. Thank you for contributing to my resiliency.
For more information on adult children of alcoholics, visit the Cowboy Dad Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/mycowboydad. This essay is in part from Melissa Broughton’s memoir Cowboy Dad.