Every year when I go shopping for a Father's Day card, I am bombarded by all kinds of stereotypical images that do not represent the feelings I have about my father.
First there are all the cards showing men's ties. I suppose this is a popular image because lots of people buy their fathers ties when they don't know what else to get. My father certainly wore many ties in his lifetime, but he is retired now and only wears one if an event really calls for it. (And even then he might only wear a tie if my stepmother gently prods him to do so.) But I don't remember ever buying him a tie.
Then there are the cards with the nautical themes. Often these show a lighthouse or a ship at sea or a lifesaver. Some cards show a man with fishing gear, or out in a boat. We did go crabbing together once when I was 9 or 10. I remember him showing me how to hold a crab so it wouldn't pinch me. I didn't do it right and one pinched my thumb. I shook my hand so hard that the crab let go and sailed out over the water like a discus at the Olympics. We laugh every time we remember it. But I don't think a card about fishing really captures my father.
Some cards show race cars or a man mowing a lawn or working on a car engine. Some show a man teaching a boy to play a sport. But none of these really work for me. They are too mainstream.
Then there are the golf images. To be sure, my father loves to watch golf on television. And he used to enjoy playing golf. In fact golf was a pretty big deal in his family. Both of his parents and all of his siblings played recreational golf. I often watch a match on television out here in Arizona. I love being able to talk to my father about the golf match. But father's day cards about golf still don't work for what I want to say to my father.
I have a photo of him baking cookies with his two grandsons. I love that photo. I love it not just because it is a great picture. I love it because it shows him doing something he loves (baking) and modeling for his grandsons that cooking & baking are completely within the realm of what a man does. This is important to me because the images my son sees on television and movies commonly show cooking and cleaning to be female tasks. Baking cookies with Granddaddy says that cooking is normal for men and is actually quite fun! But are there cards about fathers baking cookies? No, there are only cards about Dad at the grill. I suppose that is more manly.
My father is honest and has integrity. How do you capture that in a card? He is my touchstone. He is the one person I can absolutely count on to be there for me, no matter what. He is the first person I call when something funny happens because laughing with my father is one of my greatest pleasures. I want to know what he is reading and what he is thinking about what he is reading. I want to hear about his experiences and what he thinks about them. No matter what is going on in my life, a return to my father's side - or just a telephone conversation with him - will ground me.
I call him "Papa" because his mother called her father that. None of my siblings calls him that. But when I say the word "Papa", I feel the presence of my grandmother and great-grandfather in the room and I feel the influence they had on my father and on me. He has the sweet and kind qualities of a gentleman from the South, as his family raised him. But he grew beyond that and also developed a fiery commitment to social justice issues that still shocks some members of his extended family. Where are the cards for a kind and gentle man who will stand his ground on important issues?
When I was born, I was a very sick baby. They called my father down to the hospital three times to take one last look at me before I died. He says each time he arrived, I would be kicking and screaming, insisting on staying alive. My determination has often been compared to that of my father's mother, for whom I was named. But maybe it was my Papa's love and strong will that I felt coursing through me. He had already lost one infant. Losing another would have been devastating, although I am sure he was trying his best to prepare for that possibility. But maybe our connection was already there and I felt him rooting for me then as I feel him rooting for me now.
Where are the cards for that?