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The anxiety of Father’s Day cards

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 17, 2016

All greeting cards are bad, but can we agree that Father’s Day cards are particularly bad?

Cards for dads are a lot like T-shirts for toddlers: aggressively, relentlessly gendered. It’s telling many of the sports-themed cards look like wallpaper you might find in a child’s bedroom. As it turns out, the blue-is-for-boys, pink-is-for-girls anxiety doesn’t end in childhood. Now it’s beer-is-for-dads, wine-is-for-moms. To that end, Mother’s Day cards aren’t much better — hope you like flowers! — but there’s something striking about cards for dads, as though they exist to remind dads they are Manly Men Who Like Things For Manly Men, As Randomly Determined By Popular Culture.

A greeting card is a strange commercial product for lots of reasons, not least because of agency problems. By definition, the person buying a card is pretty much never the person whom it’s for. Add in whatever traditions are associated with the occasion, gaps in power or familiarity between the gifter and giftee, and it’s practically a recipe for people to tighten up and go super-conservative.

This does remind me of a thread in the webcomic Achewood where Roast Beef is inspired to create his own line of greeting cards for everyday occasions. By the end, he and his friend Ray are coming up with “Dude-to-Dude” cards like “Dogg Let’s Go Eat Dishes With Chorizo When Our Ladies Aren’t Around” or “Dogg It Must Feel Sick As Hell To Recieve A Card From A Dude.” (If I were to ever receive either of these cards from my son for Father’s Day, I’d be thrilled.)