The Right Father's Day Card

When you have a complicated relationship, picking the right sentiment can be a challenge. 

by Ellen Resnick • Member { View Profile }
Photograph: iStock

I walk into CVS and head for the greeting card section to pick out a Father’s Day card for my Dad. As usual for this time of year, the Father’s Day display is huge, rivaling even that of the birthday section. To narrow the selection, I focus on the “From Daughter” grouping. 

Hallmark offers a wide variety of cards so that, depending on your relationship with the recipient, you can find one that feels right — that sounds authentic, like you could have written it yourself. For Father’s Day, the choices are: dramatic (“The gifts you’ve given me have shaped my life”); sugary (“I love you too much for words”); contemplative (“Wishing you quiet moments and peaceful reflections”); childish (“Hey ewe!  I’m glaaad you’re my Daaaad”); and humorous (“How many Dads does it take to change a light bulb?”).

As I randomly pull cards from the rows to read them, I hold onto the finalists and then make my selection. This year, I search for one that expresses my love for my dad, but doesn’t give him too much credit for being a positive influence in my life. I choose a simple one with three colorful hearts and a grosgrain green ribbon. I like the card’s child-like quality and rounded edges, and the saying is heartfelt, but not too effusive to be untrue.

Just wanted to remind you

that you have

a very special place

in my heart…

you always will.

Happy Father’s Day

Back home, I write in careful script “I love you, Dad” and pen my name before dropping the card in the mail.

At the age of 84, Dad does have a special place in my heart — but that was not always the case.  In fact, in my teens and 20s, there was very little room in my heart for him, and he didn’t hold a very special place in my life either. I felt indifferent about my father, and when I did feel something toward him, it was usually disappointment or anger. It was tough to find an appropriate Father’s Day card during those years. I usually ended up buying a humorous card, or one that was meant for a father who was not your own — the kind that included the good wishes without the goo. Both types were safe because they lacked emotion.

My father worked hard in his business selling commercial refrigerators to restaurants, delis and grocery stores. Leaving the house early in the morning, he spent most of the day in his car, before returning in the evening. My family was together every night at the dinner table, but I don’t remember much of any substance discussed. Then my father would retire to his den, prop his feet up on a footstool and watch sit-coms on TV. 

He is certainly a good man, a nice man, but he was a weak and ineffectual father and husband.  Mom was the dominant force in our family, and he left the decision-making, household and child-rearing responsibilities to her. My mom’s sage advice and nurturing nature contrasted sharply with my father’s superficial presence in my life. 

Although she was a kind-hearted and loving mother, Mom was a judgmental wife. My father could never do anything right in her eyes — except make a good living and make her laugh with his corny jokes. I was a lot like my mom, and a sassy, moody teenager to boot, and I mirrored her critical behavior toward my father. Luckily, my sister was more tolerant and empathetic so my dad had one ally in the house. 

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