Sunday, June 18, 2006

Next Year, Everyone Gets a Sailboat

It must be awesome to be a guy. You can stroll into Walgreen’s at 2:30 p.m. on Father’s Day, head to the greeting card aisle, pluck out a sentiment that in only the vaguest of ways resembles your relationship with your father, and be on your way by 2:33. And you fellas don’t see anything wrong with this.

Being a woman, I scoured the city’s stationers a week in advance of the big day, searching for the perfect message for my Dad. As I noted when on a similar quest for his birthday, such a Holy Grail does not exist. I wound up taking the humor route and then scrawling a heartfelt note beneath the punch line to cover my ass vis-à-vis my siblings’ contributions.

You see, I know how my parents operate. Following each anniversary, birthday or holiday, salutations are displayed on the fireplace mantel in the living room, to be supplanted only when the next event rolls around. Should one occasion follow closely on the heels of another (as Mother’s Day does my father’s birthday), the newest cards take possession of the mantel, while their predecessors are demoted to the foyer. Every time I visit, I check out the competition.

So before making a purchase, I have to picture how my card will play against the opposition. I don’t want it to be the smallest or the cheapest or the only one that rhymes. In terms of sheer emotion, I don’t even attempt to top my brother Joey, who never met a tear he couldn’t jerk. So I pin my hopes that one of the other two will crack under pressure and settle for something featuring Snoopy and Woodstock.

That’s a lot of baggage to lay on a card.

Imagine my horror, then, when I realized I had not one but three fathers to shop for—both Joey and my brother-in-law Rob have become dads in the past year. The motifs for Father’s Day are already absurd—the fishing and golfing themes, the duck decoys and the lighthouses, the jokes about beer and remote controls—which basically all send the message that men would rather be doing anything other than fathering. (Dad and I pondered the sailboat theme. I grew up in a Great Lakes state, so this sort of makes sense, but what about people in Oklahoma or Kansas? Are their shelves stocked with geographically appropriate images like tumbleweeds?)

Options for brothers are downright scarce. If not obscene. My eyes scanned the rows of “to dad from daughter,” “for my husband,” “like a father,” and finally alit on a single “Hey, brother.” It was my lucky day.

On the outside, it read: “Brother, I still can’t believe you’re a Dad.” I could tell this was going to fall on the “stupid humor” end of the spectrum, but I was in no position to quibble. I flipped it open for the kicker:

“In fact, I still can’t believe you found someone to have sex with you.”

Yuck and double yuck.

Maybe it’s a male-female thing. Maybe from one brother to another—if both are the sort who frequent Hooters—this would be completely acceptable. Or maybe it’s just a me thing. After my parents (and grandparents, and Ted Koppel) the people I least want to associate the word “sex” with are my siblings. It ruins my illusion that we’re all still 10 years old, prepping for another round of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.

I envisioned the opening ceremony. Joey slicing through the envelope, reading the cover with a sentimental grin, quickly followed by a “What the fu*#?” My sister-in-law issuing a fatwa against any future visits or contact with their infant son.

I put the offensive material back in its slot like an issue of “Hustler,” went home, took a shower and made my own card. It was cute, it was sweet, it was touching. A top tier mantel-worthy effort.

“We went with the lighthouse,” Dad said later, when we compared notes. Lesson learned. Next year, everyone gets a sailboat.


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