I Hate Shopping for Father’s Day Cards, So I Made Some And It Was Kind of Cathartic

“‘Dad, you were always there for me,’” I read. “Except when you weren’t,” I add out loud.
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Jen Harper
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“‘Dad, you were always there for me,’” I read. “Except when you weren’t,” I add out loud.

I tend to think that most people’s relationships with their parents fall into the “it’s complicated” category—until I find myself in the hell that is the greeting card aisle on holidays like Father’s Day. And then I think, “Nope, looks like I’m the only freak to whom these cards don’t apply.”

There are the earnest cards: “Dad, you mean the world to me.” “You gave me encouragement and advice when I needed it the most.” “I don’t say it enough, but I appreciate everything you’ve done for me.”

The treacly: “The best dads get promoted to Grandpa.” “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a dad.”

The dorky dad joke cards: “Home is where the fart is.” “Dad, you’re my favorite parent (don’t tell Mom)!”

The funny cards with some bite that hit a little too close to home: “Dad, There were times when running away from home seemed like a good idea … but you never did.” “Dad, you’re like a father to me.” “At least I’m not addicted to drugs.”

Good for all the peeps out there who can easily buy cards off the rack, but none of these cards seem applicable to me and my relationship with my dad. Most of the time, I’m able to accept our relationship for what it is. But whenever this holiday rolls around, all sorts of emotional detritus gets stirred up. I find myself spending way too long at the grocery store reading every damn card quietly to myself—adding my own commentary—while my Ben & Jerry’s turns into ice cream soup in the shopping cart.

“‘Dad, you were always there for me,’” I read. “Except when you weren’t,” I add out loud.

“‘Dad, I’m the strong, confident woman you see today because of you’ … and a lot of therapy.”

“‘I’ve always known I could count on you’ … heh, yeah right.”

And then I look around and realize I have the entire card section to myself because of all my crazy mumbling.

I finally end up grabbing one of the three cards that have the “simply stated” placards above them. The one for this year has a bear and a fish on the front and reads, “Dad, every single thing that could make the day happy … Hope it all comes your way today.” I only chose that one because they didn’t have the same one I’ve given him the last three years. On the front it says, “I am my father’s daughter.” And on the inside: “Happy Father’s Day!” He either didn’t remember that he’d received it before or was too nice to say anything.

So while I’m not an artist, crafty DIY-er, or Pinterest aficionado, I’ve decided there’s no reason I can’t make my own card. 

Here are a few ideas I came up with. And if you’re saying to yourself, “My kid could have done these,” I’d say, you’re probably right. I’d love to hear if they have any others.

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Punny prints. I had a weird obsession with Ed Emberley’s Great Thumbprint Drawing Book when I was growing up. And it gave me an easy-peasy idea for a minimalist card, so grab an ink pad and get to fingerprinting. Be sure to let the ink dry before you start drawing over it; otherwise, you’ll have a smeary mess. 

Now pick a pun-worthy animal. For my card, I went with an otter, but you could go with a bee (“Thanks for bee-ing my dad”), owl (“Owl always love you, Dad”), sheep (“I love ewe, Pops”), iguana (“Iguana wish you a happy Father’s Day!”) or koala (“You have the necessary koala-fications to be my father”)—you get the idea.

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If you have children, use them—or at least their adorable tiny hands. I have 4-year-old and 1-year-old daughters, both of whom are very much into the idea of covering themselves in paint, dirt, sand, spaghetti sauce, glitter, etc. And grandparents love getting art from the kiddos (made even better because they don’t receive 14 new pieces a day that they have to surreptitiously recycle). So dip those little hands into some washable paint, slap it on a piece of construction paper, add a couple of flourishes, and voila! 

I’m sure you can find more creative stuff on mommy blogs and such, but I went with handprint fish and handprint flowers because my father-in-law lives at the beach and my dad is into yardwork. And if the handprints don’t turn out well because your 1-year-old doesn’t yet understand the concept of placing her hand flat on the paper rather than trying to jam it into her mouth, don’t fret. The imperfection adds to the charm. And I didn’t think a tagline was needed with these other than your basic “Happy Father’s Day,” but if you’ve got one, then by all means.

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Embrace the seemingly irrelevant. I like dinosaurs. I think about them at least once a day, every day. What do you like? Rainbows? Dirty martinis? Thundercats? Whatever it is, draw that, and help your dad learn a little something about you. Even if you think you can’t play Pictionary to save your life, you can draw a picture of something (and if that really stresses you out, cut a picture out of a Dinosaur Today magazine—which I didn’t Google to see if it was a real thing, but if it is, I want it). Write “Happy Father’s Day!” on the inside along with whatever personalizations you wish. When people pass by your dad’s desk at work and ask about the dinosaur drawing, he can brag about how his 34-year-old kid made it for him.

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Think of a happy memory of something you and your dad did together. I remember as a kid sitting in the laundry room with my dad on Sunday afternoons and watching him iron all of his work clothes for the week. He even ironed his jeans, and man, were those creases sharp. It was almost meditative just to watch him spray the starch onto his white shirt and listen to the hiss of the steam from the iron. 

Sometimes we’d talk—he’d tell me stories about his childhood growing up in the mountains of east Tennessee; I’d tell him the facts about dinosaurs that I’d memorized from our World Book Encyclopedias. And while admittedly the only thing I iron these days is my hair on occasion, I know how to properly press a shirt because of my father. 

I highly doubt a greeting card manufacturer has that specific sentiment in its vault of Father’s Day cards, and it’s the specificity that makes the card and the memory special. So maybe your dad made you waffles on your birthday or told you a bedtime story once about a family of foxes going to the beach—whatever it is, draw that or even just write it, say thanks, and call it a day. My guess is that will mean more to your dad than whatever message a card company comes up with anyway.

If you’re among my tribe of folks who have a tricky, tenuous, or complicated dynamic with your dear dad, tell me how you handle the whole card thing.