This Father's Day, Make Sure To Degrade Your Dad

First off I'd like to wish all the dads out there Happy Father's Day. I hope you are enjoying a wonderful time with your families. This might sound weird, but in previous years I never gave this day much thought. "Oh thanks kids. These are great cards; love what you did with macaroni and glitter." Don't get me wrong; it's not that I was ungrateful, far from it. But now as a stay-at-home-dad to two stepdaughters and an involved parent to my sons living away from home, I've gained something new: self-respect.

From the time I became a father up until a little over a year ago, my attitude concerning how I viewed myself in this role bordered on apathetic. This is not to say I approached my fatherly duties with apathy, but rather that I under appreciated the my importance as a father. What I failed to really sit up and take notice of were the potential consequences for my children should they grow up without a dad. And the studies tracing any number of adverse risk factors and behaviors found in fatherless boys and girls further make my point.

Given the seriousness involved why then did I underestimate myself? I blame Hallmark. Hallmark? Yes, Hallmark, the makers of greeting cards, the creators of consumer-driven holiday's, the harbingers of the Apocalypse. Hallmark, where my agitation over the portrayal of dads grew with every Father's Day card I picked up. One showed a fat-so's in his underwear holding a beer and watching TV, "Enjoy you're day, Dad... not that it's any different from the rest," it read. Another showed a goofy kid on the front; inside were the heart-felt words, "Sorry I'm such a screw-up, Pop. Guess your son really is a chip off the old block."

I don't know about you, but I'm welling up with emotion (Not!). Others were just as despicable: Dorks in plaid shirts, dress socks and sandals, guys itching their butts, golf clubs, fishing poles, grills, lawn mowers - the list goes on of every conceivable stereotype out there for dads. Thanks Hallmark for setting the expectation of fatherhood so high for us to not live up to, and then getting us to shell out five bucks to keep you in business for another year. They're not alone in sharing the blame.

Stop for a second and count the number of television shows where the father is a fat buffoon with a hot wife, and kids that outsmart him in every episode. Hey, I love The Simpsons more than anyone; it helps me to laugh at myself, but at the same time, I'm no Homer.

The geniuses up on Fifth Avenue could use a good slapping around too. Walking through Sears, I noticed a big display with a card-board cutout of some bald schmuck holding a gift. "Get dad what he really wants this year - a garage door opener!" A garage door opener? Right. I could just see some guy getting one of these and thinking, "Five years of hugs, kisses and homemade cards - five years, and the whole damn time all I really wanted was this here garage door opener."

I know I'm not the first person to use these examples, but in opening yet another insulting card, it occurred to me how little I thought of my efforts, how I had been subconsciously tainted by our consumeristic society into devaluing my own importance as a father. What happened to the dads from shows like Father Know's Best, or Little House on The Prairie? Hokey as they may have been, these images of fatherhood still set the bar high. Some would argue impossibly so. But if we stand on our tippy toes reaching for perfection, it's true we will never attain it, but we will at least be able to say we pushed ourselves to do our best trying.

Deep inside, no one wants to think of themselves as a looser. Ask any father (or man) to name their favorite movies, and the majority will mention somewhere in their list, titles like Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Remember the Titans, Braveheart and others where the male leads triumph against the odds by relying on their moral character, intelligence and courage. These portrayals, real or fictional, evoke an innate desire in men to identify with those characters. Why? Because we are inspired by excellence. And that inspiration compels us to act in the belief we are capable of excellence. So when a 5 x 8 piece of cardboard tells me that, as a father I'll never amount to being anything more than a beer-guzzling, burger-grilling, TV-watching, putz with no fashion sense, I am anything but inspired.

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