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Father's Day cards focus on fun

It's all relative for card makers

Since Father's Day — which is Sunday in case you've forgotten — was proclaimed an official holiday in 1966, dad's big day has celebrated the fishing, golfing, napping, grilling, remote-hogging, car-fixing, emotion-free money machine that he is.

Or so greeting cards would have us think.

Sweet and encouraging is a mainstay for holiday cards, their makers say, but funny sells better on Father's Day. The variety reflects shoppers' demands: Although we relate to our mothers with sentiment and flowers, we relate to dad through laughs and power tools. It's easier on him and us to laugh instead of cry, card companies say.

Furthermore, mom doesn't like to be the butt of a joke, whereas dad doesn't mind it so much.

"It mirrors how we communicate with each parent," says Frank Cirillo, a spokesman for American Greetings. "Dad over a grill, dad fishing — it is a good way to relate."

Lexington, Ky., resident Neil Chethik, the author of VoiceMale and FatherLoss, says men interpret the humor in cards with the same warm, happy feelings women have for sentimental cards, partly because men are trained not to delve deeply into feelings, he says.

And yet, the stereotype of the emotionally crippled oaf is overdone, Chethik says, especially among the most recent generation of fathers, who tend to take a more direct role in caring for kids.

"Trendsetting is not what I think of with Hallmark or American Greetings. They tend to be behind the times," says Chethik, who has a 13-year-old son. "Some wouldn't mind a little less biting, and a little more laughing with, not laughing at."

But asking for laughs and a smart, subtle portrayal of dad is a lot to ask of a little greeting card, Chethik says, so it might be better to choose a funny card and add your own personal message.

"We don't maybe want to admit it openly, but most would prefer to see something about how we add something to the family, rather than how you have to put up with us," he says. "If (my son) wanted to play catch with me and told me that's one of the things he really liked to do, that's more meaningful than a tie or a tool."

Still, the National Retail Federation says greetings cards are the most popular gifts for dads, although dinners out, clothes, gift cards and electronics all make the list of favorites, too. The federation estimates that $9.9 billion will be spent on U.S. dads over this holiday, with the average adult spending about $98 on gifts.

Kathy Dougherty, owner of a Hallmark Shop, says daughters and wives pick the sentimental cards, while sons pick the ones that make fun of dad's clothes, inability to ask directions and obsession with golf. Barbecue sauces,bourbon candies and picture frames are big sellers the week before Father's Day, she says, but none of them compare to the onslaught of shoppers in May.

"Mother's Day, you give (cards and gifts) to sisters, mothers, aunts, grandma. It's a much bigger selection," Dougherty says. "Men are just hard to buy for."

Some of the sweeter Father's Day cards are reserved for certain segments, say fathers-to-be and new dads, for whom parenthood is more nerve-wracking than funny. Cards made to be given by young children lack the cynicism of those marketed to teenage counterparts.

"Maybe it's Mickey Mouse or Snoopy, but they're actually loving, a lot more reverence and earnestness," says Parents Magazine senior editor David Sparrow, whose own children are 2 and 8.

The pressure to find a good gift or perfect card is very real, says Judy Goldberg, another senior editor at Parents. Her children fretted over what to get her on Mother's Day, and she can see the panic brimming in them as Father's Day approaches.

The perfect gift, she says: A promise that they'll do whatever the parents ask for an entire day.

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