What Father’s Day Card-Shopping Taught Me


Fathers are flatulent, beer-swilling, lazy, somewhat hen-pecked, horny creatures with some delusions towards being able to handle tools, playing sports with competence, or being able to interact with their kids except by hollering. Also, fathers-in-law don’t exist. And they’re satisfied with cards that aren’t all that funny. But the card market exists, however much I don’t really find it funny; maybe I’m just the one out of step. I’m also none too fond of funny birthday cards, which exist in the forms, “Ha ha, you’re old”, “What, you’re not dead yet?”, and “Wait, we’re both old yet not dead”, and yet the market seems to support that too.

But is it just my own peculiar tastes, or are funny cards just not, on average, funny?

Well, one possibility is they would be funny if they could, but haven’t got the space. A greeting card has maybe a couple dozen words on it, even if you count the picture as some sentences, and to provide the setup and development and punchline in that little space is pretty hard. You’re almost forced into cliches and stock character types — essentially, the Joe Miller Joke Book — to have a chance at carrying off anything with the form of a joke. Given the tight constraints of the form, it’s hard to do better.

Paralleling this, I think, is how panel comic strips — which, with a few exceptions (Family Circus, Pardon my Planet) don’t have recurring characters — barely attempt to do Father’s Day jokes, and when they do, are about as successful as the Hallmark Corporation is. Non-panel comics, with usually a regular cast who can build up personalities and have character traits the audience will likely remember, do better at attempting and succeeding in telling Father’s Day jokes, and come to think of that, greeting cards based on those comic strips are usually more nearly satisfying. But they have an advantage in the thousands of words of setting and context that a card from out of nowhere hasn’t got.

Or maybe the problem is simpler. People settle for Father’s Day cards that are kind of funny-like, I guess, so who’s motivated to demand better? If you don’t like it, why not get one of the sentimental cards, or one that’s just blank and has a photo of someone clearly old enough to be a dad, or granddad, and write something funny on your own instead?

Because I couldn’t think of anything funny for the card, is why.

Author: Joseph Nebus

I was born 198 years to the day after Johnny Appleseed. The differences between us do not end there. He/him.

4 thoughts on “What Father’s Day Card-Shopping Taught Me”

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