Hallmark Just Doesn’t Get It


I don’t hate Father’s Day; it’s the Tuesday beforehand that I can’t stand.

I drag myself to the grocery store, trudge to the card aisle, and stare at the never-ending wall of cards. There are dozens, hundreds of cards to sift through and I know that I will not find what I need the first few tries. Even with the overwhelming number of cards in front of me, I tell myself that I can’t put it off any longer; I have to mail them that afternoon to ensure they arrive by Father’s Day. I take a deep breath, think about the two people that I have to find cards for, and start the search.

The first card is for my biological father. When I was a kid, he was a great dad. He came to every basketball game, band concert, and science fair (and often helped me complete my projects). He always encouraged me to pursue anything that interested me. He was my biggest cheerleader. As I became a teenager, though, he became a less-than-fantastic father. Eventually, his actions and attitudes brought deep anguish to our family and deep pain in my soul. My parents got divorced when I was fifteen; he and I have spoken little over the past ten years. In fact, this is the only time of year I have any kind of contact, only because I can’t decide which is more heartless: to send him a card once a year or to send him nothing at all.

The second card is for my spiritual father. When I was in college, I visited a friend’s church and met her family. Knowing that my dad was no longer in my life, she said that I could share her dad with her. I was hesitant to accept such an offer, but as college went on, I couldn’t help but feel embraced by his kindness. He checked in on me the way a father should, offered encouragement as I pursued my ministry studies degree, and, when I talked about a potential date, jokingly said things like, “When are we going to meet? I have to approve—I’m your spiritual father!” I was touched by his parental compassion toward me, but I was slow to reciprocate. He is the pastor of my friend’s church and some people in the community didn’t always agree with the new way he was doing church. I know how cruel people can be; if they want to tear someone down, they will twist even the most innocent actions into something gossip-worthy. As a young, single woman, I did my best to show him compassion from afar, giving people as little ammunition as possible to twist his kindness toward me into something false. Maybe it’s just my paranoia, but I wanted to make sure no one had an excuse to say anything against him.

The more I think about my dads, the harder I look for cards and the more frustrated I become. You don’t see cards that say, “You started out okay, but kind of tripped up there in the middle,” or, “I’m thanking you in a socially acceptable way for coming into my life at just the right time.” Instead, card after card reads:

Father's Day Card 300“Thank you for always being there for me.”

“You’re #1, Dad!”

“Thank you for being my biggest support.”

“You raised me right. Well done!”

“Thank you for never letting me down.”

None of these are appropriate for either of my dads.

About half an hour into my endeavor, I begin to wonder what realistic Father’s Day cards would look like and why I can’t seem to find any. Eventually, I select two that don’t say what I wish they said, but seem to be the best of the dismal choices. Frustrated, I take them to the register, pay, sign each card, and drop them in the mailbox. The anxiety is finished for another year.

I know this seems like so much unnecessary trouble for something as trivial as Father’s Day cards. Why send cards at all? If my real dad hurt me so deeply, why send him anything? And my spiritual father probably doesn’t expect anything from me, so why put myself through the trouble? If it causes me so much grief year after year, why bother doing it?

Because I love them.

I wish we could move past the cliché celebration of great fathers or the superficial condemnation of terrible fathers and remember that relationships are complicated. Relationships are messy. Relationships are full of ups and downs, and our celebrations of those relationships should reflect that reality.

Until cards that reflect true relationships exist, let these card inserts suffice:

To my real dad: “I know we don’t talk. I know we don’t see each other. I know you don’t expect me to speak to you because you know how deeply you hurt me. Frankly, I don’t want to see you. But I want you to know that I remember more than the pain. I remember the time you taught me to ride a bike, the time you introduced me to real coffee, and all the times you told me not to give up on my math homework. I never stopped loving you; I simply miss the dad you were. Thank you for being that dad, if only for a season. I hope you find that man again.”

To my spiritual father: “Thank you for welcoming me into your family, for showing me what a loving marriage looks like, and for teaching me what it means to treat all people with grace. Thank you for supporting my call to ministry and for giving me advice to survive seminary. I know I don’t call or visit as much as I should, but know that I look forward to the times I get to come home. Know that I look forward to spending time with you, to soaking up any wisdom or laughter I missed the last time I was there. You inspire me more than you know, and I love you as the father you are to me.”

To you who struggle just as much as I do with finding a Father’s Day card: give yourself permission to celebrate and grieve. Give yourself permission to laugh and cry. Give yourself permission to be thankful and angry. Until you can find that perfect, beautiful card, recognize the beauty in your real, honest emotions. Embrace them. Learn from them. Write them. Send them. Let God help you find peace in them. God honors the complicated mess we bring to the table and, somehow, still makes it something beautiful.

Kali Freels is a recent graduate of the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University. She aspires to be an international missionary working in the realm of sex-trafficking prevention. Currently, she works for a tutoring company in Atlanta, GA.

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