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I’ve been receiving the “it’s never too soon to shop for Dad” emails ever since Mother’s Day ended this year. As if I need a reminder. And this weekend, as dads across the country enjoy an assortment of ties, socks, key rings and fishing tackle, we should spare a thought for those dads and their children for whom Father’s Day will not be so delightful.

The anticipation of Father’s Day and the day itself has never been a warm and fuzzy time for me. I could be found wandering in and out through gift shops and card stores for days before I would settle on a card that said very little without being hurtful. I would never be able to give my father a card that said “To the very best father that ever lived” or “I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without you” or “Your love and inspiration are the gifts I’ve treasured most.” The cards I would find with dad’s reclining in lazy boy chairs with popcorn and beer wouldn’t work for my dad either. My father always sat in his chair with a newspaper on his lap, a bowl of fruit and a glass of milk, and the only time he got up was to make a trip to the bathroom or to punish me.

Maybe there should be cards available that come blank with a bunch of stickers in a little cellophane bag — A T.V. set, a newspaper, an armchair, food, a toilet. Because these cards with the scenic views — golf courses, fishing boats and hand tools never worked either. Of course there are always the ones that look pretty on the front, but then the message reads “Have a nice day!” or It’s your day, have a blast!” Those always seemed too impersonal as if the card was meant for a co-worker dad or the neighbor dad down the street who never hears from his kids. As I said, I would eventually find something that celebrated the day without being too loving or too indifferent.

Buying a gift was equally difficult because if my father had wanted or needed something, he would buy it for himself. This particular year I have in mind, I thought I did a reasonably good job of both finding an appropriate card and a meaningful gift. It was the year my oldest daughter was ten, and the photo that was taken of her on her special day was perfect in every way. I had it enlarged and framed and even wrapped in particularly lovely paper. My dad adored Amy and was proud of her, and so I really thought this Father’s Day gift would please him.

As soon as he opened the box, I could see and feel his anger. What? What could I have done wrong? I was certain I had it right this time. Soon after I had my answer in his terse and caustic tone as he said, “Why would you think receiving a framed photo of you would make me in the least bit happy, Danna?” I didn’t bother explaining, but the memory of his words still can sting twenty-four years later.

Writer and copyeditor. “What doesn’t kill us gives us something new to write about” ~ J. Wright

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