Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Lies of Father's Day Cards. (Updated Version)

I was standing in the Post Office a few weeks ago, trying to mail a package, when I saw the rack of last-minute cards: the small selection of birthday, get-well, congratulations, and holiday-of-the-month cards meant to be grabbed and mailed (since you're already at the Post Office!) by those who remember an occasion at the last minute.  There were, of course, Father's Day cards, and, since I was waiting, I looked through the seven or eight cards they had with the intention of getting one for my Dad. (I haven't always sent occasion cards to Dad in the last few years, since there isn't much point, but lately I've been into it.)  I found, however, that for one reason or another, none of the cards really fit my relationship to my dad, nor did they fit what kind of person he was.

I don't know why it seemed important to me that the message be truthful or honest about the relationship we had - after all, it's not as if he was going to be reading it and understanding it.  I knew that his caregivers would probably be reading the card to him, and for some reason, it seemed vital that they weren't given the wrong idea - that they wouldn't look at the message and either believe it was true when it wasn't, or know it wasn't true but that I was lying and saying it was.  I'm not even sure why it mattered - I guess I just felt a little confused in my head - but it seemed important to portray our situation honestly.

The cards, with their uplifting messages and grateful poems, highlighted a problem I've had for many years - even before the dementia - that my experiences with my father don't fit the Hallmark model.  I've always had trouble finding an appropriate cared, usually because the messages don't fit my perceptions. My dad was a good dad in some ways, but I experienced him as lacking in others. This leads me back around to a problem I've made one of my hallmark, soapbox caregiving issues; the fact that not all parent/child relationships were rewarding, positive, uplifting, healthy, or even particularly nice, yet people are supposed to start caring for these parents willingly and happily because its the right thing to do, despite their feelings about the parent.  I still feel like this is one of the biggest deliberate misdirections in healthcare/caregiving/aging.

Many of us didn't have the closest relationship with our parents, while some people had downright abusive relationships with their parents. Lovely pictures of golf clubs or ties or sailboats or tools, partnered with messages about how much we owe to our Father's guidance and love and dedication, are more often than not, inaccurate.  Knowing this, and feeling the frustration, we still buy and send them because of the cultural myth that all childhoods are good, and all parents supportive.  We must not let the metaphor of the heart-warming Father's Day card be a caregiving cover-up.

Just because that parent now needs care, doesn't erase the relationship and events that came before.  If an adult child decides to take on the care responsibilities, there must be space for all of the feelings that come with this new reality - including resentment, anger, and grief from the past, as well as resentment, anger and grief from the present.  There must be a match between the present and the past - past events can't be whitewashed by the demands of the present, they must be acknowledged.  Caregivers must be able to say, 'Yes, I will take care of my parent now, but it doesn't negate the past and my feelings about what happened.'

In the end, I chose a card with a pretty front, showing a sail boat on a lake - which I know in the past he would have enjoyed looking at since he loved sailing.  Unfortunately, the printed message was along the lines of, 'you were the wind beneath my wings', but I knew he wouldn't read it anyway, and I wanted to send something, so I sent it.  Every year, when it comes time to do a Father's Day post, I am surprised that another year has rolled around and Dad is still with me and I need to say something about him - thinking this might be the last year - and yet, here we still are. I do believe I love my Father and that he probably did the best he could, and I'm sorrowful for what has happened to him, but that doesn't negate my experiences and my feelings - despite what Hallmark has to say.


  1. Yup, that's why there are blank cards and white-out.

  2. I know, blank cards are the best!

  3. thank you thank you thank you, i thought i was losing my mind and a terrible person for feeling as i do. thank you so much for this post

  4. So, I'm not the only one with these feelings of resentment? I, too, had a less than Hallmark childhood and now I'm dealing with a mother who has Lewy Body Dementia. I thought I'd put all those unpleasant memories away and now I'm faced with them every day...