I was in a Hallmark card store the other day and although my dad is in heaven, I was looking through some Fathers Day cards. After reading about the 50th one I thought about sending my resume to Hallmark or Carlton for a writing job because the ones offered were so cheesy. Every other one had either a lawnmower, a grill or a tool box on the front and although I can’t speak for anyone else, my dad never mowed the lawn that I can think of. As for grilling, mom took care of it and a tool box, well let’s just say that was not dad’s thing and was definitely not what I would want on a card to him.
Dad was a singer, a writer, a comedian and a softball coach. He was a grouch, a workaholic and a softy way down deep. He was a salesman who could own a room in seconds flat, a sharp dresser who could do a crossword puzzle in minutes and a sports fanatic who could recite baseball and football stats for any question that came up at cocktail parties. He was great in crowds, but one on one well let’s just say it wasn’t his thing.
He was not the most approachable guy I ever met, but that was part of his schpiel. He’d test you to see if you had the guts to break the ice with him and once you did all was golden. However if you were chicken and waited for him to warm up, forget about it! He was strict to a fault, especially around table manners so luckily he worked through dinner a lot and he insisted on proper grammar from all of us children. Words like “yeah” were taboo around him.
Reading through the cards made me sad that he wasn’t around any more. I was reminded as I read the words “all that we shared when I was a little girl” that my dad had been at work more than at home when I was young and I didn’t have a very mushy relationship with him. In fact, we didn’t share much or talk about feelings until I was long grown. Over the years I’d thought he didn’t really have any but after he got sick I had the opportunity to get very close to him and realize how wrong I had been about him and how sensitive he really was deep inside.
Standing in that card aisle, I remembered how blessed I felt to connect with him in the few years before losing him and thought back to the day after he died that I found the strong box on his closet shelf. Inside it were letters he’d saved from his mom during his time in the service, commendation cards from grade school that had been given to my siblings and I, baby pictures of each of us, a homemade placemat one of the grandkids had made for him, a photo of the high school Father Daughter Dance and a few of his parents, one of my son’s head shots from his modeling days, High School commencement invitations for each of us and the invitation to my college graduation. And under all of these mementos was a huge rubber banded stack of, what do you know, Fathers Day cards. Cards of all shapes and sizes from each of us children that he’d kept over the years, and as I recall there were one or two with grills and tool boxes on the front.
I stood in the store catching my breath with the memory as I realized how much these cheesy messages are needed sometimes. I wished beyond wishes that I could send him a card now, airmail to heaven. A grill one might even work, because at the end of his life he’d changed so much I know he would have been around more to help mom with cookouts given a second chance. If only I could buy one of these to let him know that I knew he cared. That I understood how hard it was to do “feelings” sometimes as a parent when you are busy trying to get through the day to day stuff.
Taking a moment of reflection I watched as other shoppers approached the cards. I noticed a woman pick one up, glance at it quickly without reading it, turn it over checking out the price and put it back without buying it. You gotta admit they have gotten expensive! Another, clearly in a rush, grabbed the first one she came to, found the envelope to match and headed to the register. And I had a moment of judgment towards both of them, but quickly changed my mind realizing that I had absolutely no idea about either one of them or about their relationship with whoever they may have been shopping for.
And it hit me, right within that moment of judgment, the moment of Grace where I realized that what I could do to show my dad how much he meant to me was to make sure to live the messages expressed on aisle after aisle of cards in store after store. I could look those I love in the eye and speak the messages printed on those pages instead of hiding them behind the licked envelope. “You mean so much to me.” Thank you for all you do.” “You may be far away, but you are close to my heart.” “I love you.” “I’m Sorry.” “Congratulations!” “Happy Fathers Day.”
And I took another moment and sent a mental card up to heaven. A card of love and gratitude to dad for Fathers Day and for mom up there with him and I instantly felt comforted. With a backwards glance before I left to the few people who were still there in that aisle, clearly frustrated from the sighs you could hear coming from them, frantically working to find the perfect message, the right thing to say because Hallmark said it may be, I sent a little loving thought. “I hope you find it.”