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facts & arguments

As much as Brian Howlett cherishes the greeting cards, the printed messages really could be improved

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When it comes to Father's Day cards, brevity isn't necessarily the soul of wit. Consider a sampling of the typical offerings in the greeting card aisle:

"Best Dad ever!" "To the most awesome Dad in the world!" "I love you more than you love doughnuts!"

In an entirely unscientific survey, it seems "awesome" is the single most popular word (and exclamation marks the most popular form of punctuation). The dad sentiment, too, veers sharply from the doe-eyed expressions of love sent mom's way on her day. Shop around a bit and you might even bump up against the popular "Happy Farter's Day" card.

No matter. Even the weakest attempt at humour ("You da man!") works its magic on the average dad. Sadly, every father, whatever the message his card may convey, is an easy mark.

We get choked up and temporarily lapse into sugary emotions, before reading the card quietly again and then carefully placing it on the kitchen counter or fireplace mantle, where it will cast us for a few rare days into the family spotlight.

Because it isn't the words, it's simply being noticed in the first place that resonates. But still, as much as we cherish any card we do receive, the messages could be improved. Maybe the problem with Father's Day cards isn't just the need for brevity, or the attempt to arrive at a one-phrase-fits-all expression; a father can be going through any number of phases in their child's life.

So perhaps we could improve things if we segment the cards into age-appropriate missives. Something like this:

The newborn father

"Oh hello, so you're my dad! Cool. Happy Father's Day. Sorry again for screaming so frighteningly loud when the doctor ripped me from mom's womb, but I'm sure I needed it.

Besides, it let you know right out of the gate who's in charge around here now."

The toddler father

"Happy Father's Day. I know you aren't getting much sleep these days. I've noticed you like taking me for drives around the block late at night, over and over. Do you really think that's going to work? And thanks for taking me to all those first-year birthday parties. Aren't they the best? All that screaming and cake being tossed in the air. Not to mention the clowns and the music. Don't you just love Baby Beluga by Raffi?"

The preschool father

"Happy Father's Day. Thanks for starting me so early in soccer and hockey and piano and math and judo and painting classes. I'm sure they're all going to pay off down the road. I can easily see myself playing in the NHL – or maybe touring the world as a highly paid concert pianist. And don't worry Dad, I'll get you a ticket to one of my performances to pay you back."

The elementary-school father

"Happy Dad's Day pops! Sorry about the science experiment I didn't tell you I was conducting in the garage. I sure hope all that water dries up. I couldn't believe your stereo and record collection was actually floating. You have to admit, that was kind of cool! Also, I want to thank you for volunteering to coach my baseball team and my soccer team and be a stage hand at my school play. I know you don't have much experience in these things and some of the other parents are saying mean things about you, but I promise next season we will try and win a game for you. And don't forget, you're also on snack duty next game. Popsicles and cookies, please."

The preteen father

"Hey. Umm … who are you? Oh, right, dad. I will text you something later. Buh-bye."

The adolescent father

"I'm still not talking to you, Father. I can't believe you're even on Instagram! But I still need a drive to my friend's house this Friday night. I think they live across town somewhere. And I could use a pick-up after, probably around 2 in the morning. And please, you do not need to warn me again about drugs and alcohol. My God, you're so EMBARRASSING!"

The postsecondary father

"Happy Father's Day to the best Dad and ATM machine ever! Do you mind paying me back for this Father's Day card? It cost about $10 but I also took an Uber to the card store and then bought myself a coffee and sandwich on the way back, so if you don't mind depositing about $50 into my account that would be great! And yes, I'm doing okay in school. I'll show you my marks when I come home for the summer."

The adult-child father

"Happy Father's Day. Wow, I feel like I'm meeting you for the first time. You have always been there for me, do you know that? Amazing. Not sure what to say other than, thanks. I couldn't have gotten here without you. Good job."

It goes without saying that we dads would embrace any and all of these above messages. Because, if a father could write his own card back to his child, it would go something like this:

"Happy Child's Day! I have to tell you that what I felt for you the moment I picked you up has turned and twisted over the years, crossing all kinds of bridges along the way. But, today, I just take a momentary glance at who you have become or hear a simple thing you might say and I feel a pang of affection and pride so deep, so true, it actually hurts."

Brian Howlett lives in Toronto.