The mandatory trek to the greeting card display, whether for an artificial holiday such as Fathers Day or for a birthday, is occasion for fear and loathing. There is only one melancholy upside to the rising muck of cards devoted to flatulence, impotence, and outsized mammary glands: Hallmark provides a darn good barometer of social breakdowntransformed, with all the cheerful non-judgmentalism of capitalism, into a business opportunity.
For years now, as one stared with increasing despair at the studly stud, dirty old man, and bathroom humor, new categories of card were blossoming luxuriantly. Celebrating your divorce or For my second stepmother cards began popping up regularly among the From the dog or Incompetent duffer standards. And this years display at a Manhattan stationers did not disappoint. In the small section devoted to Hallmarks African-American line (of course there is one; it is called Mahogany), two card pockets advertised For mother on Fathers Day options. One card had apparently already sold out. The other was a tasteful and ingeniously designed card in the Mahogany lines characteristic earthtones, with a lovely charcoal drawing of a beautiful black woman in one-quarter view.
The front of the card read:
for My Mother
ON FATHERS DAY
You hear a lot of talk
these days about
children growing up
without a father
and without that.
You hardly ever hear
About the mothers who,
In spite of everything,
Raise their children to be strong,
To believe in God, to work hard
To make their lives worthwhile . . .
The message inside the card continued:
Thats the story
Id like to tell
How you raised me.
In spite of it all,
its our story . . .
I made it because of you.
Have a wonderful day.
You have to admire Hallmarks willingness to take the bit in its teeth. With 70 percent of black children born out of wedlock, with marriage a moribund custom in inner cities, Fathers Day does pose a problem. Hallmark has solved it with aplomb. The light scorn directed at the complaints of children growing up without a fatherwithout this and without that, as if fathers were as discretionary as Tivo, is both an inspired way of minimizing the problem and a fair articulation of how fathers are viewed in poor black communities, and by large swathes of the aging feminist establishment as well.
There were no For mother on Fathers Day cards among the rest of the stores Fathers Day offerings, only in the black section (though of course the 48 percent Hispanic and 25 percent white illegitimacy rates are no cause for celebration). No evidence yet of same-sex marriage or Youve got a new turkey-baster baby! greeting cards, either, but if Disney is offering gay marriage getaways, Hallmark will surely follow.
The epidemic of fatherlessness in the black population is a tragedy, and both a cause and symptom of seemingly intractable cultural disintegration. A massive social services industry feeds off billions of taxpayer dollars directed at the consequences of that disintegration, to no effect beyond the employment of social workers. If Hallmark wants to make some money from it as welland, it would say, offer consolation and strength to those faced with the awkward irrelevance of Fathers Daythat is its right. One can only hope that its product line for what it calls nontraditional family structures becomes a money-loser in the not-too-distant future.