The mandatory trek to the greeting card display, whether for an artificial holiday such as Father’s 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 breakdown—transformed, 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 year’s display at a Manhattan stationer’s did not disappoint. In the small section devoted to Hallmark’s “African-American” line (of course there is one; it is called “Mahogany”), two card pockets advertised “For mother on Father’s Day” options. One card had apparently already sold out. The other was a tasteful and ingeniously designed card in the Mahogany line’s 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 FATHER’S 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:
That’s the story
I’d like to tell
How you raised me.
In spite of it all,
it’s our story . . .
I made it because of you.
Have a wonderful day.
You have to admire Hallmark’s 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, Father’s Day does pose a problem. Hallmark has solved it with aplomb. The light scorn directed at the complaints of “children growing up without a father—without 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 Father’s Day” cards among the rest of the store’s Father’s 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 “You’ve 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 well—and, it would say, offer consolation and strength to those faced with the awkward irrelevance of Father’s Day—that 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.