The Political Science of Father’s Day

Alison Thomas, a sociologist, recently looked at Father’s Day cards. She didn’t like what she saw.

It’s terribly superficial. If this was your only way to access images of fathers, it would be couch potatoes whose interests are angling, golfing, fixing things – oh, and farting … It’s a terribly unflattering portrayal of fatherhood, but it clearly says a lot about our ideas of what it means to be a dad.”

Only about 5% of the cards represent an image of a “modern, nurturing dad.”

I don’t want to be a spoil sport. Sociologists believe it’s their job to tell us that our society is going to hell in a hand basket. But I can’t help feeling that this study would have been more revealing if undertaken by a political scientist rather than a sociologist.

There is a model of consent that says that subordinates have the right and the liberty of making fun of their superordinates. It is their way of reminding the monarch that some part of his/or authority comes from the people. If the modern family is a “little commonwealth,” we might expect there to be ritual moments in which fathers are gently mocked. In its way, this ritual is an acknowledgment of Dad’s authority and he is most wise to engage in it.

In the immortal words of Sir Thomas Elyot, “O what domage ensued to princes and their realmes where liberte of speche hath ben restrayned?”

These cards could be a mark of the modern family. Or, we might suppose that, in this case, the people at Hallmark Cards know more about the family than your typical sociologist.


Elyot, Sir Thomas. 1531. The Boke named the Governour. (Part V, Book 2). London: J.M. Dent.

Owns, Anne Marie. 2004. Dads are always good for a laugh. National Post. June 19, 2004., p. 1.

3 thoughts on “The Political Science of Father’s Day

  1. Steve Portigal

    Perhaps someone with better archive access than I could track down the recent New Yorker article that did a fairly in-depth profile of Hallmark. I suspect there was some good quotes in there about the meta-topic here – what specific aspects of popular culture does Hallmark choose to reflect in their messages?

    As a consumer, I definitely see a limited perspective about what birthdays mean, what older brothers mean, what we should to do celebrate, what mom did for us when we were young, etc.

  2. Grant

    Steve, great point, as good as they are on this celebration, they are way behind on the real diversity of the new family and its rituals. Thanks, Grant

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