When I was a child, Father’s Day gifts were usually hand-painted cards, plaster handprints or some other “crafty” article instigated by my teachers, who handed students the usually still-damp articles as we left the classroom for the weekend. As I grew older, those things gave way to offerings that required more than watercolors and a bit of glue. A tie or handkerchiefs, some favorite chocolate or even a package of golf balls—all bankrolled by my Mom—were ceremoniously presented to Dad on his special day. A card was always included.
As I grew older and I became gainfully employed, the gifts changed, but the inclusion of a card never did. I think I enjoyed penning them as much as he enjoyed receiving them, and by the time he was an old man, when asked what he wanted for Father’s Day each year, his reply was always the same: “Just a card.”
But these were no ordinary store-bought cards. Sometimes I’d write a letter and tuck it inside. Other times the letter was the gift, as in the year I gave Dad a journal within which I had written a series of letters outlining all the things I loved about him. One year I sent handwritten cards mailed on consecutive days leading up to Father’s Day. I wanted to dazzle his entire week.
Personal notes and letters can serve as the connective tissue between people, I think, and no one will ever convince me that texts and email effect similar emotion as ink on paper. Yet there are those who believe handwriting is an anachronistic exercise that is best left behind for the efficiencies of technology. I love technology as much as the next person, but when it comes to interconnection, it leaves me cold—no matter how many well-placed emojis are involved. Every bit of a handwritten note takes time and attention, from the choice of paper to the color of ink to the organization of thoughts and sentiments. And aren’t time and attention what intimacy is all about?
I came across a box of letters in my attic not so long ago, the last time I was packing to move. So I took some time off to read a few. One was a chatty decades-old letter from my mother to her newly married-and-moved-away daughter (me). I remember how I’d look forward to those weekly missives from miles away. It was in my mother’s familiar uninhibited scrawl, and I could almost feel the affection tucked inside, assuaging my loneliness and reminding me of home. Another note was from a high-school friend, catching me up on all her day-to-day goings on, from career to kids to hobbies. It was written in perfect Catholic-girls-school Palmer penmanship—a memory all its own. The paper and ink had withstood the test of time, as did the feelings the letters conveyed and engendered.
I think Virginia Woolf said it best when she called letter writing “the humane art.” So if you’ve not yet found the perfect Father’s Day gift, it’s not too late. Just a card.