Gifts Today magazine

History of the dad - in cards

Archive analysis of Father’s Day cards by Clintons, the national gift and card retailer, shows the extent to which dads’ roles have shifted in the modern home

Depictions of dads as aloof, pipe-smoking, newspaper-reading, besuited men ‘enthroned’ by the fireplace have disappeared from all cards, with the exception of parody cards, and have been replaced by casually-dressed, soft-in-the-middle, sofa-dwelling figures, often likened to Darth Vader and far more likely to be comically inept.

Clintons looked at thousands of depictions of dads on Father’s Day cards since the 1950s. It found that:

* Dads appear to have put on 10-15 kilos in body weight
* Dads have dressed down
* Dads’ leisure time preferences have shifted from reading the paper in slippers on an armchair to barbecuing or watching the football on the sofa with a drink
* Dads have a much stronger emotional connection with their kids are often the subject of affectionate jokes

A typical poem from the inside of a card 50 years ago would read:

'You can sit in your shirt sleeves

Today if you choose

Get by without shaving

And leave off your shoes;

Get first whack at the paper

And have your own way:

Eat, drink, and be merry

Today’s YOUR big day!'

Today, a typical greeting would read:

'For my No.1 Dad

Thanks to you, I learned at an early age how to Save My Money...

...I used YOURS instead!

Have a Great Father's Day.'

In 50 years, dads have put on around 15 kilos, and are far less likely to be depicted behind the wheel of speed boats or sports cars or scoring the winning goal. They are, though, more likely to have a strong emotional connection with their children.

According to Clintons’ analysis, there have been five phases of Father’s Day cards in the last 50 years:​

1) The formal phase [mid to late-1960s]: the slightly austere dad, sitting in an armchair in a three-piece suit and tie, smoking a pipe and reading the paper whilst family attend to his every need.

2) ​The undo-the-tie phase [late 1960s to early 1970s]: characterised by cards that invite dads to abandon the razor and the tie for a day of ‘indulgence’.

3) The Walter Mitty phase [early 1970s to 1980]: Dads as sporting icons or adventure sports enthusiasts, jumping from planes, piloting speed boats, driving racing cars or scoring the winning goal.

4) The cute bear phase [early to late 1980s]: softer dads, more approachable and emotional.

5) The anything goes phase [late 1980s to today]: today’s dads – ready to the subject of jokes, more likely to be comically inept, occasionally likened to Darth Vader, ribbed for their fondness for beer or fast food. More likely to lying on the sofa and catching forty winks than loosening their tie. Frequently the source of loans, a 1% chance of being Darth Vader, depicted, variously, as dogs, pineapples, gorillas, leopards, teddy bears, tortoises, lions, bears, elephants, crocodiles, donkeys, parrots and frogs; a 2% chance of being seen as a superhero; a 1% chance of displaying ‘builders’ cleavage’.

Tim Fairs, a director at Clintons, said: 'Dads have always been treated affectionately in cards, but in the last decade we’ve seen reverence replaced with anything goes humour. Some traditionalists might bristle at this, but the reality is that the humour shows how accessible and important dads are to their kids and that’s a cause for celebration.'

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