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When it comes to holidays, Dads get short shrift in the hullabaloo department


The scene was a recent cocktail party. A young man, just 25, kind of a mope, was telling everyone how much he looked forward to his first Father's Day as a new dad.

This was the moment I'd been waiting for. Draping a big mitt around his shoulder, I took another pull from my Bud longneck and said: "Pal, we can chit-chat all night about Father's Day. Just let me say this: It ain't Mother's Day, OK? So I wouldn't get all worked up.

The kid walked away crushed, which I felt bad about for all of 10 seconds. Look, better he hears it from me than from some ex-Marine who won't break it to him quite so gently.

The fact is, Mother's Day has always been a big whoop-de-doo in this country, a great communal celebration of the women who bear us, nurture us and blah, blah, blah.

Whereas in terms of the blip it raises in the national consciousness, Father's Day is Arbor Day, OK? Only the mayor isn't driving a shovel in the ground and getting all weepy about a handful of seedlings.

Then again, this is fully in keeping with the low profile dads enjoy these days.

Let's face it: When the sideline camera zeros in on some steroid-addled football player, you never hear him say: "Hi, Dad!"

You never see anybody walking around with a big "Dad" tattoo on his chest.

Even in Hollywood, mom is always depicted as the kind, saintly, patient, all-understanding heroine holding the family together. Dad is the dorky, out-of-touch guy who backs the Taurus over the dog.

This whole attitude carries over to the way we celebrate Father's Day, when the nation's business does not exactly grind to a halt while we shoot rockets into the night sky.

Go into any drugstore a few days before Mother's Day and what do you see?

I'll tell you what you see. Row after row after row of Mother's Day cards. Huge heart-shaped "Mom" balloons dangling from the ceiling. Colorful bunting around the perfume, candy and flower displays. Big signs that say: "Don't forget Mom on her special day!"

Now go into the same store a few days before Father's Day.

You're lucky if there's one extra row of cards. If there are, they're next to the "Deceased Relative" section. And the only sign around says: "Di-Gel capsules: $1.79."

And how about the Father's Day cards themselves?

Mother's Day cards are always these syrupy, lyrical paeans that go something like: "Mom, you're so special. You sacrificed for us and raised us with love and you were always there to kiss our skinned knees and nurse us through the chickenpox and yadda-yadda-yadda."

For Father's Day, the cards say: "At least you didn't set the house on fire."

Mother's Day rolls around and Mom gets breakfast in bed, nice gifts, fresh roses on the table, dinner at a good restaurant.

You know what Dad gets?

Dad gets navy blue socks. Or one of those goofy ceramic coffee mugs that says "World's Greatest Dad."

And as soon as Dad unwraps these, ahem, treasures, someone's smacking him with a rolled-up newspaper and saying: "Hey, there's a big oil stain in the driveway. You gonna clean that up or what?"

Breakfast in bed . . . yeah, right. That'll be the day. The only time Dad gets breakfast in bed is if he's got two weeks to live.

Even then he's liable to hear: "Fred, put down that oxygen for a minute. I need you to fix the screen door."

Do I sound bitter? Sorry. It's just that Father's Day is often such a huge dis- . . . OK. Let me tell you a little story that sums up the day nicely.

One year -- this is absolutely true -- my sister-in-law gave me a comb for Father's Day.

Now maybe you're thinking: OK, a comb. But it was probably a pretty neat comb, huh? What was it, one of those silver and turquoise jobs? Or some kind of tortoise-shell thing with gold in-lay?

No. It was just a comb.

A black comb.

A black comb like they sell in a plastic tub in the back of Rite-Aid for 69 cents.

Anyway, the comb came in a small, neatly wrapped box. So I unwrap the comb and now my sister-in-law is smiling at me, like she's waiting for me to say something.

"It's . . . nice," I finally said.

"It's for your mustache," she said.

"Oh," I said, brightening slightly. "So it's what? A special mustache comb?"

"No," she said. "It's just a comb. I'm just saying you can use it for your mustache."

I should have told that story to the kid at the cocktail party.

But you wonder how he'd handle something like that.

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