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Our son came home from school in late May with the inevitable note about the Father's Day craft his class would be working on over the next few weeks. Plans were all very hush-hush, of course, but we were instructed to bring in four to six photos of Dad.
Hmm, what to do? My first thought was to ask if the kid could be given a pass on Father's Day this year, having just finished working twice as hard as the other kids for Mother's Day, making two beautiful scrapbooked cards for his two mums. But, judging by this note, sitting out the activity was not an option.
The teacher's instructions to parents did note, with heartening sensitivity: "If for any reason a picture of Dad is not possible or … he is not present in your child's life, feel free to have your child bring pictures of a favourite uncle, family friend or grandfather that they wish to make a gift for."
There was a time that we would have been grateful for this inclusiveness, but let's face it, the kid is in Grade 4 now and he was in daycare from the age of 1, so we've been dealing with this awkward annual moment for at least eight years now.
When our son was little, we would sit him down every spring and ask whom he would like to make a gift for – Gramps? Uncle Rod? Uncle Jim? – and then run interference with the teachers, making sure that they knew the situation and presenting a ready-made solution.
My father has been the recipient of many Popsicle-stick masterpieces over the years, not just from the boy, but from his older sister. Frankly, Gramps already has more than enough receptacles for pens and his pennies gathering dust on his dresser. And while the boy does have other adult males in his life, we don't necessarily have multiple pictures of them.
More important, this whole business is starting to feel like a sham. Why should he have to come up with a fake father figure just so that he can kind of conform to what all the other kids are doing?
As we were having the discussion at supper, and the boy was muttering his usual "I don't know," his sister piped up, "Why can't you make it for me? There should be a Sister's Day. I would totally treasure the pencil holder or the mixed nuts or whatever."
All four of us felt immediately that making the girl the subject as well as the recipient of her brother's Father's Day craft would be a hilariously subversive approach to the problem.
Still, even as our daughter plotted the "man poses" in which she would have herself photographed for the project, I was concerned about the boy, who would be on the front lines of our little ruse. It has always been a lurking fear that our children might suffer because of who we are. Would the teacher find this funny, as we did, or disrespectful?
Our son doesn't usually like to draw attention to himself, but he seemed genuinely excited. And he hasn't been excited about much, if anything, this school year. Still, I asked my partner, were we really going to send the kid to school with pictures of a teenaged girl in drag, and was he really going to tell people that was his dad? Were we going to get ourselves hauled into the principal's office?
For the record, the photos obviously portray a teenaged girl in a mustache. We didn't go to any lengths to make this a convincing disguise. Our daughter picked the poses, which are, for the most part, clichéd images of maleness – or, specifically, dadness. Heading out to throw a baseball with the boy, reading a newspaper, holding a beer (actually, iced tea) with a barbecue in the background.
I worried briefly that my kids don`t know anything about fathers beyond these weathered clichés, but I don't think that's the case. I prefer to think that our 15-year-old daughter has developed a wicked, dare I say satirical, sense of humour.
Who here has ever received a Mother's Day gift that did not feature flowers in some way? Who has ever received a Father's Day gift that did not feature tools or neckties? It is in the nature of these gifts to be hopelessly generic and stereotypical.
I don't think our daughter wanted to make fun of dads, but of the clichéd images of dads that are everywhere at this time of year.
There's something else: Had my son gone in with photos of a favourite uncle, he would have been buying into an attitude that real families have a mum and a dad, and that while he may love his family very much, there is clearly something lacking.
We are a family of four. Last month, the youngest of us made floral delights for my partner and me. That this month he will honour the other most important figure in his life, with mustache or not, seems perfectly appropriate.
Another thing I'm sure of? Whatever coffee-cup cover or key holder comes home from school this June, it will be in our family for a long, long time.
Amy Barratt lives in Montreal.