Happy Father's Day, Mom? Cards for black single moms raise questions

theGRIO REPORT - Hallmark simply making a good business decision or should people of color be offended by their choice?...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Ask anyone who has been raised by a single mother, and they will tell you that their moms played many roles in their lives, including teacher, cook, accountant, housekeeper, driver, CEO and psychologist, and often times, they even served as a father figure for their household. While it’s important to celebrate these mothers and all that they do every day of the year, Hallmark found it necessary to commemorate their contributions to their families with a series of Father’s Day greeting cards created to specifically for single mothers.

While Hallmark offered more than 700 card styles for Father’s Day, the majority of the nontraditional greeting cards for single moms were part of the company’s Mahogany brand, which is their line specifically designed for African-American consumers. The Mahogany Father’s Day collection included 66 culturally-relevant designs and sentiments that honor dad and other special men and women in a person’s life, and two of these celebrate black single mothers.

With 2 out 3 African-American children living in homes where a father is not present, compared to 1 out of 3 nationally, is Hallmark simply making a good business decision or should people of color be offended by their choice? And what effect are these greeting card offerings and the celebration of single motherhood on a day dedicated to honoring dads having on the value of fatherhood across all communities?

Hallmark spokesperson Kristi Ernsting, says that Hallmark started selling these types of cards at the request of customers to celebrate parents who play many different roles in their children’s upbringing. She adds that their goal was to celebrate mothers of all ethnicities.

“Hallmark has long offered ‘Happy Father’s Day, Mom’ and ‘Happy Mother’s Day, Dad’ cards in our lines,” she says. “It’s a common request for people who have lost a parent and want a way to express to their living parent that he/she has been both mother and father to them. We also released one card that was specifically addressed to all mothers in our general Hallmark line. It is our goal to create cards for the wide range of people’s relationships so that everyone who seeks to connect in a positive way with others can find a card that will meet their needs.”

Tonya Bryant, who is a single mother and grew up in a home where her parents were split up for some time, says that she would be honored to receive a card from her children, and that it’s a good way to pay tribute to single moms for all they do.

“When I was growing up, my parents separated and I lived with my mother,” she said. “I remember each year, I would buy Father’s Day cards for both my mom and my dad even back then. Now I think it’s more appropriate to give these cards to single moms because the dynamic of the family has changed over the years, and it’s not the same as what we’re used to. A single mom’s job is challenging, but the rewards are priceless, and being able to fill the role of both mother and father is something that I do with great pride. And to have my children thank me for doing this on Father’s Day would be such an incredible recognition.”

Hallmark began offering cards relevant for African-Americans in the 1960s and introduced the Mahogany line in 1987. Mahogany became a year-round brand offering both everyday and seasonal cards in 1991. Thus far, the product line has proven successful, and 10 percent of proceeds from these sales benefit the Susan B. Komen for the Cure.

While Bryant believes in the value of Father’s Day cards for single moms, she doesn’t agree with Hallmark’s decision to market them almost exclusively to the African-American community.

“I don’t think that it’s appropriate for Hallmark to sell all of these cards under their Mahogany line because they are, in essence, saying that only black people live in single parent homes, which is the furthest thing from the truth,” she said. “They are cheapening the great idea of celebrating single moms on Father’s Day by offering these products to mostly African-Americans. In this day and age, there are people from all walks of life that don’t have fathers in the homes, and I think that they should reconsider their marketing strategies and just offer them to people of all colors.”Although Father’s Day was initially created to celebrate a single father who raised his six children after their mother died, award-winning author, journalist and educator Wil LaVeist believes that there is a larger issue at stake when it comes to selling these products to single mothers.

On his article featured on UrbanFaith.com, he writes “contrary to a new cultural campaign by Hallmark and others, Father’s Day is not a holiday for black single moms.” He goes on to add that while he respects single moms, he believes that “a woman can never be a father and a man can never be a mother and that both parenting roles are equally unique and invaluable.”

“Being a dedicated black father of three grown children who looks forward to this one day that celebrates what I willingly do every day, I find this offensive and even dangerous, particularly for the black community,” he wrote. “By marketing ‘some love’ to single moms on Father’s Day, the role of dads is devalued, especially in a community that badly needs fathers to step up and be real parents. It’s also capitalizing on a self-inflicted wound. Society should be lifting men who are honoring their role.”

In his article, LaVeist mentions the National Fatherhood Initiative, an organization that is committed to educating and engaging fathers of all racial groups. According to NFI, 24 million children are currently growing up in a home without their biological father and the organization has helped ensure that two million more children are living with their fathers. LaVeist interviewed NFI President Roland Warren on his radio show, and Warren agreed with the journalist’s assertion that these greeting cards do nothing to celebrate fathers who play active roles in their children’s lives.

And while many find the release of these nontraditional greeting cards a tad offensive, the demand for these products may speak for itself. Dana Vazquez, a customer service associate at a Hallmark store in mid-town Manhattan, says that these products practically flew off the shelves.

“We were sent two styles of the Father’s Day cards for mothers, and we sold out almost immediately,” she said. “In fact, they were all gone nearly two weeks before the holiday occurred, which is pretty good considering most people wait until last minute to buy gifts for their dad.”

A 2010 Father’s Day card for moms reads, “for My Mother on Father’s Day. You hear a lot of talk these days about children growing up without a father— without this and without that. You hardly ever hear about the mothers who, in spite of everything, raise their children to be strong, to believe in God, to work hard, to make their lives worthwhile…that’s the story I’d like to tell because that’s how you raised me. In spite of it all, it’s our story…I made it because of you. Have a wonderful day.”

Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose, who was raised by a single mother, was recently awarded the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award. As he stood up at the podium to thank the league for the recognition, he got teary-eyed as he shared his appreciation to the most important person in his life, his mom, Brenda.

“Last but not least, I want to thank my mom, Brenda Rose,” he said. “My heart, the reason why I play the way I play. Just everything. Just knowing the days I don’t feel like going into practice or I’m having a hard time, I think about her when she had to wake me up, go to work and just making sure I was all right, making sure the family was all right. Those were hard days. My days shouldn’t be hard because I love doing what I’m doing and that’s playing basketball. So you keep me going every day. I love you and I appreciate you being in my life.”

Brenda, who raised four boys as a single mother, beamed with pride as her son received the prestigious award. And while not all children can give their single moms such grand and public expressions of gratitude, it might just be necessary for greeting card companies to evolve with the nation’s changing household dynamic and create more products that thank moms of all colors year-round for the contributions they make to their children’s lives.