The Goods

This Father’s Day Card Features a Joke About a Huge Pair of Underpants and Wow, It Sure Is Something

A greeting card, front and inside: A boy holds up a giant pair of underpants. "I think I'll just stick with trying to fill your shoes."
What does it mean? Henry Grabar/Slate

Among the hackneyed jokes about fishing and steaks in the Father’s Day cards at your local drugstore this year, you may happen upon a bit of visual humor that’s disturbingly open to interpretation. On the front of one card from American Greetings, an alarmed-looking boy holds up a pair of men’s briefs so large, they stretch from nose to knees and across his entire wingspan. The punchline within: “I think I’ll just stick with trying to fill your shoes.”

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But the boy isn’t holding a pair of shoes. He’s holding underwear. His message concerns the impossibility, or undesirability, of trying to fill his dad’s underwear. Inquiring minds might wonder—just what would it mean to do that, to fill dad’s underwear?

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The card lends itself to two schools of thought. The more benign reading, under the loosest possible definition of benign, holds that it’s a fat joke. Dad has a big butt and a big belly, so he needs an enormous pair of underwear to cover it all. A few steps closer to the gutter is the second interpretation: that it’s a commentary on Dad’s giant penis.

“Hold on,” I hear you saying, “are you insinuating that a child would give his or her father a card to compliment him on his large, hard-to-imitate genitals?” The answer is no. I’m not insinuating anything—American Greetings is. If the company designers wanted to make a clear-cut fat joke, they would surely have had the boy hold up a pair of shorts or pants. Instead, they chose tighty whities. And the most notable body part that goes in a pair of tighty whities is dad’s junk.

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Here at Slate, where more than a dozen great minds have been debating this issue for the better part of an afternoon, there’s an even split as to the card’s meaning. Proponents of the “Dad has a big butt” doctrine argue that if it was a penis joke, the underwear itself would be small, with a disproportionately large bulge at the front. The character is looking at the back of the underwear, they say, contemplating his dad’s sizable derriere. Under this interpretation, the card rests in the context of established Dad-deprecation and ass-fixation vis à vis Father’s Day greetings, which often castigate fathers as bumbling, lazy idiots whose chief hobby is expelling things from their butts. American Greetings sells another card that wishes dear ol’ Dad “a nice, uninterrupted poop” as his sole Father’s Day gift. Hallmark has one that advises Dad to visit his “happy place”: an outhouse. There are too many fart-related Father’s Day cards out there to catalogue here, but the short distance between father and farter makes body gas a common theme.

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But wait, penises also hold a storied place in the Father’s Day card tradition. There’s the hit-you-over-the-head “thanks for not pulling out” and “from your fastest sperm” messages from less-mainstream greeting card manufacturers, in addition to a euphemistic American Greetings card that shows a father frog hugging his tadpole child. Plus, the character on the underwear card is holding the briefs up to himself and gazing expectantly over the top, not looking at the butt area. As far as the punchline goes, a joke about “big shoes” doesn’t usually allude to a big gut.

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Chris Schieffer, Slate’s senior mobile product manager and a dad with three young children, doesn’t buy that argument. “If I received this card from my kids, I certainly would not think it was them making a joke about ‘Dad’s large penis,’” he told me. Fair enough. Another dad, whose daughter works at Slate, read the card and said of the character on the front, “I guess his daddy has balls?” He continued: “He either has a set of balls, or he’s well endowed. That’s southern humor.” The dad vote is split!

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Wherever you fall on this spectrum, you must admit that American Greetings could have been a bit clearer in its messaging. When one puts a pair of underwear on a card that’s going from child to parent, one must be particularly careful not to evoke an accidental genital-related storyline. I’ve asked an American Greetings spokesperson for comment and will update this post if and when I hear back.

The issue really boils down to a kind of Rorschach test: what you think of when you see a pair of comically large underpants, what types of Father’s Day cards you’ve personally encountered in the past, and whether you believe a greeting-card corporation would try to make money off a kid participating in a troubling double entendre. Personally, I prefer to believe that the card is meant for a very niche market—dads with big butts and big penises, both.

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