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Thanks for everything, Dad _ including the phone call

Dads everywhere will be accepting gifts _ and accepting the charges _ this Father's Day.

If this Sunday goes as expected, it'll be the biggest day of the year for collect calls, according to AT&T.

"Anecdotally, this goes back more than 20 years," said Jon Mellor, a company spokesman. "We have operators who have been working 20 years. Any of them will tell you that this (day) has had the heaviest traffic for collect calls."

While the company expects to handle 86-million calls Sunday _ considerably fewer than the record 108.6-million Mother's Day calls last month _ the percentage of collect calls will be much higher, Mellor said.

Last year, the number of collect calls on Father's Day was 27 percent higher than Mother's Day and 50 percent higher than a normal day.

The explanation, like that for other Father's Day habits, may lie in gender stereotypes, some say.

"Quite typically fathers have been the wage earners and mothers have been perceived as not being the wage earners," said Janice Snook, chairperson of the women's studies department at the University of South Florida. "I think that's related to gender-role identity and stereotypes that have persisted."

Snook said many traditions are the result of outdated behavior. "I think it's fascinating the way these old notions continue to persist."

Holiday watchers continue to see traditional gifts exchanged on the two holidays.

"Gifts for Mother's Day tend to be for keeping house or for appearance, which plugs into both kinds of stereotypes," said Julia Wood, a University of North Carolina professor of speech communication who specializes in gender issues. "For men, it's always clothes or (gifts) for the outdoors."

At Burdines, the No. 1 gift item for Mother's Day was fragrances, said Cary Watson, the department store chain's senior vice president for advertising and marketing. "For Father's Day we have a lot more items that sell real well."

Watson said that Burdines typically sells more Father's Day gifts than Mother's Day because a larger variety of items are popular, such as knit shirts, ties, leather accessories and novelty games.

"We even intensify our gift assortment for Father's Day," he said. "We use Father's Day as testing ground for Christmas. The breadth of gifts that are purchased for dads is wider than is purchased for mothers."

While flowers are among the most popular gifts on Mother's Day, most dads shouldn't expect to receive any this weekend, retailers say.

Some fathers, however, may be surprised. "A lot of people don't realize that men like flowers, too," said Pat Wildner, owner of Any Blooming Thing florist in Palm Harbor.

But Wildner concedes that this Sunday won't even come close to Mother's Day, which she says is the biggest day of the year for florists.

"There's just no comparison," she said. "Dad's usually remembered with a card, if he's lucky."

However, dads don't receive as many cards as mothers. Father's Day is the fifth most-popular day of the year for cards, behind Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter and Mother's Day, according to the Greeting Card Association in Washington.

The association expects about 101-million Father's Day cards to change hands this weekend, a sizable difference from the 150-million on Mother's Day.

"We think the major reason (for the difference) is because Mother's Day is older than Father's Day," said Ronnye Peace, a spokeswoman for Hallmark.

While Mother's Day was made official by Congress in 1914, Sunday marks only the 21st official Father's Day.

Hallmark's product line for the two holidays reflects the demand: The company has more than 900 dad's day designs compared to 1,200 models for moms, Peace said.

Snook, the USF professor, said she hopes many of the differences will dissipate someday.

"Some of these things can change, in the media and if stores advertise differently," she said. "Why not flowers for your father and power tools for your mother?"

Top 10 occasions for greeting cards

OCCASION CARDS SOLD

Christmas 2.3-billion

Valentine's Day 1.0-billion

Easter 165-million

Mother's Day 150-million

Father's Day 101-million

Graduation 81-million

Thanksgiving 40-million

Halloween 28-million

St. Patrick's Day 16-million

Rosh Hashanah 12-million

Note: Figures are for 1992 holidays.

Source: Greeting Card Association

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