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daddymotheroutsidebreezeway1958In the 50s and 60s, my father dressed like Father Knows Best – baggy trousers and jacket with wide lapels, white shirt (always white), striped necktie, brown socks and indestructible brown leather shoes. He’d stand all six feet four inches with his left hand in his pants pocket as if checking for wallet, coins and keys. Seated for pictures, he posed with his thumb slipped through a belt loop. At home, Daddy shed his professor of pediatrics attire and returned to his farm boy youth. He wore old work pants and flannel shirts in cold months, white undershirts in summer, and overalls when he changed the car’s oil, replace a muffler or bled the brakes. “Push ‘em in,” he’d yell from under the car to me sitting in the driver’s seat. “OK, let ‘em out.” Chopping wood, building stonewalls or shoveling snow called for heavy gloves, and a warm cap with earflaps in winter. While gardening or mowing the lawn, he donned an Army surplus crash helmet painted white to protect his baldhead from sunburn.

Over the years, Daddy’s wardrobe expanded with spare cash and encouragement from Mother. He sported different colored suits, shirts and ties, even short-sleeved shirts with khaki, plaid or seersucker shorts and crazy bowties for weekend trips to the hospital when he headed rounds during summer months. He said the nurses in the Newborn Special Care Unit teased him about the bow ties and his long hairy legs, which stuck out from under the surgical gown. I think he enjoyed the attention as much as the comfort of wearing shorts. But when exhausted and ill, my father wandered the house in his fleece-lined slippers, maroon sweat pants and sweatshirt, an outfit my sisters and I called his ‘sick suit.’ After his stroke, he wore that outfit for the rest of his life.

That’s not how I choose to remember my father. In my heart and mind, Daddy stands, hand in his pants pocket or sits, thumb cocked through the belt loop. He wears shorts, a colored short-sleeved shirt, polka dot bow tie, argyle socks and indestructible brown leather shoes.

In your memory, what is your father wearing?

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