I bought a men’s sweater at Uniqlo over the weekend, an unfussy, slightly shapeless black wool button down number. I’ve been searching for one for a while now, for a go-to, grandpa sweater I could wear daily and actually keep warm in, as opposed to the sparkly, open-weave, ‘fashion sweaters’ women’s stores seem to be pushing these days. My favorite sweater is one of my dad’s, a dark green pull-over that somehow still retains the warm, musky smell of him. I try not to wear it too often, because I don’t want the smell to disappear, to wear off. It’s a comforting olfactory thing.
Today would have been his 76th birthday.
There are things you lose after eight years –the specific hum of his voice, the way he’d mindlessly stroke his mustache with his thumb and middle finger– and things you give up voluntarily; I can’t listen to more than the opening chords of Charlie Haden’s “American Dreams” without dissolving into tears, like some instantaneous chemical reaction. But there are things I’m fighting to keep, too, like the smell of his sweater, his love of Paris, and the solace of knowing that I am half of him.
The year I was eight, he was 56, and that number popped up everywhere for us. On street signs, on register receipts, and, once, as the name of a production company on the opening credits of a Riverdance VHS tape I had specifically asked for at Christmas (let’s not talk about that). We were laying on the sofa together, the VCR remote in his hand, and “A 56th Street Production” appeared on the screen, on top of a swirl of coral and blue tones.
“Oh look,” he said. “There’s my number again.”
That was 20 years ago, and it feels as vivid as if it were just two.
I’m wearing a black turtleneck, my new black sweater, and my dad’s watch, today, and having lunch with my brother. And I’m debating booking an impromptu trip to Paris in February, because I know my dad would have encouraged it.
Happy, happy birthday, daddy.