160 March 2015 NJMONTHLY.COM
Years ago, when I was single and working as a graphic de- signer, I got an unusual birth- day present from my parents.
Before I opened it, my mom made a
point of telling me that my dad had
picked it out. This was very odd. For as
long as I could remember, I had been
dragged along to help my dad buy gifts
for her. Shopping was not something he
did for fun; he considered it a necessary
evil. We would go to Lord & Taylor in
Paramus, and I prayed we would find
something, and fast. He would look
for a mannequin he liked, grab all the
pieces of the outfit and get out as fast
I could tell by the look on my mom’s
face that she took no responsibility for
the contents of the package. It looked
harmless enough: a shirt-sized package,
elegantly wrapped, with a coordinating
bow. Removing the wrapping, I beheld a
neat white box. Lord & Taylor, of course.
As my parents watched, I lifted the
lid and flipped open the tissue paper to
reveal a butter-soft black leather vest. It
was not something I would have bought
for myself; I certainly did not expect it
from my father. My mother laughed a
little and told me, “He insisted you needed this.” My father, a bit embarrassed,
agreed. He was an engineer; I was a prep-py graphic designer. He liked to think of I L
me as his rebel-artist daughter. To him, I
was edgy, and so was this vest.
I wasn’t sure I would ever wear it. For
starters, I didn’t have anything that went
with it. I might have felt I couldn’t live up
to the attitude it projected. But I did not
admit that even to myself, and so I kept
the vest. Whenever I came across it in my
closet, it made me smile.
Years passed. The vest stayed in my
closet. Tailored and sleek, without a
trendy brand name, it never went out of
style. I met a man, and after some time we
married. When we moved into our new
home in Ridgewood, I unpacked quite a
few questionable fashion items that he
gently mocked. (Perhaps we should have
assessed each other’s closets before we
leaped into wedlock?) But the vest, he
agreed, was okay. He was just disappointed there was no Harley to go with it.
My father never asked about the vest,
and I never wore it, not once, not even
just to please him.
When my husband and I were renovating our house, I packed away the vest,
carefully folding it in a dry-cleaning bag,
even though it had never gotten dirty.
Months later, I unpacked it and hung it in
our new closet. I wondered why I kept it,
but somehow I could not let it go.
My daughter was four when my father
died. She didn’t remember much of her time
with him, but I talk about him often. When
she turned 12 last spring, she was cast as
a pirate in a middle-school play. Coming
home that afternoon, she announced, “I
need a vest, a black one.”
I jumped up, ran to my closet and swiftly returned with the dry-cleaning bag flapping behind me. My daughter was stunned,
but pleased. There are many things that I
have to beg my 12-year-old to do, but trying
on the vest was not one of them.
The night of the play, there she was on
stage, a pirate—my pirate—wearing the
costume she put together herself. Then
it hit me—why I’d never worn the vest.
Because it wasn’t for me, it was for her.
She will remember my dad every time
she wears it. She will have the perfect
clothes to go with it—and the right attitude. Edgy. Cool. Awesome. ■
Freelance writer Kathy Anne Cowie is a
partner at c-squared design in Westwood.
She occasionally wears leather...shoes.
The Things You Keep
A father’s gift—unworn for years—proves a perfect
fit for the next generation. By Kathy Anne Cowie