A warm Day, a Fine Jacket, and My Old Man This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

June 23, 2011
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“You know, if you want, it’s perfectly fine with me if you return it. I really won’t mind.”

“James, it’s yours to keep. At least you will have something to remember your old man by.”

My father bought me a leather jacket for over half a grand. It was made of fine, dark brown leather and had two breast pockets and a handsome collar that gave it a tough look. The dark tint of the leather uncannily resembled the hue of my father’s worn skin. Earlier, I was trying on a shirt and he walked up to me, proudly holding up a jacket with a wide smile on his face. He asked if I liked it, then declared that it was mine and sealed the deal with a firm pat on my back. He had bought it suddenly, like a gambler impulsively placing a final bet that he knows he cannot afford to lose.

We sat outside a café. I was still on a rush from the superior feeling of owning something so extravagant. I rolled my thumb around my coffee cup as I looked onto the bag with the designer logo. I was going to college; in two weeks I was moving out.

The coffee was getting cool; it was time to drink it. As I took a sip, I looked up form the cup to my dad. He was admiring the tall designer bag.

“It’s a fine jacket, damn fine,” he said with a proud grin on his face. I knew that he was trying to justify his spontaneous purchase. He then asked me if I wanted another coffee, but I already felt too indebted to ask for any more.

The air felt warm. Soon it would become humid and later in the summer it would become unbearably hot.

“Christ, it’s hot,” he said as he wiped beads of sweat from his forehead.

“I can’t stand it, either. I won’t even be able to wear this jacket for a few more months.”

“Hey, it’s still a damn fine jacket. It will last you the rest of your life. When I was your age, I would have killed to have one like it.”

“I know,” I replied.

“It’s a fine jacket,” I said. “But if you do decide to return it, then that will be perfectly fine with me. I’ll understand.” As soon as I said that, I regretted it. I was afraid that he might take offense. His long pensive face, sunken cheeks and worn forehead gave me no sign as to whether he felt insulted. He kept his proud eyes on the bag.

It was hard thinking what he would do when I left. Who would help him with his work? Who would go on daily walks with him? Who would tell him about their aspirations? Who would bring him good news from school at the end of a tiring days work in the hot sun? Who would reflect what could have been of him?

He worked on boats. His strong, calloused hands and scarred arms showed the earnest dedication to his difficult work. When he finished working all day on a boat out in the blistering Florida sun, he would come home and tell me that I did a damn fine job working at school that day. Now what would he come home to, an empty house?

I gave out a deep breath and put on my Ray Ban glasses that my dad would have also killed for. He took his eyes off the tall bag and told me to wait “Let’s sit here for a little while longer before it gets too hot. There is a nice breeze coming on now.”

I put down my glasses and leaned back in my seat. It felt rugged but hugged my back comfortably. We sat in silence for sometime. The silence was occasionally interrupted by a trivial comment like, “Pass the sugar,” or “It still isn’t too hot.”

We had come such a long way, and now we sat there. Speechless.

After a few minutes he started up again.

“College will be a hell of a good time for you, but don’t forget that you will have to work hard on your studies. Just like you do now,” he said.

“I know,” I replied, as was my usual response to things he had already told me before. It bothered me a little the way he would drill bits of advice into me over and over.

“Just work on your studies, or else you will come to hate the heat as much as I do.”

“Okay, I know.”

“You will have to stay committed and not falter.”

“I know”

“And trust me, working in the heat is a hell of a lot different than just sitting around in it.”

“I know,” I repeated, looking down at my reflection in my smooth, hazel cup of coffee.

“Dammit, are you listening to me, James? Cut it out with the ‘I knows,’ and the ‘okays.’ I’m trying to keep you from doing what I did. You want to end up working in the heat or do you want to wear leather jackets?” The horizontal wrinkles on his dark forehead deepened and bent with an agitated concern.

I felt embarrassed. I looked down at the bag that held the brown leather jacket and said, “You got it; I’ll work hard.”

A waitress came by and my dad ordered me another coffee and the usual for himself: a strong espresso. I could see that he was now pondering something. His brow relaxed a little but was still bent, and his heavy hand was steadily combing down on his graying mustache. I, too, felt a little contemplative. I thought of what he had just said.

He was trying to allow me to become what he hadn’t. I was moving out, and therefore moving on. Unlike me, all he would have left is the heat, the boats, and the empty house. I would have a future. He didn’t want his sacrifices to have been in vain. Maybe that is why he bought me the jacket, to show me this. I could see that he was still pondering something.

I wasn’t sure what to say now. I pretended like nothing had happened. “Don’t you get thirsty after drinking that stuff.”

“You get used to it.”

I wondered if he would ever get used to my being gone.

“It’s better with brandy and ice, like back in Spain,” he said.

“Isn’t everything,” I said. He gave out a slight laugh and nodded. It was a slight laugh that seemed to lift the firmness from his heavy face. It felt very assuring. Like squeezing it out was some huge achievement that was to be revered. Again, his heavy hand combed his mustache, but, this time a little more unsettlingly. I wanted to tell him that I would miss him, that I loved him, but I didn’t know how. I felt like it would not get past his hard, worn skin. I felt embarrassed to say it, to break the manly code between two men, even father and son. Maybe he was facing the same dilemma. He continued to stroke his mustache, only breaking to sip his espresso.

“I like these coffee breaks we have. I will miss them,” I probed.

“Me too. They are something, aren’t they?” He stopped stroking his mustache and gave a light, one-sided smile that brought out the heavy wrinkles on his dark cheek. “I’m glad you enjoy them.”

“You remember those coffee bars in Spain, how everybody would gather there and just sit drinking coffee or wine for hours. That was nice, wasn’t it?” I said.

“Those were good times. We had many good times. You remember when we went sailing that one warm summer?”

“That was nice.”

We sat there for quite sometime. It never did get too hot that day. It stayed nice and the cool breeze continued to build outside the café. We never did explicitly say what we were pondering about earlier, but we both knew. We both felt it. It was in the giving of the fine jacket, in the fond memories, and in that warm, light smile that was now imprinted upon my old man’s face. As we spoke in the breeze the summer heat felt infinitely distant and the firm, rugged chair that hugged my back began to feel even more comfortable.

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