In honor of Father’s Day, we’re sharing a favorite from The Written Wardrobe archives. With our propensity for feminine flared frocks, we don’t often get to recognize oh-so-dad accessories like those Jenny Sadre-Orafai reflects on in her nonfiction piece here. Are you inspired by the particular, signature style of one of your loved ones?
Rolex Datejust in Steel and White Gold
It looks like magnified chainmail across his wrist. The watch overwhelms him. It would swallow any man’s wrist, such a hungry hunk of steel. I pull on the face while he reads the news, trying to wedge my child fingers underneath to see how much it weighs. I think it must outweigh me. Later, on the way to swim practice, the sun spills off it as he drives, his hands always obedient at ten and two. At ten and two since he was sixteen.
When I am older, around twelve, I realize that my fascination for some heavy piece of jewelry my father wore was actually a fascination with a Rolex. It didn’t take long for me to brag to school friends, my chin sticking out, “My Dad wears a Rolex. A real one.” We were old enough to know what it was and what it meant.
Sebago Felucca Lace
I ask my dad for a pair of loafers with special corkscrew shoelaces by Sebago. Everyone has a pair. The red lettering on the tag of each loafer and near the ankle mocks me and my tagless shoes. My straight, ordinary laces flop around. We go to the local department store one night. He wants to see what every seventh grader just had to wear or else. I try them on and walk around the store’s carpet like it’s been sprinkled in glass, careful since they don’t belong to me yet. I smile at my feet in the small mirror for just feet. My father is less than impressed. The next thing I know we are in the car, driving away from the loafers.
He pulls up to K-Mart. Panicky, I ask “What are we doing here?” He takes me to the shoe section. There isn’t anyone working here who goes to the back to unearth boxes of shoes from a cave of shoes. Here, the shoes are on silver racks. Some of the shoes look they are trying to run away. He pulls down a pair of loafers made from man-made materials. They are stiff and naked without shoelaces. Slots on the tops of each foot are hungry mouths staring up at me.
I don’t know how to smile with plastic shoes on my feet that are bound with an impossible plastic tie. Trying the shoes on, I become a tightrope walker. The slightest misplaced shuffle will topple me. My father doesn’t waver much. He softens somewhat when I am on the edge of tears. He says “OK, OK,” and reaches into his pockets. His hands come down, the left one with steel and white gold, and he places a penny into each of the hungry slot mouths where another shoe’s tongue would have been. He buys them for me instead of and in place of the Sebagos. I think I will never love him again.
Johnston & Murphy Crown Aristocraft Conley II Wingtips
When you’re a teenager you don’t consider much beyond your small universe and what impacts you directly. At least, this former teenager didn’t. I failed to remember on that day when my father hooked his fingers into the penny loafers, the monthly ritual that he must have practiced since he was in high school. Once a month and on Sunday nights, he would spread classified ads out on the living room floor in front of the TV. He carried out a blonde wood Crabtree and Evelyn box that held shoe polish tins, a rag, and a brush. He lined up his shoes, exhausted workers with their pleats and pre-cracks. All the same style — Johnston & Murphy Crown Aristrocraft Conley II Wingtips — but in different colors. My father, always practical. I forgot that I loved watching his arms as they rushed the brush across the toe, the sides, the heel. He never groaned. He never seemed inconvenienced. If we were watching a sitcom, his laughter crashed over the swish of the shine brush.
The author, young, and her father with his gold watch.
Herodia 17 Jewel Military Style Watch in Yellow Gold
Swiss-made and flat as a snake, the gold is so soft and yellow it feels like a petal. It always looked more like a bracelet than a watch. My father wore it when he wasn’t wearing the Rolex. I thought he used to wake up and decide if he wanted to be flashy with the white gold or humble with the yellow gold.
Both watches first belonged to other people. My father never had his own watch really. He has these two watches instead. The Rolex was given to him by his father-in-law. My grandfather received it after retiring thirty years from Gulf Power. He never wore it once. He put it away. Then, he gave it to my father. The Herodia was given to my paternal grandfather from the bank where he worked. Like my other grandfather, he put it away and never wore it. He gave it to my father when he graduated from high school.
The Herodia doesn’t make any important statement to anyone really. The other watch makes a statement to everyone. However, they both mean much, much more to him than what they’re worth. I like to think that I’ve learned the difference between worth and meaning, that those shoes with crimped laces wouldn’t have meant much had my father bought them for me. Sometimes, I wish for the pinch in my heel that only those penny loafers gave me. I think that if I concentrate hard enough I can hear the whine they made in the school hallways.
Twenty-two years after bragging about my father’s watch, I wear a watch in the shape of the Rolex and the color of the Herodia. When I first got it, my dad asked, “Whose watch is that?”
Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of four chapbooks, and Press 53 will publish her first collection, Paper, Cotton, Leather, this fall. Recent prose has appeared in The Rumpus, The Toast, Delirious Hem, The Los Angeles Review, and South Loop Review. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and an Associate Professor of English at Kennesaw State University.