Imprinting Images On Your Kids

My dad always wore a hat. Not just any old hat, though. Fedoras were never his thing and he absolutely despised baseball caps. It was a newsboy cap. A tweed, 8-panel newsboy cap. Usually brown herringbone or flecked Donegal. He wore it all the time, even in the summer. Maybe it was because he was from a working-class Irish family in the Bronx. Maybe it was because he loved the game of golf. Maybe he just liked it. I don’t think he really gave it much thought. But it’s one of the most vivid memories I have of him. He died when I was in my late 20s, so I wasn’t super young, but my parents separated when I was 7 and he was in and out of my life (mostly out) from then on. 

I have lots of memories of him. But whenever I think of him, I think of the cap. We never had a real football to play with, so we would ball up his cap and throw that around. Or toss it like a frisbee. “Dad” and “Dad’s cap” are inseparable in my mind. Some time after my dad died I was chatting with my sister who mentioned getting choked up after seeing a man on the street who resembled him. “He was wearing one of those striped polo shirts dad always wore”, she said. I thought about that for a moment. I mean, I guess she was right. Dad did wear polo shirts sometimes but “Dad in a striped polo shirt” wasn’t the image that was stamped in my mind. It was “Dad in his cap”. How could her image be anything different?

Now that I am a dad to two little boys I constantly think about the kinds of things they associate with me or what they will remember about me when I finally shuffle off the mortal coil. As dads, we leave strong impressions on our children no matter what. Shouldn’t we choose to be intentional with that messaging? What do our clothing choices say to our children? What lessons can we teach? What subliminal messages are they soaking up without us even realizing it? 

What do I want my kids to learn from my clothing choices?

How to take care of your things:

Before the pandemic, when I would get home from work, my son (who was about 2 1/2 at the time) would accompany me to our bedroom as I changed my clothes. He would tell me about what happened at daycare (in his best garbled toddler language). I would hang up my sport coat and trousers and slide cedar shoe trees into my derbies. As toddlers do, he would ask why I was doing those things. I always try to explain things to him as simply as possible. I said it’s important to take care of our things so they last a long time and it’s important to put things away so we know where it is for next time. The more we did this little ritual, the more we added to the routine. He really looked forward to putting my socks in the laundry hamper and even started retrieving my shoe trees for me. I cherished that dedicated daddy/son time. It’s been a long time since we did that with any sort of consistency but he still remembers it vaguely. I know I’ll never forget it. 

How to have self respect:

If you look like a slob, you feel like a slob. We all know the transformative effects of what we wear. Just like exercise, eating well, and educating yourself, dressing with intention is a way to show respect and kindness for yourself.

Acknowledge that the world is unfair:

This one is more for the older kids, as it will probably go over the heads of the real youngsters. It’s a cruel reality that we judge on outward appearance. We all wish it wasn’t the case and that we could automatically look past the exterior into someone’s heart. Unfortunately, that will never be reality, so let’s stack the deck in our favor from the get-go by attempting to make a positive visual impression. It’s easier than you think. It really comes down to effort. Shined shoes. A shirt that fits well. A warm smile. 

How to have respect for others:

Dressing well signals to other people that you respect and appreciate them. At a restaurant, show the staff how much their hard work and expertise is appreciated. At the theater, signal that you recognize how much work and dedication went into putting on that performance. You will also elevate the experience of those around you and help contribute to everyone’s general good time.

How to not sweat the small stuff:

Don’t be a slob but don’t be fastidious. No fit is ever perfect. No ironing job is ever flawless. There will always be not enough cuff showing or a slouchy sock here and there. Don’t stress over every shoulder divot or not-quite-right trouser break. We live in the real world where things tumble and flow (especially with kids). Enjoy your clothes; live your life.

Our kids are always listening and always watching. We are their examples for how to live, how to act, and yes, what to wear. I like knowing I can send some positive messages their way just by what I pull on in the morning. Then again, maybe I’m just trying to exert some sort of control over this chaotic and unpredictable endeavor known as fatherhood. Whatever the reason, you can bet I’ll be doing it while wearing a cap.

You Might Also Like