My Dad’s Cashmere Sweater

I only have a couple hazy memories of my dad’s best friend, Rob. I remember him being a big man, but everyone is big to a five-year-old. He had a black beard and those thick tinted glasses everyone wore in the 80s. For Christmas one year he got me a teddy bear with a red Santa hat that I still have.

Rob and my dad worked together, played golf together, drank together. My dad said that, other than his older brother, Rob was the funniest person he ever knew. My parents always laughed about the time Rob encouraged the EMTs to swipe my dad’s wallet while my dad was being carted away after tearing his stomach ulcers.

As young men they worked odd jobs around New York City, trying to carve out lives for themselves. My dad was a bartender. Rob worked on the docks.

Dad eventually met Mom, moved out of NYC, and had kids. Rob never married.

When Rob killed himself I think it reinforced a fear my dad harbored ever since he was young: The good things in your life will go away. See, when my dad was a little boy his mother had to go away to be treated for tuberculosis. She was gone a long time. Of the woman who came around to help out the family in my grandmother’s absence my dad once said “I guess I thought she was my mother.”

At some point Rob gifted my dad a grey, cashmere sweater. It must have been early in their friendship because I remember it having large tears under the arms and along the seams. Dad was always cold and layered it under almost everything he wore. He loved traveling when he was young and the sweater always went with him. Always one of the essentials rolled up in his canvas knapsack. By the time I was old enough to remember it, it always seemed to be barely hanging on.

Dad would encourage me to touch it, presenting it to me folded on top of his hands the way you would hold a platter of cheese or receive Communion. It was like a cloud. He told me that cashmere was very special. That you wear it all the time, if you can. That you don’t get rid of it even when it’s tired and torn. That you hold onto it forever. I guess it was the only way he knew how to hold onto Rob forever.

I don’t know what ever became of that old, grey, cashmere sweater. Likely lost amongst the many piles of this-and-that from so many apartments we had to clean out on Dad’s behalf. Something intimately special yet forgotten and cast aside in the chaos that became Dad’s life. Rosebud tossed into the fire.

I often think about Dad’s cashmere sweater and the impact it had on my early understanding of clothes. Hold on to the things that are special. Things of quality can last decades. Appreciate finely made things. You don’t need as much as you think you do.

Clothes can be a connection between people. Sometimes it can be the only remaining connection we have, other than our memories. That sweater brought Dad a great deal of happiness and comfort in Rob’s absence.

Perhaps the reason why I always think and write about the impact my clothing choices have on my kids is because I hope, when all is said and done, I’ll be remembered. I hope that I mattered to them. I hope they’ll hold one of my cashmere sweaters close and tell my stories to their kids.

To always live on in the hearts of the people we love…Isn’t that what we all want?

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