How My Dad’s Old Winter Coat Helped Me Understand Him

How My Dad’s Old Winter Coat Helped Me Understand Him

For my tenth birthday, mom arranged a sleepover party. Dad was charged with renting the movie I’d watch that night with my friends. He went with Klute. And that’s how Jane Fonda taught me about the life of a high-end prostitute.

One day, about a year later, Mom and Dad told me and my older brother, Asher, they had something to speak with us about after dinner. By the time we all arranged ourselves on the khaki leather couch (this was the early 1980s), I knew what was happening.

First Dad moved out, into an apartment near the creaky, suburban Baltimore house I grew up in, a home Mom’s parents had helped buy. He had Asher and me over, occasionally cooking the only can-free meal I remember him making—a wine-soaked stew he called Peasant Chicken.

Then Mom moved out—to attend a New Hampshire school that trained Waldorf teachers—and Dad moved back in. Soon his girlfriend moved in too. B. was Dad’s twentysomething former psychiatric patient. She wore her hair in a wavy bob reminiscent of Elizabeth McGovern and knew all the words to Brian Eno songs. My brother and I developed acute crushes on her almost immediately.

Eventually, Mom moved back to the house and Dad moved to Northern California. I don’t remember much about saying goodbye to him, but every winter I’m reminded of one important detail: He gave me his beautiful, long tweed Burberry overcoat. He wouldn’t need it where he was going. He wouldn’t be back for it.

The coat, after all these years.

Courtesy of Maccabee Montandon

For years after he gave it to me, the coat remained, barely touched, in the back of whatever closet in whatever apartment I’d just moved to. I struggled to find myself after high school and thus found myself in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz, where I met a few incredible people I remain friends with to this day, two inspiring teachers, and Catherine Crawford, to whom I’ve now been married for 20 years.

Through all those moves, all that time, the coat didn’t interest me much—in part, I suspect, because my dad didn’t interest me much. He felt more like a fictional character than a flesh-and-blood father. He was intensely smart, had a lively, absurdist mind, and was capable of great charisma. As a kid, I attended a poetry reading and saw Dad perform his work in an abandoned train station. (This was about when he made his own business cards: Poet & Alchemist.) But until my mid-20s, he was inscrutable. Moody, aloof, estranged from his sister. Cut off from his family, who remained in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Dad grew up in cold climates, and despite the fact that he never had any money, I understood why one day he’d want to buy a nice, warm coat. Eventually, it also helped me understand why he’d want to head West.

Source : Maccabee Montandon Link

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