His Tilley

I wrote this last year and posted it on Facebook. I thought I would share it here…because it made me smile re-reading it.

Early one morning, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a Father’s Day ad for Tilley hats. There were two young men strolling on a dock with yachts in the background. One ridiculously handsome man, was looking at the other immaculately dressed, rugged man, who (I assume )had just said something reasonably clever and was now questioning himself as to whether he should laugh -or smile a large, knowing smile (which would highlight his deep tan and gleaming pearly whites).
These men I assumed were representing all those Dad’s out there who apparently hang out at the yacht club, stay in shape, get regular manicures, have $10,000 + worth of capping and teeth whitening, and wear casual shorts/ polo shirt combos that not only match but cost more than a month’s worth of groceries.
I don’t know any Dad’s like this, however, they must be out there because the ad says that these Dad’s (who are wearing Tilley hats) are happier because they are wearing the most fashionable, trendy hat out there.
Which leads back to me scrolling through Instagram. In the time it took to swipe up, glance at this ad, see the words “Father’s Day” and “Tilley hat” -the niggling memories took hold and I spent the next half an hour searching my closets. I found it.
“THE hat”. In the years preceding my Dad’s death we had some entertaining times; being who he was, the difficulties he faced with cancer and alcoholism were overshadowed by his determined will to live life on his terms and go out swinging (while breaking a few bones in the process). He was an intelligent man and his humour was often black. He had no filter -that’s where the entertainment came in-frequently commenting, in his offhand way, truths and judgements that most people wouldn’t dream of saying out loud. At times, exasperated, I would try to chastise him for speaking a truth that did not need to be said. Without blinking an eye, he would smile and say “Dear, it’s the truth and you cannot say otherwise…”. Then he would smile a mischievous smile, and I knew he would be calculating what else he could say to raise an eyebrow or spur on some laughter.
When he passed away, my brother and I entered his small, immaculate condo and proceeded to clear it out. As he had downsized several times, his furnishings were minimal. Absolutely everything had it’s place. There were no junk drawers or disorganization of any kind. I was charged with clearing out his bathroom, bedroom, and front closet. Opening his bedroom wardrobe, I stood staring at what could have been a department store display. Each pair of pressed pants were hung on cedar clips. Dress shirts and sports jackets, which were occasionally worn, were wrapped in dry cleaning plastic. Golf shirts and dress shorts were pressed and hung separately. Shoes were arranged according to whether they were casual wear or dress. Fall and winter attire were arranged according to, what seemed to be, colour.
A few heavy sweaters were neatly folded on the top shelf. I recognized one that he had liked quite a bit (he looked dashing in it) and pulled it down, carefully rearranging the others. It was then that I realized it really wouldn’t matter whether they were put back correctly because he wasn’t coming back and I was there to pack up what was left. I sat on his perfectly made up bed. The quilt was pretty with colourfully embroidered flowers in a tasteful stitch work design. I gazed around the room and honestly didn’t feel a piece of him.
The auction house had come to price out the contents. I walked out of my father’s bedroom to the front closet and opened it. A worker was asking my brother what we were keeping and what would be auctioned. Everything was moving much too fast. A lifetime of material items was condensed into a one bedroom condo. Gazing into the closet I saw his fedoras, which were hung on a waterfall hat rack. Each one was brushed so that they looked brand new; no one would ever have guessed they were at least 50 years old. I thought if I closed my eyes right then I would smell him- soap, tobacco and Old Spice; I would feel his cheek against mine when he kissed me hello and goodbye, sometimes smooth, sometimes rough with stubble. He would say “Hello pet” or “Goodbye for now, my pet”. I remembered that he had let me try on his special hats so many years ago…and when I had asked for one, he chuckled and said I couldn’t afford it….(the ass).
The auction worker asked if we were keeping the hats. I looked at my brother. It was one of the first times I had really looked at him that day and I noticed the exhaustion and grief weighing heavily on his features. He shook his head no. I took a hat off of it’s clip and passed it to him. He wouldn’t take it. He stared at it. We reminisced briefly about Dad’s hats, noting the different coloured feathers that adorned the side of each of them. Then the worker tagged them. Someone would be walking around wearing my father’s hat one day, once the fashion had come around full circle again. I pulled out a few jackets from the closet, a pair of galoshes and a black umbrella. Looking up on the top shelf, I saw a tan hat that I had remembered him wearing often in the 80’s. It made me smile for the first time that day. Unlike the fedoras which were kept and preserved well-this one was worn. Perspiration had slightly stained the interior where a large label read ‘The Tilley Hat’. It instructed the user how to care for the hat, but I imagined that my Dad probably never read it. He enjoyed wearing the hat. For well over half of his life, he wore a suit and tie along with a fedora, Monday to Friday, day in and day out. When he put on that Tilley, it meant he was going out on an adventure-whether that venture took him on a hike to a historical site (which he loved) or to the liquor store (which he also loved), regardless-he was free.
I kept it. Because although my Dad did not hang out at the yacht club, stay in shape or have $10,000 worth of teeth whitening and capping, he was as fashionably charismatic as he could be, was handsome in his own way, had well manicured nails and wore a Tilley Hat. More importantly than that though, if he were one of the men in the ad that I saw, you better believe HE would have been the one who said something ‘reasonably clever’, probably hilarious…or utterly inappropriate..and for that…I tip my hat to him. My Dad, who owned a Tilley, was irritatingly rude, irrationally hot tempered and without a doubt, was one of the funniest people I have ever known. Thanks to a well timed, fantastical advertisement, I remember Jimmy/Jamie/JB/Jim/James Bernard/Dad/Daddy/ Mr. Smith as he was. My pretty amazing, belligerent father. I was luckier than I knew.

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