Pass It Down - Vintage Band Tees
Parents aren't cool. They’re incapable of it. That’s one of the many lessons I’ve learned as a father. “I used to be cool,” my dad would say. But I had some serious doubts. At some point, I grew up and had kids of my own and apparently I wasn’t cool anymore either.
I was showing my kiddos some music that a friend of mine had recently produced. The record stopped and my twelve-year-old son said, “You’ve got some pretty cool friends, dad.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I think so too.”
“So,” he continued, “what happened to you?”
“I used to be cool,” I said, repeating my father’s words accidentally.
“What, like when dinosaurs were roaming around?” he teased.
My eight-year-old daughter was laughing along. “Yeah dad,” she sneered, “you’re like a worm that doesn’t even know how to worm.”
I gave ‘em both a stink face while they continued laughing.
It’s that they know that you wiped their baby butts and you’ve been with them every day since - holding their hands in the grocery store, putting on a clean shirt before going to some mysterious workplace, cooking their meals, chasing them around the yard, putting on their bandaids, and getting totally exhausted by them. You’re the guy that took them to Chuckie Cheese and was excited about the tabletop Arkanoid machine.
You’re far from being their idea of cool. You make coffee every morning and set out the cereal bowls. That’s just not cool guy stuff.
I still wasn’t convinced he was cool, but maybe I was willing to admit that he had done some cool things.
My father had been a competitive marathoner. He had pairs of original waffle sole Nikes when the swoosh was still hand-sewn on. He trained nearly every day and flew around the nation to compete for prize money. In the fall and winter in Minnesota, he’d go running with sweatshirts tucked into high-waisted, hip cut, running shorts. He was definitely not cool.
But once in a while he’d come downstairs where my brothers and I were playing, tiptoe through the legos, and DJ his old 45’s on our Fisher Price record player - all of us singing and dancing to the likes of Queen and CCR.
At sixteen, my dad gave me an old Neil Young tee that he had treasured and tucked away. It wasn’t till I was twenty-five, stuck in a car with him - the Oldies station blaring, windows open - that he recounted the story of sneaking into Dave Clark Five at the state fair with his friends when he was fifteen.
I still wasn’t convinced he was cool, but maybe I was willing to admit that he had done some cool things. I would later wear that Neil Young shirt behind my guitar - playing in the smoky basements and bars of my late teens and twenties.
Years later, after having my own kids, I tucked some of my old band tees in the closet - hoping that my kids might want them someday as well.
One day, my son was complaining about having grown out of most of his t-shirts, so I went to the top shelf of my closet and pulled down that pile of tees. Some of them he didn’t want, but he selected a T.Rex tee, the Subhumans (because of the skull on it), and my dad’s old Neil Young.
I smiled at him as he put one on. “Looks good,” I said. “See, once upon a time your dad was pretty cool. That’s why you’re cool.”
“Nope. Definitely still not cool dad,” he said.
I put the old shirts back and grabbed my Minutemen shirt to put on.
“What about that shirt?” he asked. “That one looks pretty cool. Can I have that one?”
“Sorry,” I said. “I still wear this one.”
“When do you do that?”
“Awww, buddy,” I said, smiling down at him. “The secret life of dads…”
He’ll figure it out someday.