Father’s Day rolls around again, and I am brought back 50 years to the smell of spent cigars and sweaty T-shirts in the mid-June heat. We argued about those T-shirts often and rancorously, my father and I. He favored the sleeveless, white-cotton variety, which I thought looked ridiculous.
“Why don’t you wear the right T-shirts?” my father would ask, with genuine bafflement. “You’ll be a lot cooler in the summer!”
“I like colored T-shirts, with sleeves!” I’d shout back. “Leave me the hell alone!”
I was 14, and anything but the son my father would have chosen. He was a natural athlete who loved nothing better than starting up a softball game with the kids at Kibbe Park, who knew him simply as “Jake.” He liked crooning along with “Dean Martin Sings Parisian,” channeling Groucho Marx (“I hate to be Russian, but I Mos-cow…”) and downing a cold glass of Genesee Beer with a few slices of pepperoni.
I was a studious nerd, given to spouting verses from Dylan Thomas and listening to Simon and Garfunkle, alone in my room. I hated almost anything connected with sports and, as my classmates frequently pointed out on the baseball diamond, I threw “like a girl.” On some level, I probably sensed that the arguments my father and I had over T-shirts were really about the kind of kid I was, and the kind he wanted me to be.