A Father's Pride.
Who would think it could be found in a thrift shop.
Thrift shops are a relatively new concept in my life. Growing up in Colombia, there was always someone that could use your hand-me-downs. From relatives that cannot pass on the opportunity of getting anything for free to domestic employees that hint at the fact that there is no room in the closets because it’s been a while since you did a spring cleaning. The same goes for old appliances: as long as there is the remote possibility of repairing them, someone will take them off your hands when the new replacement arrives. There is also the guy in an old pickup truck that drives by the neighborhoods announcing over a PA system that they pay for your scrap metal and broke-beyond-repair appliances.
Organized thrift shops where people donate their gently used items and sometimes their tube TVs or prehistoric gaming systems is a new and exciting concept for me. I visit them on occasion for the clothes; for a while, I developed a minor addiction drawn by the cheap price tags, so these days I shop only when the cheap buy is the correct one. One of such occasions was when my parents came to visit for my son’s college graduation.
It was the first time my father came to visit in fifteen years. In the past, my mother or grandmother had come during the summer vacation to help me around the house while my son was still in school. But my dad had never accepted the invitation before. Disappointed as that made me, I never took it personally: my father is a creature of habit. When I was a kid, we would go only on short vacations, five days tops. Dad would always be on edge, calling the office and even calling his bank’s branch manager every day; mind you, he was no Rockefeller, the small family business would be fine for a few days, but he did not sit back and relax, ever. The only person in the world that could make him travel to another country for a whole month was his beloved grandson.
They arrived in the middle of the summer, and luckily my father was excited about the prospect of fishing. That would for sure keep him occupied for a few hours a day. Knowing that he could get sunburned, mom and I decided to take him shopping for long-sleeved t-shirts and a hat. The shirts would get fish and mud stains on them; dad would likely not use them again once they were back home, so we decided on the local thrift shop.
The three of us browse around the store for a bit when my father spotted it: a discount rack full of school gear from the Big Ten University where I work. It was not the overpriced fan gear, though: it was the pile of rejects that come from promotional events, those t-shirts that have the school name and event on the front, and a long list of sponsors in the back. The original owners for sure got them for free, and they were now at the thrift shop store, many of them unused, for fifty cents a piece. But to my dad, this was the finding of the century. He was so excited about them that he grabbed all of them, the five or six available in his size. We walked out of the store, my dad strolling in front with his promotional t-shirts in a recycled bag, chest puffed. I thought it was amusing how happy he was with them, so I patted his back in approval and commented:
“How do you like your new t-shirts, daddy?”
He looked at me with bright eyes and said:
“I’m going to take these home and wear one for every day of the week, show all my friends the gear from the very important University where my little girl works. And everybody will see how proud I am that you are my daughter.”
I stood there, frozen, hearing the penny drop. Dad didn’t see sponsors; he didn’t mind if the print said “School of Business,” “Charity Run,” or “Field Day”; these t-shirts were from the Big Ten University where his little girl is a scientist and contributes to society every day. That’s what my father saw on those t-shirts, not the promotional prints that made them cheap, but the sign that said: “I’m a proud father, and look how far my child has gone.”
“That’s great, daddy; I’m so glad you like your new gear,” was all I was able to respond. But we needed no words. My father was proud of me. He has always been. And now, he found a way to show it to the world every day. Funny enough, he found it in the clearance rack of a thrift shop.