The Cutting Edge

You look sharp.

That was my Dad’s favorite compliment to give me when I would get dressed up as a child. I’d be all snazzed up for a school function or a nice dinner and I’d say "How do I look?"

You look sharp.

It was the greatest compliment. I sounded razor edged, dangerous, chiseled to a fine point. I think I appreciate it even more now that I am in my late 20s and frequently feel like my life, and I myself, are out of focus.

You look handsome.

That was my mom’s favorite thing to tell me. It’s a very mom type of compliment. The kind of thing you almost expect to hear from a mom but should be so lucky (as I have been) to hear it from your own. While it was usually my mother who dressed me, it was my father I sought to emulate.

I don’t know if other fathers compliment their sons the way my dad did. Maybe they tell them they look good? I really don’t know. But not only did my dad’s compliment to me feel unique, but also vintage, like a stylish bespoke blazer from another time dusted off and thrown over my shoulders.

My dad always looked sharp, at least when he was going to work. Now that he is semi-retired, his standards have relaxed slightly. But when he was going into the office every day, his tie would be perfect, his shoes would be shined, and his hair was always parted perfectly on the side.

You look sharp.

It’s an underrated compliment. One that I don’t think anybody else has ever given me.  First my mother replicated his sharpness for me, and then when I was old enough to handle a comb, I did it myself. Hair parted on the side and secured with a heavy dose of hairspray. A four-in-hand knot pulled taught that fell just at the belt, even if it took me a half dozen tries.

He taught me to tuck my undershirt into my underwear to prevent it from shifting around. At the time and up until after college I thought this was the greatest idea ever. I do admit though, at a certain point I stopped tucking my undershirt into my underwear. I believe it was after catching myself in the mirror and realizing what minimal sex appeal I had was instantaneously negated by that move.

While my father has always looked good in professional scenarios or at social gatherings, his weekend attire has always been something else entirely. If his work wardrobe was his starting lineup, his weekend attire was like the collection of retired and handicapped players no longer capable of making it through a whole game.

Like the assortment of clothes he kept in the trunk of every car he ever had. It was a collection that we made fun of for being vaguely “vagabondesque” but which came in handy on more than a handful of occasions, specifically on chilly nights at the beach or outdoor concerts.

And then when I got my own car, I replicated his behavior with the clothes that I kept there myself.

As with most things in my life, anything I made fun of I eventually became.

Those clothes from his trunk were well loved. Soft flannel shirts from 20 years ago. A peach Pierre Cardin sweater that eventually made its way back into the house and then my closet, and then my number one choice to wear while lounging around the house in my boxers. The clothes in his trunk had seen some action. They all had a deconstructed feel that made you realize they couldn’t be worn anywhere you weren’t enjoying yourself. There softness told their story.

It’s funny that I almost have a greater affection for the things that came out of the trunk of his car. Those things had a badge of honor; they had been retired, honorably discharged.

But the clothes in his trunk didn’t see much action anymore. The clothes he wore to do chores around the house or run errands were the ones that received more use and much more ridiculing. We all made fun of him; my mother, my sister, and me.

Some things warranted it like the “Older, Wiser, Sexier” t-shirt he would wear to my little league games at a time in my life when I couldn’t even fathom the reason for the existence of such a shirt.

There were the cutoff shorts made from old jeans, the faded shorts, and the shorts with holes in comprising places that never seemed to bother him.

But he never cared, he was raking leaves, or mowing the lawn, or on the roof (always on the roof, what the hell does he do up there?) and just doing what he needed to do. His wardrobe was utilitarian in that regard. He was unflappable in that regard. He always has been.

But as I said, anything I made fun of I eventually became.

I caught my own reflection in the window of the bagel store on a Saturday morning not too long ago. Flip-flops, plaid shorts and a maroon sweatshirt with the hood pulled up. I had come full circle, or as my mother likes to say, “The turd doesn’t fall far from the bird.”

But even now that my father is in his 60s (a fact my mind can hardly comprehend) he still puts himself together, combs his hair, and tucks in his shirt (and maybe his undershirt, I have no idea). And he shaves nearly every day. Something else I have a hard time believing considering I only shave when it is absolutely necessary or a woman I keep company with threatens to leave me.

The former happens more than the latter.

I maintain that compliments are the hardest things in the world to accept. We chase them, we seek them, we prod for them, and yet when given to or heaped upon us, we dismiss them as though they are offensive. Oh no, oh stop; get out of here and the like.

The hardest thing in the world is to listen to somebody compliment you, look him or her in the eye, and then without a trace of dismissal or irony in your voice, maintain that eye contact and say thank you.

When my father would compliment me as a child I loved it. As a child you haven’t become self aware or insecure enough yet to engage in such foolishness as dismissing kind words somebody gives to you. When you look up to somebody as much as I have always looked up to my father, those words mean the world.

And that is why those words have stuck with me as long as they have. I’m well aware at this point in my life, the only reason my father was able to give me that compliment, the only reason anybody has ever been able to give me a compliment is because my father took what could have been a large pale mass of confusion and sharpened it.

He sharpened me.