My dad is what some might call sartorially challenged. He’s been known to mistake my brothers’ clothes for his own, wearing the either too-small or too-big shirts or pants without seemingly noticing a difference in fit. He can’t be trusted to shop for himself and every new item of clothing must obtain my mother’s approval. But with some guidance (i.e., my mom doing his shopping for him), he’s come to cultivate a classic sense of dressing that suits him well.
Yet there’s one bad fashion habit that he can’t seem to break, a habit he’s had for as long as I can remember: his penchant for gas-station sunglasses.
If you’re at all familiar with the interior of gas stations, then you’ll probably have at some point noticed or encountered a carousel of sunglasses, either on or near the counter. Among the selection will be bedazzled oversized pairs, kiddie wayfarers and numerous aviators, all retailing for around $12. My father’s own predilection is for one of the sportier silhouettes favored by little league coaches and guys who love taking their boat to the lake. These sunglasses wrap tightly around the head and feature angular, half-framed lenses that often come in reflective shades of purple and orange. They’re my mother’s worst nightmare.
I used to think these sunglasses existed purely for decorative purposes, something to occupy customers while they waited to be rung up. Now I realize they exist solely to entice wayward fathers who don’t know any better. What I thought was a preference unique to my father is in fact universal; as my roommates and I discovered, we all have photos of our dads wearing variations of these spectacles, allowing us to create a triptych of cool dads wearing cool glasses.
My dad has accumulated god knows how many pairs over the years, their existence often unbeknownst to us until we got in the car with him and he slipped them on to block out the sun (and presumably the haters). Disbelief followed, along with objections. It’s not for lack of trying that we’ve attempted to break this habit. Over the years my dad’s been gifted more respectable sunglasses (Ray-Bans, even!), two pairs of which have been lost to the Atlantic Ocean (granted the second pair was my mom’s fault, after a mishap with an oar while attempting to paddleboard). Unfailingly, he replaces them with his beloved gas-station shades.
The annoyance these sunglasses incite in my family might seem irrational. It comes from a place of aesthetics (they are at odds with the polos and desert boots we’ve all worked so hard to help him embrace), but it also comes from a place of wanting better for my dad. Rarely does he express a desire or want for anything material; he’s content with what he has. But if anyone deserves nice things, it’s him.
Of course, my father continues to wear those glasses partly, I think, to get a rise out of us. As a family, we’ve resigned ourselves to the fact that he’ll never be able to quit them, although I’m sure more attempts to convince him otherwise will be made. Besides, there’s something comforting and reliable in his commitment to them, not unlike the comfort and reliability he himself provides.
In one of my favorite photos I’ve taken of my dad, he’s wearing a pair of these sunglasses as he stands on a boat and surveys the water. His gaze is serious, ballcap flipped backwards and a very visible tan line around his neck. It’s such a dad picture, a distillation of his very essence.
But also, there’s no denying he looks cool as hell, glasses and all.
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