A Uniform of a Different Kind

By Rose Ann Sinay

My father was a career serviceman. Of his twenty-three years in the Air Force, three of those years were spent away from his family for months, and even a year at a time. He was the textbook military type: crew cut hair – sharp as a bed of nails with spit polished shoes – shiny enough to see the whites of his eyes when he looked down. He was as handsome in his drab khaki uniform as he was in his perfectly pressed dress blues.

Our household was an extension of his service-regimented life. I’m sure if he knew how to play the trumpet, the whole family would have been blasted out of bed by the sounds of Reveille each and every morning. He had to be up, so did we. He was gruff, unyielding and barked his orders like a drill sergeant.

After months of absence, my father’s transition back home was not always easy for him or us kids. We had become lackadaisical without his strict schedule, and he returned expecting business as usual. Watching television, reading books and physical inactivity in general, were not permissible during “work” hours. When our dad was home, our muscles were in a constant state of readiness to jump into action when he walked into the room. If he was busy, we’d best be busier.

Out of uniform, he loosened up a bit. There was actually a silly sense of humor lurking inside him that surfaced when he was in a good mood. We always regarded these moments with suspicion before standing down and joining in with the fun. But, once he was done…well, you know the drill.

When I was thirteen, I had a baby sitting job in the evenings that gave me a little spending money. Being the eldest of three siblings, I took it upon myself to buy the holiday gifts for my parents from all of us. A few days before Father’s Day, I collected a token amount from my brother’s and sister’s allowance, and together, we walked to the strip mall a mile and a half away

After an hour of shopping, we found that even with my savings, it wasn’t enough to buy a substantial gift. We would just have to be creative, I thought as we headed toward the sales rack in the only department store in town. We sifted through the shirts that had already been rejected at full price. Bright colors, plaids and hippie clothes (as my father referred to the current trends in fashion), nothing seemed appropriate for him.

Tired and whiny, my brother and sister begged to go home. Just when I was about to give up, a sky blue, pullover shirt caught my eye. Its Nehru collar branded it in the dreaded hippie category, but it was plain and inexpensive enough to buy a little something extra to go with it. The rebellious teenager in me went straight to the men’s clearance jewelry counter. A thick metal neck chain with an over-sized, red-jeweled key hanging from it seemed just the thing to unlock his inner, free spirit.

None of us spoke on the long walk home. The enormity of what we had just done sinking in.

Mom had planned for us to take Dad out to the NCO Club on the base for breakfast. I decided we should give him our gift before we left. At least there would be a good meal to defuse our gifting blunder. I dragged my siblings out of their rooms. They stood behind me not wanting to acknowledge any connection to this questionable offering. We each held our breath as he tore through the wrapping.

Our father looked at the shirt with the pendant pinned in place for a long moment. Without saying a word, he rose from his chair, went into his bedroom and closed the door. To our amazement, when it opened again, he was wearing the shirt; its high, Nehru collar chafing his neck and his sensibilities. The neck chain with its plastic, ruby jewel sat prominently on his broad chest.

He walked to the door and turned around. “What?” he barked. “Isn’t anybody hungry?” I’m sure I saw him smile.

We entered the restaurant, passing by other fathers dressed in boring, button down shirts. We couldn’t help but giggle at our straight-laced father looking oddly “cool” in his trendy shirt and jewelry. Though he never wore it again, he had given us a special gift. Our dad had dressed up and let his hair down, making it a Father’s day to remember.

About this writer

  • Rose Ann Sinay Rose Ann Sinay is a freelance writer typing away in sunny North Carolina. Her articles/stories have been published in The Carolinas Today, The Oddville Press and The Brunswick Beacon.

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12 Responses to “A Uniform of a Different Kind”

  1. Colleen Wenthen says:

    That is so you Ro! Wonderful story and what a great memory to have. Dads are special. Loved it!

    • Rose Ann says:

      Yes, they are special and it feels good to remember those little things! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Diane Quackenbush says:

    Ok, once again tears rolling down my face. Felt like I was there with you. You have such a wonderful knack for bringing out all those feelings…..happy and sad.

  3. BJ Hale says:

    Rose Ann…that is awesome and so funny! I hope you and your father laughed about this in his later years:). Miss you!!!

    • Rose Ann says:

      We did and I think if we looked through some boxes we’d find that gaudy neck chain and pendant! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Diane Bohara Lindamood says:

    Reading your story was like watching a video. I could see his teasing, dancing eyes and that great big beautiful grin. He surely loved to have a good time. Thank you for reviving so many memories of a very special uncle!!!

  5. Casey says:

    Very touching story! Thanks for sharing!!

  6. Laura Hall says:

    What a wonderful story!! He truly was a wonderful man!!

  7. Kathy Smith says:

    Thanks for sharing this story. I love how you combined this issue’s theme, Memorial Day (sort of), and Father’s Day all in one. It’s also awesome to know that even though it was probably difficult for him to adjust to civilian life, he put forth the effort to be a father. Sounds like a great dad to me. And a great daughter for keeping his legacy alive. Kudos!

    • Rose Ann says:

      It’s so nice to get positive feedback and this story is special to me. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

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