My Dad, My Gordon Gartrelle Shirt, and Gratitude


Gordon Gartrelle Episode - The Cosby Show

I’ve been raised to be grateful for everything I have been given. Growing up, my mom was a huge proponent of making you wear whatever someone gave you, just to show your gratitude. As an adult, I swore I would never wear anything if I didn’t like it.

My dad never gave gifts. When I say never, I need you to believe me. He just wasn’t that kind of person.  Every time it was my birthday, I knew exactly what I was getting: the funniest card that he could find and a bottle of macadamia nuts. In his world, that was putting in effort for a birthday present. And because I absolutely adored macadamia nuts, I always loved it. So imagine my surprise when my dad walked into the house on my 11th birthday and had a cake with my name written on it. My mom was the cake making queen but my dad going to a specialty bakery and not the Giant supermarket around the corner...This was major. This was HUGE.  And I never forgot that day.

Fast forward six years. As a freshman in college, my father called me from DC. He was so excited, more excited than I’ve EVER heard him. “I was at work and a co-worker of mine had this beautiful shirt on. I thought it would look so good on you. So I asked her where she bought it.” My dad --the person who never, ever, ever went to the mall—got in his car during his lunch break, walked in the store and bought me the shirt. He then went to the post office and mailed it to me. This was a really big deal. He just didn’t do stuff like this. For him to go to the mall and then to the post office-- it was like man landing on the moon, like snow in April, or like watching Def Comedy Jam and hearing Russell Simmons say something other than, “Thank you for coming out. God bless you and good night.”

My father was over the moon with himself. Hell, even I was excited. He called me almost every day to see if the shirt had arrived. I had already pictured it over and over in my head. It had to be like something out of Vogue magazine or something Whitley Gilbert would wear. A few days later, my package arrived. My name and address were written in his signature perfectionist cursive. I tore into the package. I couldn’t wait to see the shirt. And there it was… in all its glory. The left arm was red, the right arm was green, the back was yellow and the front was blue. And it was a corduroy button-down with long sleeves. And I was in school in the South. My dad had Gordon Gartrelle’d me and just like Denise, he was so proud of himself.

gordon gartrelle shirt worn by theo from the cosby show - Midlovecrisis

Of course, I couldn’t tell him the truth. I now had to call him and lie to him. I had to tell him how much I loved the shirt and he was so happy. And thousands of miles away from DC, I wore it, because I loved him. I wore it twice and wore again in front of him. I kept it for two years before I packed it in a bag for goodwill. I never worked up the courage to tell him how much I hated that shirt.

Before he passed away, he asked me about it, “Whatever happened to that shirt I gave you?” “Oh dad,” I replied, “That was so long ago. I’ve moved so many times since college.”

My dad taught me that sometimes the effort someone puts into a gift, is a gift in itself. I now understand when someone goes out of their way to make you happy, you should appreciate the thought, even if you don’t always appreciate the gift.