WHEN MY SISTER The birth of the first baby. I didn’t think he’d grow into a small human I would enjoy dressing.
I admit that this is a bizarre statement. I’d assume most American fathers look forward to the day they can throw around a football with their kid (I’m Irish, so it’s fútbol) or mow the lawn with them on their lap (okay, yes, we have lawns, too).
When my son turned 2, something remarkable happened. He was able to wear an outfit for longer than four hours and not have it decorated with any bodily or food-related product. My interest in fashion and his ability to stay relatively clean became something we shared.
My son was two years old when he allowed me to dress him in any clothing. Striped leggings with a pair of red wellies, a turtleneck, and a baseball cap—all topped off with a bright-yellow raincoat. A classic French chore coat with a sailor’s sweater and a wool cap akimbo, just so. He would wear it all. At least for a little while. Great.
I’ll admit that I may have treated my son as my accessory during this time, sometimes even going so far as to pick his outfit to complement mine. Fashion was one area where I felt I was in control of my parenting. Although sleep schedules, meal times, and work-life balance were chaotic, I felt like I had at most one thing under control if I was looking sharp with my son.
Then, everything collapsed. During Christmas 2019, our family traveled to my older brother’s house in Belfast. My son’s older cousins are both avid Manchester United fans who I don’t believe wear anything except head-to-toe United kits.
My son was shocked when he saw his plaid shirt and trendy lumberjack overalls. After that Christmas, he only wanted to wear clothes you wear to play sports—and he no longer wanted help getting dressed. We were back in chaos.
This all came to an abrupt halt in late 2021 as I tried to get my son out of the car and into his vehicle. He had misplaced a hat he thought would complete his outfit (it didn’t, but whatever) and I betrayed my usual calm by grumpily grunting, “You look fine! Now get in the car!” We left without the hat, he cried, and my wife offered some calm, sage wisdom: “It’s not about what you wear; it’s about how you feel.” I’m not sure whether those words were for me or my son, but they landed for both of us.
My son was becoming independent, something all parents long for but fear. He would be more difficult to control if we tried to force him to behave. Since Hat-Pocalypse ’21, I’ve learned to accept my son’s own developing sense of style. And we’ve found so many other ways to connect beyond style (space! painting! camping!) that I haven’t had to buy a fútbol jersey. Yet.
Oliver Jeffers is a writer and illustrator of numerous children’s books, including Still stuck, Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth?, and What We’ll Build.