Why My Dad Never Leaves Home Without a Handkerchief

We've all come to depend on his old-school accessory.

romantic batist white handkerchief
Photo: MariaBrzostowska

They say that there are two things in life a person can count on: death and taxes. My sisters and I can count on one more: a handkerchief in our dad's pocket.

It's nothing fancy or embroidered, just a simple square of white cotton that he folds a few times before unceremoniously stuffing it into the back pocket of his jeans or tucking it into his coat. There are practical reasons that he carries a handkerchief: It's an easy way to address a runny nose, sweaty forehead, or the occasional tractor-grease-covered fingers. But I think there's more to it than that.

According to my mom, my dad has carried a handkerchief since they started dating over 30 years ago, and I can't remember a time when he didn't have one to offer at just the right moment. When I was little, he used it to clean up my scraped knees and mop up tears over playground drama after school. These days, he'll pass it down the pew during a friend's wedding or loved one's funeral.

My dad is a man of many words (I come by it honestly), but when it comes to showing us love, he's big on actions too. And whenever he extends his handkerchief before we can even ask for it, that little square of cotton becomes a generous act of courtesy and care—one more way he tells us, "I see you, and I've got you covered."

On a recent trip home to Charleston for a dear friend's wedding, my dad lent me a handkerchief. It wasn't until I got back to Birmingham that I realized I'd accidentally brought it with me. But between you and me, I don't know if I'll give it back. It's nice to have a little reminder of my dad's thoughtfulness wherever I go—that, and it's allergy season.

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