EPISODE 36: THE THINGS WE LEAVE BEHIND
I began this column by wondering aloud whether I would become the sort of father who cried at the beginning of Babar or at the end of The House at Pooh Corner. I now know the answer. Some 35 instalments later, I am bidding farewell to a boy who has been every bit as delightful as a companion as Christopher Robin was to Edward Bear. Nicholas was five when I began tutoring him in the ways of a gentleman, but he is nine now. And like most nine year olds, he is developing his own interests and deserves his privacy. He seldom holds my hand any more. He calls me "Dad" rather than "Daddy", and is no longer my willing acolyte ("A trip to the cobbler – awesome!"). He is also at an age when his friends have iPads and iPhones, and it is only a matter of time before some iBully takes one of his precocious insights into velvet vs grosgrain and throws it in his face.
Also, I'm starting a new job – one Nicholas is chuffed about. So on the morning of my first day as the new Editor-in-Chief of MR PORTER, he appeared in the bedroom of our New York apartment. As I stared into my wardrobe wondering what to wear, Nicholas seemed concerned that I might let the side down.
"OK, if MR PORTER is a British company, then wear one of your suits from Stuart," he said demonstrating that he was perhaps the only boy in New York City on a first-name basis with a Savile Row tailor. "But you're probably going to be working with people from all over Europe, so let's get some other countries in there. Maybe a French shirt and some Italian shoes? Hey, Dad, are you getting paid in pounds, dollars or euros?"
The boy wanted to turn his father into the sartorial equivalent of the EU, but we compromised on something closer to the Eurostar – Edward Green shoes and a Charvet tie. The finishing touches were two accessories that travel with me every day – my dad's old Rolex and a monogrammed silver key chain my mother gave me when she went back to work full-time.
As I slipped on my father's Rolex, I thought of the day he passed it down. And I wondered what Nicholas would make of it when it was on his wrist one day. Just as I had ascribed different meanings to the things my parents had left behind, I know Nicholas will have his own take on his nut-job of a father.
"Your mother gave me this as a gift on our honeymoon," was all my dad said as he pressed a battered 1957 Submariner into my hand. The occasion was my impending marriage, which I was hoping would go better than my parents' marriage had. When I took the watch into the Rolex dealership to have it refurbished, I asked the technician for a new stainless-steel band but to leave the black-and-white face scarred to remind me of how easily a marriage can get nicked up.
I recently took Nicholas to see one of the items that I had tucked away for him not long after he was born. He had Good Friday off from school, so I surprised him by taking him to my men's club for the first time. The club's by-laws state that a member's son must be 10 to enter, and Nicholas has been counting the days to his next birthday to breach the threshold. I knew that his desire to play squash in a cathedral of racket sports would clash with his moral absolutism: in order to do something he was desperate to do, he would have to break a rule.
"Ah, Dad, I don't think this is such a good idea... What if I get caught and I can never, ever become a member?" He asked as we walked up Park Avenue to the club. "That's not going to happen," I replied. "There's a big difference between a rule and a law. It is OK to bend the rules... All right, let's practise. Pretend I'm some old man who has nothing better to do than police the Turkish bath." At which point I adopted the vocal styling of an old man who pines for the days when you could still cane the staff for failing to deliver a gherkin with your sandwich. "Ah, I say there, boy, come here. What's your name?"
"Nicholas Trumbull Brodie," he replied. Tossing in his middle name was a nice touch by my disciple in deception.
"And how old are you?"
"I am 10, sir."
"Oh, good. Good. When is your birthday?" I could see a glint in Nicholas' eye as he made a quick calculation and announced his real birthday but made the year of his birth one earlier.
Once inside, the vaulted ceilings, Corinthian columns, 19th-century equestrian paintings and marble floors overwhelmed him. Nicholas relaxed after we changed into our whites and hit the squash court. We played a match. Later as we headed down the club's staircase, I stopped to show him one of my favourite rooms. An unmarked door opened onto a walk-in humidor the size of a studio apartment. The room was redolent of cedar and good tobacco. Inside a handful of members have their own storage spaces for cigars and wine. I unlocked mine, making a point to pull out a magnum-sized 2005 Nuits-Saint-Georges.
"A few weeks after you were born I bought this bottle and stuck it in my little hiding place here. My hope is that when you turn 18 we will still like each other enough to come here and have dinner and drink this very nice bottle."
"Dad, we'll still be friends when I'm 18, but I've got to get out of this room. The cigar smell in here makes me feel like I might throw up." We walked out of the giant humidor, shut the door behind us and walked out through the club's revolving wood door and onto Park Avenue. As we rode home on the Madison Avenue bus together, Nicholas grabbed my hand several times and said, "Thank you, Daddy. Today was the best day ever."
In my new job here at MR PORTER, I will be travelling a lot more and our father-son idylls will be fewer and farther between. I will miss chronicling Nicholas' first fateful steps towards adulthood. Wherever that journey takes him, I hope he knows that his father loves him very much and that I will always be waiting for him in our own enchanted forest.