I can’t remember why I didn’t bring a change of clothes to the hospital. It’s probably because I kind of suck at planning. Also, it was our first kid, and I was freaking the f**k out.
My wife, Allie, also may have been freaking the f**k out, but she is a planner by passion as well as by trade. She planned on having a natural childbirth. After 36 hours of labor … It. Was. Not. Happening.
Allie cried. A C-section was not part of the plan. A nurse gave her some meds, which helped. Then an emergency C-section bumped Allie down the wait list. And she had to wait. And wait some more. The meds wore off and she was suffering through contractions that had no endgame. The nurse told her not to push; she was supposed to pull or hold, I don’t know, anything but push. Allie was in pain like never before and she just wanted to have her goddamn baby already. I don’t remember what T-shirt I was wearing at the time.
My daughter, Penny, was born on a historic night, the one in which America elected its first black president, and the streets were filled with revelers. The world changed. My world changed. I really wanted my shirt to change. But Allie needed me to stay by her side.
(Before I get too much credit or make too many women swoon while throwing their significant others significant shade, it is here that I am forced — by my wife — to admit that I would abandon her later for Thai food and frozen yogurt while not getting her the Chinese food she was so desperately craving.)
Penny was a big, beautiful, happy baby. We were starting to accept visitors and my buddy Jeff was one of the first. I begged him to pick up a shirt on the way, figuring he’d get me a $2 “I Love NY” shirt at a corner bodega or something completely cheesy and embarrassing. Because we’re friends and that’s what we do. I would have happily worn anything other than the sticky, stinky shirt I’d been nervously pacing and sweating in for nearly 3 days. The one he brought was a plain brick-colored tee from Old Navy. Nothing exciting, but also not goofy and embarrassing. And it fit well. I would wear it often in the years to come.
I used a shower in the maternity ward and changed. I felt like a new man. I was a new man. I was a dad. I held my baby wearing that shirt. I read her her first story in that shirt. She looked at me with her big, beautiful, knowing eyes. She cried and I comforted her. I cried and couldn’t believe what I’d help make. I swaddled and changed her. I lay down next to my wife, with Penny on her chest, just gazing at both of them. In awe. In that plain brick-colored t-shirt.
I haven’t worn it in a while. It’s just been sitting in my drawer, an occasional reminder of the most monumental day of my life.
I picked it up again yesterday, along with quite a few other T-shirts that I never wear anymore. At first, my wife was excited when I told her I was tossing some old clothes. She looked through the discarded garments to see if there was anything threadbare and soft she could use as pajamas. After initially agreeing with my decisions, she saw a baby blue shirt imprinted with a green palm tree that I’d bought for our honeymoon cruise. She started a pile of her own, telling me indignantly, You can’t throw this away. It’s special.
And then she saw that brick-colored shirt from Old Navy. She paused in disbelief. Don’t you know what THIS shirt is from!? Of course I do. How could I forget?
But it’s just a shirt. A shirt that is faded and stained with dried deodorant and baked-in sweat. A shirt that I will never wear again. A shirt that I don’t need to keep for the memories it contains, because one look in my little girl’s eyes and the memories are all there. It’s just a shirt.
But I haven’t thrown it out yet.
A version of this first appeared on Amateur Idiot/Professional Dad.