Do you try to be like your father?

Leonard and Thais Graff in Paris, 1960

Every month I get an emailed catalog from DelMonico Hatter, promoting their stylish hats — Borsalino, Stetson, Kangol — the best brands. Ernest DelMonico, who runs the firm, is a third generation hatter from New Haven, Connecticut, and his merchandise is first rate. I once bought a black Kangol cap from them to go with my navy and tan ones. Frankly, I rarely wear a hat. Only when I dress up and put on the navy cashmere topcoat I bought twenty years ago do I wear a Kangol. I’m a hood or baseball cap guy.

But I do love DelMonico’s hats. He was featuring a Homburg last Sunday, trying to capitalize on the opening of the new Great Gatsby film set in the Roaring Twenties.

I could never wear a Homburg hat. Too David Niven or Walter Pigeon, but I was fascinated by the catalog photos of the hat with the details about the materials and design specs, down to the brim size and choice of bands and feathers.

I love the idea of Homburgs, fedoras and panamas. I just don’t like wearing those things on my head.

Harrison Ford, as Indiana Jones, could pull it off. How I’ve wanted to wear one of those bruised, brown fedoras like Indy and outfox the Nazis. But could anybody really wear one like Dr. Jones? When I try to imagine myself as the fearless archaeologist with the sweaty brown fedora, I end up seeing myself as Yosemite Sam, the three foot tall Bugs Bunny character with the four foot hat covering everything but his mustache.

I was visiting friends recently in Austin, Texas. My wife Risa and I made the mandatory stop for Western wear at Allen’s Boots. Risa bought a pair of cowboy boots. It’s what a Chicago lady does in Austin. Damn, I wanted a Stetson. I tried several on. Beautiful hats, soft brim, silk lining. Looked ridiculous on me. It would have resided forever in my closet.

Where did this gut fascination and rational rejection of hats come from?

It’s a father-son thing, I’m sure.

My Dad, Leonard Graff, could really wear a hat. He rarely left the house without one. He owned several fedoras — the real fur felt articles. On his one and only trip to Europe in 1960 he went to the temple of hats, the Borsalino factory in Alessandria, Italy. He brought a beret home for me and I cherished it. My father even had a Homburg for formal occasions and a pork pie for light ones.

At 6’6″ tall with a made-to-order suit, Serge overcoat and a navy Borsalino fedora, he was an imposing man. I wish I could wear a hat like him, but it’s just not me. My father had the big personality to go with his big frame.

He died in 1996, right around this time of year, and I think of him every day.

I love the idea of hats. I study them, I imagine them on my head, but I can’t wear a hat like my father did. They were him. They were Indiana Jones. And that’s okay.

At this point in my life, I’m happy to just be me.

Question: Do you try to be like your father?

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17 thoughts on “Do you try to be like your father?

  1. Pat

    MY father never attended college. He spent his early years working in a wire mill as a laborer. He consequently grew very strong. he used to win many beers at bars by betting he could do 10 one armed pushups. He did 11 in case they had too many beers already!! I have never tried to be that strong physically but think of him in that way when a question like yours is posed. In closing, if your father is still alive, Honor him on Fathers’ Day next month while you still have the chance!

  2. Ed

    Most of what I know today is a direct result of what my Dad taught me as a boy, I hope I do as well with my children. He was and still is a hard working man doing the best he can for his family and I try to be like him every day.

  3. Vicki

    Being female, the ways I can emulate my father is somewhat limited. I think that my dad is one of the most integrity-filled people I have ever met, and I definitely try to emulate him in that way. He used to manufacture jib cranes, and I pass one of his cranes every day on the way to work. I use this as a reminder to be the best person I can be.

  4. Rick

    The words to the song “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg (God rest his soul) always come to mind, when I try to compare myself to my father: “My life has been a poor attempt, to imitate the man…”. Talent wise, and in terms of patience, tolerance, and just plain niceness, he has me beat. He would argue that I am the greatest, but that is a father’s love coming through once again.

  5. Lucy Glib

    One wishes. My Dad is a true renaissance man — a teacher, a writer, a consultant, a clergy member! He plays drums, piano, guitar, he does calligraphy. He mixes any number of complex drinks. He builds fences — literally — and landscapes the yard in creative ways. I’m pretty sure I am forgetting something. And he does it all with a smile and while wearing bow ties (maybe not the landscaping part). I would be lucky to have 10% of his talent and skill. (Although the upside is that maybe I just wrote his Father’s Day card right here.)

    Also, Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran could rock a fedora in the early 80s:

  6. Bruce

    I have the pleasure to say that my father was truly the finest man I have ever met. Most of what I know I learned from him. It seemed there is nothing he didn’t know and nothing he couldn’t do well. But the most outstanding quality that he possessed was his integrity. He was kind to everyone and always….ALWAYS….put other’s needs, wants and feelings ahead of his own. Not just those of his family, employees or customers….but everyone he met. He set the bar very high and if I were able to reach half-way I would consider myself a success.

  7. John Bressoud

    I have met a lot of people, but my father is the man that I respect most. He has shown me how to live life, raise a family, make a living and love one woman. Now with his 90th birthday approaching and the deteriorating effects of pulmonary fibrosis he is teaching me one final lesson, how to die.

  8. Richard Rudy

    I doubt that I consciously attempt to emulate my father. I worked with him every day for fifteen years until he became too ill to work, and that experience taught me some about how not to do some things. At the same time, I have no doubt that who I am and what I think is, for better or worse, powerfully influenced by him, his work ethic and his life philosophy. Mom had at least as much, probably more, impact.

    Apply all the lessons you were taught, or learned, from your Dad, serene in the knowledge that your sons will think that half of what you did was wrong anyway. They’ll get their turn in the batter’s box.

    And to digress a bit, Lloyd: that you’re still thinking about that hat at Allen’s Boots ought to tell you that you should have bought it. Trust your Austin friend – nobody looks stupid in a fine Stetson, and life is too short not to try new things.

  9. Noah Graff

    In many aspects of my life I do aspire to live up to my dad’s achievements. He seems to have led a great life so far. A great family, business success, and he’s just an interesting, quirky, fun, creative person, and often brilliant. I think I have some of these qualities in common with him but definitely in my own way. But we both appreciate each others weirdness and eccentricities–for the most part. We both have unique strengths and weaknesses, so it is easy to make my own unique approach. He’s also one of the kindest people I know, and very encouraging of me. And because of all these things I consider myself very lucky to get to work with him every day. Fortunately we generally come to a consensus in business issues. Definitely something not to take for granted.

    In summary: Good guy to emulate. Although he usually looks respectable, sometimes his fashion sense leaves something to be desired–as he mentioned in the piece.

    One example: Playing in our softball league in socks that have stirrups painted on them. What was he thinking!

  10. Lloyd

    Being a Dad has been the most rewarding part if my life. I have three remarkable children who continually inspire me and teach me about how to live. My daughter Sarah is a mother, wife, and Rabbi in Palo Alto. My son Ari is a psychologist at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and does private Neuroscience evaluations. My son Noah works with me at Graff Pinkert and is my primary editor at TMW. He is an absolute joy to work with, but has no idea about proper shirt length. They are always escaping his pants. Can’t he buy longer shirts?

    I attribute much of my children’s success to my wonderful, sexy, workaholic wife Risa, love of my life.

  11. John "Jack" Frost

    If my dad were alive he would be 128 years old and my mother slightly younger. I was one of nine children who were thought self reliance and independence. In town if we wanted to play baseball he showed us at early ages how to manage a spade and a roller to builtd the field we wanted. We didn’t do a very good job but we played ball. When we were out at the farm we arranged the cow pads as bases, always with the warning, don’t slide into the base. When I was twelve and he was superintendent of construction of the masonry for the cornell Medical center, he hand me a sheaf of blue prints with the instructions of the bricklaying norms of 1200 common brick per eight hours or 800 face brick and challenged me to calculate the number of brick by type in the main building and the number of manhours to complete the job. When I was finished, he checked my figures, gave me a pat on the back and then said, now do your homework. Mother on the other hand was a brilliant home maker and we didn’t lack for those skill either. I was a home of love. We kissed our parents every day. Today at -93 I have three loving daughters and three loving grand children. All of them exhibiting independence and care. BTW speaking of hats, they became passe during the JFK era and never recovered,but if you want a great hat or cap, stop by John Locke’s in Pell Mell London.

  12. Lloyd

    John “Jack” Frost, I love your posts. We are really lucky that you found this blog and choose to participate with frequency and lucidity. What a wonderful story about your father making you calculate the bricks laid at Cornell. Please keep reading and telling us your stories. Lloyd

  13. Matt Klecka

    As a young boy, I would have told you my heroes were countless NHL stars like Mario Lemieux or Wayne Gretzky that I watched on television and dreamed of emulating. As I grew up from boy to young man, I inevitably realized my hero wasn’t the hockey superstar on-screen, but actually the man sitting next to me watching those games throughout the years after putting in long work hours, countless travel, and successfully raising my 2 sisters and I.

    As I prepare to welcome my first child into the world in July, I’m a little nervous I admit, but I always find myself comforted when I think of the notion of how I had such an excellent teacher throughout the years in how to be a tremendous father. In my eyes, he truly is without peer. It’s an honor to now work beside him everyday in the office – his lessons continue to me both in business and in life. Thanks Dad! ABC!

  14. Betty

    My dad has left his mark on his six children and taught us to be honest, hard working and to put family first. He took a daily shot of “Spiritus” after putting in a long day at the factory and settling in to his chores around the house and now that he is approaching his 88th birthday that may have contributed to his longevity and overall good health (and good spirits). He was patient and kind and although he was of small stature he had a look that he gave us if we were pushing too hard or being too rambunctious and it would be all we would need to quickly get us back on track.
    I will always remember the fairy tales he would tell me when I was little because my mom worked second shift and he was responsible for making sure we ate and went to bed on time. His gentle and tender side was evident from time to time although he worked two jobs at times to provide for all of us and must have been tired and stressed, I’m guessing.
    Being a female, I guess I don’t try to be like my dad but I found my life long love who has many of the same qualities of my dad. Just substitute a glass of red wine for the Spiritus.
    How fortunate we are if we had the benefit of good role models at home and can provide that for our children and grandchildren.
    Lloyd, I love how you write about your wife and let everyone know how much you love her. It’s beautiful!!

  15. Peter Frow

    Hi Lloyd,
    I always enjoy reading about the life and times of the Graffs. Thanks for being so transparent. I hope to meet you sometime but in the meantime a family pic would be nice,

    Peter Frow
    South Africa


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