I never gave much thought to the common denominators that connect my dad to me until one night at a diner when, with a grunt, he pulled out his wallet.
Not all the genetic markers passed down from parent to child are obvious. We accept that there are biological blueprints for anger, obsession, intelligence, and creativity – but I believe they also exist for bargain-hunting, waiting room patience, navigational awareness, auto maintenance, basketball dribbling, backwards roller skating, IKEA assembly competence, and monkey bar fearlessness.
These traits and dysfunctions may lay dormant for decades, unnoticed, until an older relative watching you suddenly remarks: “Your father used to do that all the time,” sometimes followed by, “until I beat it out of him.”
I never gave much thought to the common denominators that connect my father to me until one night at a diner when, with a grunt, he pulled out his wallet.
And there it was – the damning evidence: I had inherited my dad’s wallet.
Once upon a time, my wallet was thin, containing little more than a driver’s license, a credit card, and a few dollars. Now, my wallet is just like my father’s: a back-pocket shoebox stuffed to the gills with expired newspaper coupons, restaurant receipts, gift cards, discount cards, credit cards, business cards, train passes, subway passes, and scraps of paper with little or fleeting value. It now contains more items with expiration dates than my refrigerator does.
Its girth creates an uncomfortable bulge in my front pocket. (A note to my southern friends: When you commute via New York City subway, wallets don’t sit in the back seat – they ride shotgun.) But even stuffed like a potato, my wallet comfortably fits, folds, and serves its uniquely masculine need.
If you’re like me, you’ll only accept a particular kind of wallet. Mine is a black tri-fold with at least one clear window and a double billfold, so I can ideally separate my coupons from my receipts. But in reality, it’s total chaos in there. Even my cash – a wallet’s most valuable occupant – shrinks and hides from the rest.
When I was a kid, my dad’s wallet didn’t strike me as the portable flea market it is. Like a magician’s hat, that wallet held mystical power – specifically, the ability to produce a tiny discount for almost every air-conditioned adventure. Questions like “Should we eat out?” and “Should we buy this?” were not answered with yes or no, but “I have a coupon!”
I like the idea of my kids one day judging my bulging billfold with such awe and reverence, but I’ll settle for them simply recognizing the value of money. Now they see my wallet only as a portable ATM and bill-paying device.
Yes, it’s a sad thing when you have to hold your wallet as you do a cheeseburger, but whenever I want an excuse for eating out or indulging a consumer fantasy, chances are good something living deep within its folds will show me the way – as if Dad was guiding me there himself.
Photo credit: Flickr/Svante Adermark