When I was a kid there were only two men I thought could get away with smoking a pipe: Dennis the Menace’s dad and my dad. Most men tended (past tense because who really smokes a pipe anymore?) to look self consciously professorial with a meerschaum or whatever clinched in their teeth. But Dad could carry it off because he made it look offhand. It never looked as if he was trying to up his credibility with the pipe.
Dad has a certain confidence of style that always struck me unlikely, but encouraging, living nearly his whole life as he did in a small midwestern town. For his honeymoon trousseau, he had ordered two tailor-made suits, one chocolate brown and double breasted, the other powder blue and three buttoned (Mom had a skirted one to match). Later he had a mohair tuxedo and a white dinner jacket cut extra long in the style of the big band leaders he admired.
My parents were of that swinging, cocktail and dress-up generation. In photos from the first decade or so of their marriage they always appear so sophisticated and adult. I am now years older than they were then, but still feel a boy in short pants by comparison. Maybe we always feel that way next to our parents.
Dad quit smoking probably more than twenty years ago. With four children grown and gone, maybe he no longer had a need to bite down hard on something. I’ve never asked him, but he seemed to have given it up without much thought or effort. Maybe it was hard; as always, he made it look offhand.
– Martin Nelson, Marvin’s son