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Clothed in My Father's Old Coat

I have a black wool overcoat. It's not what one would consider stylish, at least not nowadays. It was my father's coat, and it's the only material possession I have of his.

When he passed away, there was not much he could leave to his wife and children. There were no acquisitions procured over the years, no investments coming home to roost, and no rainy-day savings. My father worked one day at a time, always bringing home enough to pay a bill, to put food on the table, and to clothe us all. But there was little left over.

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My mother inherited a small pension and an even smaller savings account.

My father didn't leave this earth a wealthy man, it's true, but he also didn't believe in handing wealth and gain to people. What he left us was the world to make our own way in, to fend for ourselves. That way, he believed, we'd give more to the world and earn our place in it.

I didn't know about the coat; indeed, I barely remembered my father wearing it. After his funeral service in London, my mother gave me a large parcel, wrapped in that old-fashioned brown paper that was the hallmark of stores before shrink-wrapping and plastic bags. Upon my return to Boston, I found the coat inside.

My father purchased this coat in 1957. The years hardly show. Inside, a label in old-English script informs me that it is ''All Pure Wool Made by Strachan & Co. Ltd. of Stroud, Glos.'' In finer print, it says that the company was ''Established in the Coaching Days.''

It is, to use fashion vernacular, a ''fine'' coat, stitched well, and woven closely. My father chose his clothes the way he chose everything else: For quality, endurance, and good sustenance. Don't look for bargains, he would say. Choose a good product -- well made, something that will last, something that won't fall apart, even with a little misuse or overuse.

My father spent a good deal of time cultivating his sense of discrimination and insisting on, if possible, a guarantee. I believe this was his philosophy, not just with his clothing, but also with his work, his marriage, and the raising of his children. Certainly, if that is true, it shows in this coat.

It is said that man is the only creature that wears clothes, or needs to. That ''clothes maketh the man'' is seen as a civilizing characteristic, something that decrees men higher than animals.

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I still wear my father's coat. People remark on the style, the excellent herringbone weave, and the superior stitching.

My mind goes back to another coat, given by a father to a son. The gift prompted Joseph's brothers to cast him out, using the coat to aggrieve their father, who might have had regrets that he ever gave his son that coat.

My father need not have been concerned that his coat would bring anything but joy and delight to the man who has inherited it.

He and I are both together inside this coat, and the warmth that I feel when out in the winter's chill is much more than the physical comfort it offers.

It is the warmth of a man who knew a good thing when he saw it and passed that quality, among many others, to his son.

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