jen groeber: mama art

4 kids in 3 years: reflections on motherhood, art and life.

Father’s Day and the White Undershirt

I woke yesterday morning to the mystical, warm smell of my husband ‘s white undershirt. I was half-asleep and he was half-asleep, and I curled up against him, my head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat.

“Happy Fatheth’s Thay,” I mumbled through the stinking plastic of the mouthpiece I wear at night to keep from grinding my old-lady teeth. He pulled me nearer and we listened to the padding feet of our youngest as she walked across the hall from the kids’ bedroom to ours.

Father's Day morning  June 2015

Father’s Day morning
June 2015

I couldn’t help but think of my father, who wore almost those same exact white crew neck undershirts my husband now wears. I distinctly remember curling up on my father’s chest, absolutely bathed in the dull thumping of his heart as he watched Patton or MASH. I was maybe five, the same age as our youngest. I remember offering to refresh my father’s martini or get him a chocolate chip cookie, and then returning to my splayed perch on his mid-section, ear pressed to his heart.

Jennie and Dad  c. 1976

Jennie and Dad

I’ve been thinking of making a  woodcut- a man’s white undershirt with two tiny preemie onesies spread across it. It’s been on my mind for years, an ode to fatherhood, a neutral illustration of my husband’s adoration for our children, even in the face of such inexplicable challenges as two spindly preemies like our twins once were.

With every new birth, each crusted, slimy, mewling birthling, my husband swelled up with such father-love, such ridiculously delicious father-pride, that it would leave you awestruck. With each fresh newborn, my husband could be found napping on a couch or bed, cuddling an infant on that same white undershirt. Like my father once did, no matter the strange new baby my mother presented him with, no matter the failing health or worries or pain.

My father wore those undershirts around the house even after he became ill. Especially after he was ill… for eighteen years my Dad wore those undershirts, over tubes and scars, under flannel shirts and heavy quilts attempting to keep his ailing body warm. My father wore those white undershirts under the dress shirts he wore every day when he dragged himself to work and finally to my college graduation and my sister’s weddings. Even as he lamented the fact that he knew he wouldn’t be around for my wedding, just a few years later.

These two fathers who never once met, wearing their parallel universe undershirts, cradling the blonde-haired, blue-eyed DNA-related offspring that filled their beating hearts, it’s enough to make a wife and daughter sigh. Ah, those white men’s undershirts. Such sweet timeless memories.

And so yesterday morning my daughter crawled into our bed, book in hand, with her feet curled on my husband’s white-shirt-clad belly.

After a breakfast of omelets and bacon we all painted the addition to the shed my husband was so excited about.

Ah, those white men's undershirts. Such sweet timeless memories

Father’s Day, painting the shed
June 2015

All the kids were excited to be right there, a part of his happy Father’s Day. By the end of it all they were ready for outdoor showers and scrubbing from Dada in his paint-stained white undershirt.


Outdoor showers
June 2015

We went for a long walk, ate filet mignon with our fingers for lunch, fed the kids banana and peanut butter sandwiches for dinner.

And later in the evening, my husband and I returned to the shed to finish painting the ceiling, laughing as we screamed the words to 80’s Billboard Hits, high on paint fumes, mojitos and joy. The kids lay in the far reaches of the shed watching a movie on the iPad, curled up on a blanket in their pajamas, propped up on elbows, shoulder to shoulder, toes intertwined.

We celebrated our own hail and hearty Father’s Day, rife with laughter and whining and a paint-stained white undershirt.

14 comments on “Father’s Day and the White Undershirt

  1. kellylmckenzie
    June 23, 2015

    Now this is a refreshing Father’s Day post! A nod to the white undershirt. My dad wore them too. Every day. Regardless of the temperature. Grinned as I read how you spent Father’s Day. My father would have approved. He wasn’t one for “commercial excess.” Slapping paint on shed walls and the ceiling would have been his idea of heaven.

    • jgroeber
      June 30, 2015

      Ha! Love those white men’s undershirts. Such a classic memory-maker. And we were still painting that shed today. Sounds like my husband got a Father’s Day dance remix. Talk about just typical…
      Hope you and your glorious Mom had a chance to share a chuckle at excess-free Father’s Days past!

  2. Carol Barrel
    June 23, 2015

    Fabulous Fathers” Day tribute, Jen! Thank you from the mother of one of the fathers in your story. It sounds like you all had an amazing day, and you know your father loved watching it and reading the story! Lots of Love, always. xoxoxoxoxoxoxo

    • jgroeber
      June 30, 2015

      Thank you for helping to create the beautiful father my brood depends on. xoxox

  3. Dawn Quyle Landau
    July 1, 2015

    Glorious. Simply that. xoxo

    • jgroeber
      July 10, 2015

      Aw, thank you for this, busy blogging Mama.

      • Dawn Quyle Landau
        July 11, 2015

        Not too busy for a visit… but yes, too many balls in the air for sure!

  4. cayleaalexus
    July 6, 2015

    Nice father’s day celebration 🙂 All your kids really took their initiative to paint. 🙂 And also your father must be too comfortable with that undershirt. He seems to be nice and simple based on your story. You do have an awesome family:)

    • jgroeber
      July 10, 2015

      Thank you for the sweet comment. And yes, my father was very comfortable in his favorite white crewneck undershirt. My husband, too. It was such s surprising connection for me Father’s Day morning, to make link of one man to the other.

  5. drawandshoot
    July 8, 2015

    Oh yes, perhaps the white undershirt is almost universal in this same way although I’ve not really thought about it the way you have. My father too…

    And I think that my partner has never looked more handsome than he does in a white v-neck undershirt and a pair of jeans.
    : )

    • jgroeber
      July 10, 2015

      Love that. Our fathers in those same white shirts. It’s a universal language.
      Sounds like your partner wears it in a sassier, saucier fashion… as it should be. 😉
      Thanks do much for dropping by. Looking forward to your next gorgeous post, as always!

  6. Burns the Fire
    August 1, 2015

    Oh, how did I miss this lush life? Just read, two times in a row. I stole my Dad’s undershirts for years, and after he died, took all the ones left in his drawer, and wear one to bed most nights.

    Do the woodcut, please, Jen. xo

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This entry was posted on June 22, 2015 by in Memory, The Children and tagged , , , , .

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