I showed up late to my seven-year-old’s soccer practice, and Tristan didn’t have any shoes on. He ran across the soccer field in nothing but white socks on his feet that held grass stains along the bottom, and said, “Hey, daddy. I need my cleats.”
My wife, Mel, and our two daughters, Norah and Aspen, were already there. I was coming straight from work. Moments earlier, Mel had called and asked if Tristan’s cleats were in the car, and I told her that I was driving, but couldn’t see them. Somehow Mel interpreted this to mean that the cleats were in my car, but I couldn’t see them. So she brought Tristan to practice with no shoes, assuming that I would bring his shoes. Long story short, I got there late, there was only ten minutes left in the practice once I pulled in, to find Tristan shoeless and running around while his teammates practiced.
This embarrassed the hell out of me. Now keep in mind that I am not easily embarrassed. Those of you who read my blog understand that I regularly write about embarrassing moments. Shamelessly. But for some reason, seeing my son run around his soccer practice gave me a red face, and at the time, I really didn’t understand why.
Mel was next to our van, sitting on a folding camp chair, baby Aspen in her lap. Norah, our five-year-old, was dancing next to her. Tristan ran back to watch his team mates. Everyone in the family seemed to be fine with the fact that Tristan wasn’t wearing any shoes. Everyone but me.
“Why didn’t you bring his regular shoes?” I asked. “He could've played in those.”
“I assumed that you were coming with the cleats. We were running late, so I just didn’t worry about it.”
We went back and forth. I explained to her that I said I didn’t have the shoes, and she said that she thought I was saying that I simply couldn’t see them, but they were there. I wanted to get mad about all this. I wanted to tell her how this made us look bad. It made us look unorganized. It made me feel like people looked at our shoeless son and assumed we were bad parents who didn’t care enough to make sure our children have shoes on their feet. I thought about the kids I sometimes see in shopping centers, running around in only socks, and the snap judgments I make about those parents, and assumed that Tristan’s coach and the other kids’ parents were thinking that about us.
When in fact, we weren’t bad parents. Or at least I didn’t think we were, and in some ways, it felt like I was being falsely accused of some crime. However, no one was accusing me of anything. I was accusing myself. So much of parenting comes down to these moments where one gear never rolled because of this or that, and suddenly a chain reaction is set in motion, and you find yourself really embarrassed because your kid attended soccer practice with no shoes.
I wanted to get mad about all this. I wanted to get mad at Mel, or Tristan. I wanted to get mad at myself.
“This makes us look really bad,” I said.
Mel looked up at me, confused. “Really? No, it doesn’t. He needs to learn to put his stuff back where it belongs. If anyone looks bad, it’s Tristan.”
I didn’t get her logic at all. Mel was trying to turn this into a life lesson for Tristan, but as I watched him run around in the grass, smiling and laughing, while his teammates worked through drills, I assumed that he wasn’t learning a thing, but rather having the time of his life.
“I’m not going to fight with you about this,” I said. “I just want you to know that I’m embarrassed.”
We left practice. Mel took the baby and went to the store. I took Tristan and Norah back home for a bath. And as I drove home, I lectured Tristan. I told him how important it was to put things back where they belong. How he needed to be more responsible. I even said, “You made me look like a bad father. Is that what you wanted? Is that what you think? That I’m a bad dad?”
He didn’t answer.
It was the same lecture I’d heard a million times from my parents. The funny thing is, this lesson of making sure that things go back where they belong, I never really learned myself. I’m constantly losing my key, or searching the house for my wallet or cellphone. And when I was a kid, I never understood why my parents were so pissed that I’d lost something. And as I lectured Tristan, I could tell that he felt the same way.
And once we pulled into the driveway, I realized something. Most of my embarrassment was based on the simple fact that I often judge other parents. I often look at kids running around a store, shoeless, and make a snap judgment about that person’s parenting. Most of my emotions were based on the assumption that other people must judge my parenting, too. What happened with Tristan’s shoes just happened. It wasn’t intentional. A bunch of organic events came together to make it happen, yet, to an outside parent, one like myself, it might appear that we just don’t care enough about our kids to make sure they have shoes on. I didn’t want to be that parent. It felt like I was part of some parenting trap that I’d fed into without knowing it.
So much of how I was feeling had nothing to do with Tristan, and everything with how I assumed people perceived me.
Once parked in the driveway, Norah ran into the house, and Tristan sat there looking at the ground. I sat in the driver’s seat with one hand on the wheel. After a few moments of silence, I said, “Tristan. I’m sorry for getting mad. I just want you to be the best Tristan you can be. And you can’t be the best Tristan without any shoes. I love you. Go inside and find your soccer cleats. I’ll help you. Then let’s put them where they belong. Cool?”
“Cool,” he said.
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.