|Image by Freedom II Andres|
They were a pair of Airwalk skate shoes he picked out at the start of his second grade school year. They were black, with a little orange and a little blue. Nothing special. On sale. Tristan treated them like garbage. He kicked them off when he got home, dragged them across the floor as he crawled around, jumped in puddles, filled them with dirt, and he kicked everything from his lunch box to brick walls. Six months into having them the sole was drifting from the shoe, giving his right foot a mouth that flapped as he ran across the yard. Sometimes he sat on the front step and tugged at the flap, pretending it was an old friend, the two chatting about farts and boogers. One shoelace was unraveling, and they smelled like feet and dog crap.
“Tristan,” I said. “You’ve got to get rid of these. They make you look like a hobo.”
I’d been referring to them as his “hobo shoes” for weeks, thinking that I might be able to shame him into not wearing them. That was until he looked up at me with blue eyes, his crappy beat up shoes on his feet, shirt a little to big and askew, shorts too tight, and said, “What’s a hobo?”
I thought for a moment about what I’d just said and wondered what I was teaching him. I didn’t want him to feel superior to others, I just wanted him to get rid of his ugly ass shoes. I’d bought him new shoes a good two months earlier. Shoes he’d picked out. But he refused to wear them, choosing his beat up shoes, and I couldn’t tell if it was because of comfort, or pride, or if it was because he wanted to humiliate me. Every time we stepped outside, everywhere he went in those shoes, I felt like people were looking at him and thinking, “His parents just don’t care.” But I did care. I cared enough to wrestle him into the tub each night and hassle him into changing his underwear and socks, tell him to stop eating his boogers and to wipe his butt as though he cared, and all the other battles that happened because little boys are gross. But most of that wasn’t easily visible as we walked through the mall like these shoes were, and I hated it.
Tristan was waiting for me to tell him what a hobo was. “It’s a person that wears really crappy shoes. I don’t want you to be that person.”
He thought about what I wanted. He thought about my definition. The he shrugged and said, “I could be a hobo.”
Then he went outside to play and I realized I had no idea what I was doing.
I followed him out. I told him how I found his shoes embarrassing. “You make me look like I don’t care about you. Is that what you want? To make your dad look bad? Do you want people to think I don’t care about you?”
Tristan gave me a confused face, brows a little furrowed, like I was taking this whole shoe thing way too seriously. “I know that you care,” he said.
“But what about other people?” I said.
“I don’t really like other people.”
We went back and forth for a while. I tried to help him see how badly I wanted people to see that I was a good father that cared for my children. I listed things like clean clothing and smiling faces, and as I spoke, I seemed to be describing some perfect Facebook family. Those people that only post their kids in new clothing, doing cute clean things, and always have a status about A+ report cards and other showboating shit that is intended to make them look good without letting people know how gritty real life with kids can be. When I think back on this moment, I realize that I was being really superficial and that most of this argument was about me and not him. Before kids, I never really cared what other people thought, but now I seem to worry about it a lot. Parents are some of the most judgmental people I’ve ever met, and somehow, during my 8 years as a father, I’d fallen into that.
That night, after Tristan went to bed, I took his crappy shoes out to the dumpster. I thought I was being smart, so I told my wife, Mel, about it. We were in the kitchen. I was working on the dishes; she was at the table studying for a final exam. Both of us were in our pajamas.
“I put Tristan’s crappy shoes in the dumpster,” I smiled and winked and assumed that she’d be all about it. Be happy that I’d solved the problem.
Mel looked up from her laptop and said,” Why did you do that?”
“Because they are embarrassing. I’m tired of him making us look like we don’t care about him.”
“Why are you so worried about what other people think,” she said. “He really loves those shoes. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. He’s probably going to flip out once he discovers what you did, and I’m going to have to deal with that.”
“He’ll get over it,” I said.
We were starting to get heated over these shoes, which was something I never expected. I assumed that she’d be happy, but here I was being the criminal.
“I just don’t think that it matters,” she said. “I don’t like the shoes either, but he does. He’s becoming independent, and I don’t want to squash that. And I don’t want him to find us too controlling or he isn’t going to respect us.”
And as we spoke, I thought about when I was in high school. I had long hair. My grandmother, a woman who raised a family during the 60s, raised me. She hated my hair and often called me a hippie dippy dumbass. One night I woke up to her leaning over me with a pair of scissors. When I asked her what she was doing she said, “I just hate your hair so much. It makes you look like a damn hippie. It’s embarrassing.”
What she said made me even more determined to have long hair. And as a father, her tone reminded me a lot of how I was speaking to Tristan about his shoes.
“We need a compromise,” Mel said.
“Yeah,” I said. “You’re right.”
I went out to the dumpster and fetched the shoes. Mel put them on a top shelf in the garage, and the next day, Mel told Tristan about me throwing them away and how she saved them. Then she told him that he could only wear the shoes around the house.
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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.
Photo by Lucinda Higley