Filling his shoes

Here's to parents everywhere. May it be the best job you ever have.

Filling his shoes
Capital Thinking | To my son

Capital Thinking • Issue #1195 • View online

Cole Schafer is a writer based in Tennessee. And although the web is full of advice on nearly everything - from buying a car to preparing a gourmet meal - this may just be some of the best words written about becoming a parent.

The late Robin Williams used to say that he often dreamed about his children's future. In his favorite dream, his child stood in front of a wildly applauding crowd while graciously accepting the Nobel Peace prize.

Then, there was the other dream. The one where his child asked only a simple question and waited breathlessly for the answer: "Do you want fries with this?"

I like Cole's list. Maybe you will too.

To My Son

By Cole Schafer:

Today, I'm thinking about my father's shoes.

I remember being young and needing to run outside to retrieve something––be it a trunk full of groceries, a Crayola-colored Gamebody wedged somewhere in the many armpits of my mother's Honda Odyssey or some suddenly remembered toy from the past, collecting dust in the depths of my parent's garage––and, for whatever reason, deciding that my own shoes wouldn't do.

And so I would slip on my father's enormous size 13s and I would hustle out the door like a scuba diver who had suddenly found himself beached in Southern Indiana a thousand miles from sea.

As my little feet slid inside their vast caverns like a drunken passenger aboard a topsy-turvy ocean liner––my feet just big enough to keep my father's shoes level until the next footfall––I recall feeling daunted at the possibility of ever filling them.

While gravity and time have since knocked him down a half-inch or two, my father stands a towering 6 feet 4 inches tall and, in his hay day, was the best athlete anyone knew.

If you raced him on a track––be it the 400 meters, the 200 meters, the hurdles, the high jump or the long jump––you'd end up with a mouthful of dust.

If you were brave enough to face him on the basketball court––the sport he'd eventually earn a Division I scholarship in––he'd kick your ass and toss in a tomahawk or two for good measure.

If you gave him a tennis racket or a golf club or a pool stick, he'd take your money.

And I once heard a story from an ancient-looking high school umpire older than the Liberty Bell with a nose like a brick of pumice tell me that the greatest play he had ever seen in baseball was by my father who––and he swore by this––physically flew through the air to grab a ball out of the sky hit left of center.

My father's towering height and the larger-than-life legends that surrounded him in Southern Indiana left me looking up to him both literally and figuratively. But, it also cast an expansive shadow that, at times, felt difficult to step out from long enough to cast a shadow of my own.

I remember the year after I quit basketball––due to a college coach whose verbal and psychological abuse all but broke me––my father and I found ourselves speaking different languages.

The two of us had always connected through sports––particularly basketball––and with the game no longer the centerpiece of our relationship, it felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to the chandelier.

I didn't recognize it at the time but this space––though space is a strong word because it wasn't, by any means, a falling out––was what I needed to slowly fill in the shape I was meant to embody all along and, ultimately, take my father and I's relationship to a deeper, rawer, more honest level that would transcend sports.

Still to this day, I couldn't wear my father's shoes with two pairs of wool socks and a high-sodium diet. But, I suppose growing up and becoming a man––my own man––is realizing that my father's shoes were never mine to fill.

I'm twenty-nine years old today. I'm the very same age that my father––the best goddamn dad in the entire world––had me twenty-nine years ago.

If I ever have a son of my own, here are a few things I would want him to know going into his 29th year...

  1. Try to be kind even when it hurts (especially when it hurts).
  2. If you play stupid games, don't be surprised when you win stupid prizes.
  3. Love anyone you want––man or woman––just love them hard, with all your heart.
  4. If #3 ends in smoke, remember that nothing good gets away.
  5. When your finances allow it, pick up the tab.
  6. Deprive yourself some of the things you want but don't need.
  7. Learn to hold yourself so that you don't grow cold holding others.
  8. Rich people want to be cool. Cool people want to be rich. So, just be happy.
  9. If you can't have dinner with someone of contrasting views, you have work to do.
  10. Schedule a standing monthly meeting with a good therapist.
  11. Exercise for a little while each day.
  12. Don't seek to be political but logical.
  13. Learn to defend yourself and the ones you love.
  14. Avoid dick-swinging contests.
  15. Masculinity takes many forms: Jordan, Bowie, Mercury and Eastwood.
  16. "Being a man" is simply being completely and authentically yourself.
  17. Make every person you talk to feel like the most important person in the room.
  18. There are not gods among men: respect everyone, idolize no one.
  19. Show as much interest in the doorman as you do the frontman.
  20. Enjoy the ride but don't miss your oil changes; you get just one body and one mind.
  21. Anger feels good now but hurts later––bite your tongue.
  22. Know when to sleep in and when to rise early.
  23. Love isn't a fairytale––if it's hell in the beginning, it won't miraculously get better.
  24. Don't involve yourself with anyone you wouldn't want your son to be involved with.
  25. Devour as much art, literature and music as you can get your hands on.
  26. Live a life you would want to read a biography about.
  27. Find God (I've always preferred planes over churches).
  28. Leave the world a little bit better than you found it.
  29. Fill your own shoes.

Finally––and perhaps most importantly––today I am feeling especially grateful for my mother who gave everything to give me and my two younger brothers the gift of life.

As a man, I will never be able to come anywhere close to comprehending this sacrifice of body, mind and spirit. If I were religious––at least in the traditional sense––I would compare the gift mothers give to their children to that of Christ.

One of my best friends, Ben Cake, once told me that the most important job he will ever do––a job forever more important than any book he could ever write––is to raise his two young boys into kind, thoughtful, caring adults.

So, here's to parents everywhere.

May it be the best job you ever have.

By Cole Schafer.

*Featured post photo by Ben White on Unsplash