« Daddy's Shoes »

Once upon a time, they were the shoes of the mighty. They were the shoes of the man who could bend steel with his bare hands, or who could build things out of nothing but parts. They were the shoes that the boy could not hope to fill—or so it seemed. To put them on and walk around was comedy for adults, and recreation for him. It was absurd to behold a child in his father’s shoes. The small feet did not reach far enough in either dimension, and the idea that they ever would was folly, and a far off concern, if it were ever to be one. At that time, it was laughable that the little boy would fill those shoes, and so the adults gave themselves leave to do just that—laugh.

Some time later when the boy was more than a child and less than an adult the shoes were not as big as they once seemed, for the boy was not as small as he once was. His feet had grown like the rest of him, and he began to understand the world from his own experience. The shoes that seemed so big were smaller now, and the style was now understood to be a thing of yesterday. As a youth, there was no yesterday; there was only today and tomorrow but even tomorrow was not as important as the present. But as a teen, the passage of time began to complicate things. The experiences of today could be measured against those from yesterday. The childlike ways were slowly shunned and regarded with a sort of contempt that would have been unimaginable just years before. To be childlike was not funny anymore, but to that point, it was all the boy ever knew. Shoes that once represented unfettered delight and joy took on new meaning. They represented both a lost paradise and an unfulfilled goal that seemed to get further and further away because the adults, wanting to retain the earlier superior-inferior relationship, kept moving the goal posts. The shoes now represented uncertainty, and in a response to uncertainty, they elicited fear and insecurity. They were yesterday’s fashion, not suitable for today’s sensibilities. It was inevitable that they would wear out, someday.

Eventually, the shoes that once delighted the boy and then confused the young man were found to be not a device to bring simple fun or even as a way of understanding and measuring one experience against another. As an adult the shoes became seen as weapons which unambiguously were filled by the father and served as a protection upon those upon whom he trod. Only a slow realization taking years and years revealed this to the young man (now as old as his father was at the start of his life). The young man was conflicted at this business of seeing those shoes put to such use as to degrade people. This didn’t harmonize with what he had known before when it all seemed fun and games. But it was hard to ignore what he was seeing happen before his eyes. Who knows what used to happen when father put on his shoes and went out into the world? What did he do at work? What did he do among others in his various circles? What did it mean when father talked to mother like that? Those questions used to have no clear answers but the answers were coming into focus as the young man began to understand the world more from his own experience.

It isn’t something one hopes to see, nor is it something one can make sense of, seeing a hero in decline, but that is what was happening as time passed and the world of wonder and simple joy gave way to the rational complexity of adult life, rife with the drama of adults who seek to control others and wrap such behavior in layers of righteousness to cover up the hurts that are unbearable to deal with honestly. And so it was that daddy’s shoes became seen as the boots that walked over people. Maybe it was this way all along, but the ignorance was—as they say—bliss. If this was always the case, it undermined the whole thing; anything could be called into question now. Why did it seem the ground itself fell out from under this whole enterprise? What did it mean that the adults laughed at the awkwardness of the boy? Was that to be understood as another way of trodding upon another even while the boy—the lesser figure in this exchange—wore the literal shoes?

And why must shoes be used in this way? That is the question that began to form in the young man’s mind, and eventually he found the courage to ask it straight of his father. The answers were not satisfying, and added more confusion to the whole matter. In fact, they seemed disingenuous and spiteful. With each passing word, the man that once was a man of steel-shaping power seemed pitiful and small. Whatever heroic aspects he once had, he was losing with every explanation of how trampling upon people was a necessary and good thing. The shoes were getting old and worn out and most people would have thrown them away. Not only were they yesterday’s style, but they were outdated in their ability to perform the role they once had. They were ugly and seemed smaller now too—too small in fact for the younger man, but he was past trying to fit into them. They seemed like they could hardly carry a man safely to his destination. The fun and folly had gone out of them years ago. Now all that was left was a pitiful reminder of how one can stop growing and fall into spiritual entropy. What does it matter where the shoes have walked if they have walked over people for all the years of the young man’s life? How great is the man who can claim he climbed over people to make himself feel great? How can a hero be mighty by counting these as his victories? It is said you can’t judge a person until you walk a mile in his shoes. But over what ground does that mile span? Is that mile the trail of broken relationships that span a lifetime, until even the son himself was the most recent bump in the road on that lifelong march?

People have all sorts of ways of walking the road of life. There is the option of going barefoot and treading lightly upon the ground. Some know when it's time to let others help when the going gets rough. Some are content to tread upon others to get where they are going while others are would rather enjoy the company of others along the journey.

The young man isn’t so intent on filling daddy’s shoes anymore except maybe with lead blocks or concrete so that they can be thrown to the bottom of the sea where they can do no more harm. The fun went out of them long ago and they never were something to wear into public. There are too many other shoes that can be worn that are more comfortable, and not stained and worn from the emotional bloodshed resulting from the dubious walks these shoes have taken.

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