It has been said that no one can fill your father’s shoes. Now whoever said it I have no idea, and probably, they were very wise, and quote worthy, but nonetheless, their name has passed from existence, or at a very minimum, they are not Google-worthy. (Google-worthy – A highly technical term meaning “you so smart”) Now, it may be, that whoever first noted that you could not fill his or her father’s shoes, was simply speaking to a younger sibling about to pour mud, or juice, or green Jell-O into their daddy’s shoes, and the wiser older sibling simply didn’t want to be around when dad put his toes in the muck. However, I’ll grant that is more likely, that some profound thinker was simply trying to point out; there is no one like dad.
As a young, prolifically freckled, flat- chested, big- mouthed, red- haired teen, I was very familiar with a pair of shoes that my father often enjoyed wearing. This particular set of footwear would have been more accurately referred to as boots; brown, worn leather, thick and stable, with a solid sole and heel. Daddy’s motorcycle boots. Now before you get the wrong idea, please don’t think that I grew up under the tutelage of the Hell’s Angels, or ruing every weekend, pretending to cheer, as my aging child of a father took to the track to race moto-cross. No, my father was a business-man, the consummate corporate career professional, wearing the power tie of his day, and alternating classic colorless suits in monotones of grey, blue and the occasional brown. He was always appropriate, always on time, and careful to ensure that every red hair was perfectly in place.
By the time I had hit the “why am I not gorgeous and blonde like my older sister?!” years, my father’s career track had taken a turn. A decade of working full-time, followed by hitting the halls of higher education, rewarded him with the opportunity to take his hard earned executive experience, and adding the title of Dr. to the front of his name. Dad became a professor. This illustrious title change brought with it a new “uniform”, and because everyone who goes through the paces of becoming Dr.” I worked darn hard for this tittle” should be rewarded with a new and stylish ride, my father turned in his luxury vehicle for a motorcycle and a helmet. Well, truth be told, the my dad had always had bikes, but they were weekend toys, certainly not something that was used as transportation to and from the office, I mean that helmet plays havoc with the carefully cared for coif.
I really didn’t mind that dad had left the 70 hour weeks, and the “We’ll pretend to shove some family time in between the meetings” company picnics, for the more laid back pace as an intellectual imparter of knowledge. The dilemma for me was that the task of taking me to high school, often, fell to dad. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved my dad, more than I wanted to admit, but with that certain wary kind of love that a teenage girl has for her father. That sort of” please don’t hug me in public, how could you be so uncool, why are you still here?” kind of love. On the days when I came out of my room still fighting the curly locks at the nape of my neck, wishing I knew how to apply mascara, the last vision I wanted to see was dad’s brown leather boots jutting out from the legs of his well-fitted jeans. Knowing that at any moment I would have to put on a helmet, swing my short leg up over the back of that bike, and actually hold on to my father as he drove me to school brought terror to my weak high-school heart. It truly wasn’t the getting on the back of the bike trauma that made me sure I would never go to a single high school dance, no, it was pulling up directly in front of the school, arms still encased around my dad, jumping off the back and trying in one fell swoop to disengage myself, my helmet, and my once carefully feathered hair from the two-wheeled destroyer of my social life saga, that wrenched my fragile psyche.
Dad passed away some ten years ago, after wrestling with cancer for several years. Still, each day he got up, many days pulling on those sturdy boots, and headed for a group of students whom thought he was both cool, and worthy of his title. My father was a mentor and a devoted educator, gaining the respect of his students for his open door approach to teaching. He also was an open- hearted grandfather to my six children, who thought just a little “sit” on the top of their Papa’s motorcycle was the coolest, and a ride was like heaven itself. My father went home when my youngest son was almost seven. Even from his toddlerhood my son had a gentle and embracing spirit. When his soft blonde baby hair barely brushed my knee, I would touch his head and say, “You are a fine young man.” The years since my son would sit on his Papa’s bike have passed as swiftly as the revolutions of the engine in my dad’s motorbikes, and now my son stares his eighteenth birthday in the face. As his family and his friends look on, one thing becomes very obvious to all who spend any significant time with him, like his papa, he is a fine man.
Recently, my son and his grandmother have enjoyed special time together, sorting through old slides so that they can be scanned onto DVD’s, opening boxes long stored in the garage, listening, talking and sharing the legacy of our family. From time to time, he comes home bearing treasures; black and white photograph’s he has copied to share with the family, selections from my father’s extensive classic music library, or a published work bearing the name of the professor himself. Just the other day, that fine young man emerged from his room in his usual avant-garde mode of dress. Sticking out from his urban cool jeans were my daddy’s boots. “These were Papa’s” he said, blue eyes brilliant with the enjoyment of the gift.
“I know,” I thought, “you fill them well.”