I prepared for another week of work by getting my clothes in order. I also turned my attention to my shoes. I decided I’d try something different today, old school. I polished them by painstakingly applying wax polish, brushing it in and then using a cloth to shine them. The end result was satisfying and entirely worth the effort. As I stood admiring the gleaming leather I wondered what made me pursue this trip down memory lane to countless school nights and terse appraisals by teachers?
It came to me.
I went home last month and met my parents after more than two years. There were no tearful reunions, just mom controlling herself quite well and dad doing an even better job. I was really tired after the crazy travel of the last few days and as a result, staggered home with no sense of propriety. I plonked myself on the sofa, took off my shoes and flung them away. Mom made me a late dinner, a dinner from home. Not a reference to culture or heritage, just the comforting simplicity of mom-cooked food. We ate and chatted for hours. There was much to catch up on. Around 1am Dad got up reluctantly, patted me on the shoulder, told me he was glad to have me home and went to bed. He had work the next day and this was way past his bedtime. I told him the feeling of relief was mutual and bade him good night.
The next morning I woke up pretty late and slowly trod a disoriented path to the drawing room. Mom and dad had left by then. There was a cup of tea and breakfast waiting for me in the kitchen. I brought it outside and sat on the sofa with the morning’s newspaper. It was a routine I had lost in America with its newyorktimes.coms and forbes.coms. No one really read newspapers anymore or appreciated the comfort of turning crinkling newsprint full of sheer rubbish and thoughtless analyses, but comforting all the same.
As I adjusted the paper to turn to the sports section, a gleam caught my eye. There in the corner, near the door were a pair of brightly polished leather shoes. I walked over to admire them. They were mine. A part of me laughed at the improbability of a pair of well-worn, scuffed, uncared for leather shoes metamorphosing into almost-new splendor. The majesty of that shine was captivating. What’s more, those annoying scuffs on the toe, due to a terrible walking habit of mine, had entirely disappeared under an impenetrable brown glaze. There could only be one person capable of such turnarounds so I decided to accost him that evening.
“Dad, thanks for gifting me a pair of new shoes but you didn’t have to do that!”
“Why not? I was polishing my own shoes and didn’t see the point of just leaving yours there. You were tired so I thought I’d help out. What’s the problem?”
“No problem. I’m just curious, how did you manage to get the scuffs out?”
He then described the technique of letting a dab of polish soak into the leather for fifteen minutes, followed by a vigorous brush, then another resting period of five minutes followed by a cloth shine. Hey presto, as good as new.
I was overcome. This little conversation was a proxy for how this man has looked out for me all my life. His thoughtfulness stifles me sometimes, bound as I am by filial love and he, by a fierce fatherly love. I can’t bring myself to use the word “responsibility” when I think of my father because his actions come naturally, not thrust upon him by titles like “father” or “dad”. He’s just naturally put us first.
His sons have often taken this gift for granted, unable to appreciate the harshness of the world outside the perimeter of his protectiveness. Even his efforts to push us into harm’s way have been half-hearted because that natural instinct kicks in without fail. Never a scuff on our shoes.
Over time, I’ve come to the painful realization that I can’t be the father he is. Not because I don’t try hard enough, but because I’m too normal, a bit scuffed on the inside. And it sure as hell isn’t because of my upbringing. I understand now that for many years I was looking at the gold standard. The realization is especially painful because I’m a father to a son of my own. I fear I’ve already fallen so often, he’s tempered his expectations of me. He’s ready for a few scuffs of his own and he’ll probably accept it with more grace than I did, pampered as I was by a wonderful man’s selfless dedication to our welfare.
The silver lining is that I’m not someone who gives up easily, especially as a father. So I’ve consciously decided to be at least half the father my father is. And trust me, fathers of my generation, that’s a tough target. Don’t believe me? This is how the story of my scuffed shoes ends:
“Ah, thanks so much dad, you’re a dear. <sheepish, embarrassed look> I’ve given up trying to keep them in good condition because the polish in American stores is just not upto the mark. It’s too easy picking up those “dab and go” liquid polishes.”
“Hmm, they don’t really help protect the leather from wear.”
“I know. Anyway, thanks again!”
I woke the next morning. Dad had left for work. As I walked out my room, my leg brushed against my luggage. There was a faint crinkle, so I turned to look. Neatly wrapped in a plastic bag were two cans of Cherry Shoe Polish – Black and Brown.
Not a single scuff.