This is a section from Missing Dad about how we celebrated Father’s Day 2009. I hope you will enjoy it.
The main exception to my rule of non-involvement (with Dad’s clothing habits) was his old worn “Beatle boots”. They were close to ancient (they may have actually been Beatle boots), made of worn formerly black leather, now cracked and scuffed with age.
There were deep creases where his foot flexed; he had a chronic blackened callus on one toe that I was sure was caused by those horrid things. The soles were so slick from wear that they were simply not safe for him; he would slip and slide like an ice skater when he wore them in the wintertime. More than once, Dad had lost his footing while going up the stone steps at Holy Trinity Church, and George had caught his arm and held him up before he went down completely.
Even with all this incontrovertible evidence on my side, I had to enlist his podiatrist’s help and get her to actually prescribe new shoes for him in order to get him out of his beloved boots.
During the summer of 2009, amid all of our discussion about Dad’s hearing aids and the ongoing drama of Dad’s leaking roof, Janet and Wally and Nancy, Chris and Grant decided to come up for Father’s Day. I had spoken to Dad’s podiatrist, Dr. Joanne Sauer, before his early May appointment, because he’d complained to me about an intractable sore on his left foot that was getting worse. I was sure it was those Beatle boots of his; if they weren’t causing the problem, they were certainly exacerbating it. I asked Dr. Sauer if she could “prescribe” new shoes for him. If she did that, we would give them to him as his Father’s Day gift. She prescribed a good pair of walking shoes for him; she told me what she’d done; I checked with Dad, and he verified that the doctor had told him he needed a new pair of good, supportive walking shoes; I told my siblings that we would take care of it on Father’s Day weekend. We all knew that if we left buying new shoes up to Dad, he’d never do it, and he’d wear those damn boots until his last day on earth. He was complaining to me about how expensive good walking shoes were, and that he had never spent more than fifty dollars on a pair of shoes, ever.
So, on the Saturday before Father’s Day, after we took him out for a wonderful meal at Cioffi’s (his favorite dish was the grilled chicken over baby greens), we drove to the FootLocker on Morris Avenue.
I could see the thought balloon over his head: Why are we at a shoe store? Why don’t we just go back home and play Uno?
First I got out of the car, then Walter, then George. We asked Dad to get out of the car. I took his hand and led him up to the door, opened it, sat him down and went to get a salesperson.
He was surprised when the salesperson and I came back with shoeboxes.
I asked Dad to take off his old beloved Beatle boots. I kidded him that those boots were older than I was (and I was not far wrong). I reminded Dad that his podiatrist, Dr. Sauer, had told her that he needed new shoes so that his callus could heal.
“Okay, okay…keep your shirt on,” he said.
He took off the boots. He tried on the black New Balance walking shoes, tied the laces, and walked around a bit.
“How much are they?”
“It’s a gift. Don’t ask how much it costs. You need these. Doctor Sauer said so.”
He walked some more. They were a little heavy, but comfy. His feet felt good in them.
“Okay, we’ll take them,” I said, and I took them to the counter and paid.
The salesperson packed his old boots into the shoebox, the shoebox went into a big shopping bag, and he wore the new walking shoes into the bright sunshine outside.
(“Well, you didn’t need us after all”, Walter said.
“You and George were the muscle, in case he tried to leave without us buying him the shoes,” I replied.)
I took that shopping bag with me when I left Dad’s house. It was my intention to keep the boots at my house until my father departed this life. I wouldn’t throw them out, but I didn’t want him wearing them ever again.
As soon as Dad realized I had his boots, he got Nancy to call my cell. It rang as I was coming up out of the Murray Hill station.
“Did you take my boots?”
“Don’t throw them out! They’re still good. Promise me you won’t throw them away”.
“Okay, then, I’m getting them fixed. They need new soles so you don’t end up slipping and falling and killing yourself.”
I told Dad that I would take the boots to my local cobbler, John the Shoemaker, who has a wonderful little shop that looks like something out of the 1930s.
(A couple of days later, when I took them to John, he looked at the boots, looked at me, and said, “Why don’t you just get rid of these?”
“My father is 87 years old and he loves these boots. Can you fix them?”
So John did. He was an artist; he put on new heavy non-slip soles, fixed the heels so that they were level again, and polished the uppers as much as was possible, given the sad state of the leather.)
The next time I visited Dad, I brought back his boots. They were much heavier on his feet; he said they didn’t quite feel the same. But at least now, he wouldn’t slip and slide in the ice and snow, the way he had last winter.