These Shoes Hurt My Feet

“Atticus was right. One time he said you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.”    — Scout Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

These words, that Scout recalls on the front porch of Boo Radley’s house, embody a theme that has gotten me to this point in my life: understanding another’s point of view.

I never realized how much I resented my father until I had a son.  At the age of thirty-five, my wife and I were blessed with a little, breathing miracle.  Along with all of the tenderness and frustration that accompanies a newborn, I found myself becoming resentful of my own childhood.  I am a part of a generation where more and more men and women view parenting as a mutually shared experience.  Yet, as I held my boy, as I rocked him to sleep, as I changed his diaper, or fed him at 3 a.m., there was a thought forever scratching in the back of my mind:  Did my dad do this?  Did he hold me? Did he sing to me?  Did he dream with me and for me?  The answer devolved over time from sure to probably, to maybe, to no. Even now, 7 years later, as I am on my thousandth super hero bedtime story, I cannot recall my dad ever putting me to bed, or lying with me and reading a book, or telling me a story before sending me off to sleep.

When I became a father, I felt myself stepping in to the shoes of my own father, who had been dead a decade already. As I tried to adjust to my new role, I couldn’t believe how bad I was at it, how little patience I had.   And with every negative parenting experience I had, a little voice inside my head would say, “You are just like him. So quick to anger. So easily annoyed. You’re going to screw this up, too.” Such thoughts would only fuel my anger more! I needed to get a hold of this anger. Thankfully, through much therapy and patience (from my wife and myself), I find I am in a much better place seven and a half years into this parenting thing. Make no mistake, I make lots of mistakes! But I am more aware, more present in my understanding of my triggers and my fears.

I bring this sense of awareness with me everyday.  I do it by employing this very technique that is discussed at length in TKAM: I try to step into another person’s shoes. I often think of Atticus when I have to explain something difficult to my boys, like how there is evil in the world, or how life is unfair, or how someone feels when you make fun of them…However, I have also been able to use this approach with others in my life, be it my new mail man who seems to hate his job and can’t even muster up a wave, or my wife who is grappling with all of the pressures of working full-time in corporate America. I have even been able to employ this method with my own father. I do not hate him, I never did. I just could never understand him and why he did the things he did. But now, as I continue to grow as a person, and a father, I try to “climb in to his skin” by thinking, “What was my dad’s childhood like? Who was there for him? Who hurt him so badly that he closed himself off from the world?” By seeing things the way he perhaps did, I have broadened my perspective. In a way, as I keep chasing Atticus Finch, I must continually reconcile with my conflicted feelings for my own dad.  As much as I’d like to swing on the front porch of the Finch residence, emotionally, I identify more with the Radley’s across the street.

I continue to try on many pairs of shoes; and I highly recommend it. Yet, just as I would never continue to wear a pair that constantly hurt my feet, I refuse to be beholden to a pair that tried to be passed on to me from my own father. Those shoes hurt my feet way too much.

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54 comments

  1. As parents,not many can achieve Atticus, but we can all aspire. There is something called ‘Good enough’. Sometimes we say “I will never do what my MotherFather did to me” and some of the time we say “I hope I can do what my Mother/Father did for me” We pick and choose and try to be better, and sometimes fail, and one day, when your boy is old enough, he will forgive you for the things he didnt like about your parenting, and copy the things he did like, and then he will be a grown up, which is what you are now.
    Congrats on being freshly pressed

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  2. This is really insightful and very true. While in school, I’m working as a receptionist and often students come to me with issues that are difficult for me to understand from my perspective and life experience. But taking a moment to stand in their shoes really helps me to sympathize with them. I think that’s a very important part of the human experience that often is ignored because of technology standing between the interaction between two people.

    Thanks for such a great way to start my day!
    Cheers,
    Courtney Hosny

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  3. Great post and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!
    I love To Kill a Mockingbird and the notion of walking in another’s shoes. The way you have used the concept in your own life as a parent and reconciling with your past is wonderful, especially in using it to improve on your own parenting and such.

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  4. I read To Kill a Mockingbird about six months ago and was astounded at how much insight it gives on so many subjects. If I ever become a parent, I will be sure to read it again.

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  5. My dad was raised in a neglectful, quick-handed house, too … he got out from under it and was the best dad in the world. I still miss him every day of my life, and am endlessly grateful that I resemble him closely so I can see a bit of him every time I look in the mirror. He started out impatient with little ones, but my mom put the brakes on it, and he ended up as open and chatty as the day is long. (I’m the youngest, so this all happened before I was born.) My mom says she still remembers one time when my older brother was crying in the crib, my dad wanting to slap him, and she looked at him with this “I mean business” face and told him that under no circumstances was he to slap an infant or any of the kids. She said he was quiet for a few days afterwards — thinking about why he was recreating his own house as well, I’m sure. And he never did it again.

    He was the same way over the dinnertable — be quiet, stop talking, just shut up and eat, until she said the same thing to him. The dinnertable was not going to be a place of stress in the house, period. And he ended up the biggest motormouth over the table you ever saw. 🙂

    He was a great dad — you’ll be okay. It’ll take some vigilance, but you’ll be fine.

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    1. Some couples seem destined to be together. Your parents remind me of that. Your dad needed your mom to make him a better man, and your mom must be so special as to make him aspire to break through his past. She sounds quite heroic. Thanks for sharing.

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      1. My dad wanted to be anyway. The minute the option was presented to him, he dove for it and never looked back. I think he ended up grateful to my mom for leaving him no option when he wasn’t sure how to behave. It took the uncertainty out of it for him.

        My parents are the first husband and wife in that side of the family where the woman never had to defend herself against him. It’s a relief to be from that generation, and in many ways just blind luck.

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  6. I too found out how hard parenting is after a childhood that wasn’t the greatest.Love helps immensly and now being a grandparent I am coming full circle in a wonderful life.Your post made me realize parenting is a learning process we never grow tired of doing though at times it can make you wonder if you will ever graduate.Loved this post.

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  7. Wow! thanks for this article. I stumbled with it while going trough my blog’s freshly pressed section. You have some deep thoughts in here that made me aware of my relationship with my father. I am not a father yet, but I will be some day. I few years ago I used to say, “I don’t wanna have kids because I don’t want to suck as a father”. It has been a process, and now I know that it is not a matter of whether or not I’ll suck at it, it is a matter of how much. The thing is to be aware that I will, and to relax into the process of being human, and recognizing that being human means to be imperfect, and to be, some day, an imperfect father is what will make me more human and closer to my dad and my future kids. Thanks.

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    1. I love your perspective–knowing you’ll suck, but not knowing how much. When you are that honest and aware, you end up with a much better experience. Having kids is very enlightening. I think it helps us look in the mirror of life much more. Glad you stumbled upon my post:)

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  8. Enjoyed your post. Appreciate the fact that you are willing to try and see things from your Dad’s perspective and then make the appropriate changes. By breaking those negative “chains” that tend to hang on to us, we can then grow the positive attitudes in our children that maybe we missed out on in our childhood. 🙂 Good stuff.

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  9. Wow! Brilliantly said. I love how far you’ve come in recognizing your own strengths and weaknesse as a parent. People always tell you parenting is hard and it sounds so cliche…and then all of a sudden you’re knee-deep in parental trauma and you wonder why no one ever warned you. Well, you seem to be coping just fine. Kudos on the FP!

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  10. Being a father is easy, being a good parent requires every fiber of your being. The baby boom generation experienced working dads where the job came first and, well, you just had to understand why he couldn’t be there all the time. Today, in an effort to be “not like our dads,” we’ve become the smothering kind — and those are the words of our children. It’s a not-so-delicate balance that takes a generation to master, and leaves most children wanting what they didn’t have. In other words, you can’t win. You might as well smoke that cigar in the kid’s room, stay late at work and miss his game, and play golf instead of taking him to the amusement park so when he’s finally in therapy, he’ll at least have something to talk about.

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  11. Thoughtful and provocative. I think many of us look back at our own childhood and make the mistake of judging our parents by the style and standards of today’s parenting. It was different then. I think my parents would be judged harshly on many of the criteria, but they loved me and I never felt otherwise. They did the best they could. We can’t do much better than that.

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    1. What a powerful insight. I never thought about the fact that we judge our past by today’s standards. That can apply to so many areas of our life. Thanks for sharing. BTW, I love your blog name.

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  12. Well put. Life is hard and parenting is ridiculously hard. Atticus Finch should be a role model for all of us, in life and in parenting. Which is why I named my first son Atticus! Thanks for this honest and beautiful post.

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  13. This is really awesome. I feel like its mirroring my own thoughts, kind of. I, too, had a rough childhood with my father, and honestly–and admittedly, insecurely–it has caused me to loathe having children because I fear I do not know how to be a father, to love a son. I never experienced this myself, so how in the world would I be able to give it to a son? Yet, I like how you offered a counter perspective, in the end. I never really thought of it like that. What caused our fathers to be the persons that they were? You have offered a lot to think about. I rarely find a post that hits home, but this one really did. I am glad I came across it.

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    1. I’m glad you came across it, too. I think if you are aware of your past going in to fatherhood, it will serve you more as a parent. I also think it’s hard to be a man–there are so many mixed messages and pressures put in front of us. That may have been our dads’ struggle as well.

      You deserve a chance to give your future children the experiences you wished you had. Good luck.

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  14. I believe that when we have our own children, it forces us to think abit more about our childhoods than during our normal non-child days. I share your sentiments. Now that I have 3 grown up kids who are very outspoken, especially about what I do, I feel that I cannot judge them harsly because until they walk in my shoes, they will never understand the complexities of parenting. I also find myself looking back and being more and more forgiving of my parents and how they raised us. They did the best they could with what they had, including money, education and their own childhood past. Today, I hope that my children will one day look back and simpy know in their hearts, that I too did the best I could. Time puts everything into perspective. Great blog – congrats on being fresly pressed!

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  15. Such a poignant post. I, too, wondered what caused my dad to be so hard sometimes, so difficult to communicate with, so controlling. But he was a wonderful man in many, many ways and it has taken me quite a long time to figure that out. Good for you for being open to figuring it all out. And as Free Penny Press said in the previous reply post – keep marching forward.

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  16. Beautiful. Such a terrific reminder of how little we understand other people. As someone who has struggled to understand her own parents, this is something important to me. Thank you for provoking that thought.

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  17. After I read ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, I decided to do the same and I feel a lot better. Grumbling about others doing it all wrong has now reduced considerably. Great post 🙂

    P.S: TKAM is such a treasure 🙂

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  18. I enjoyed reading your blog. (And congratulations on being fresh pressed!). I think your reflection and willingness to look at your own self, will help you to be a fabulous father. I am constantly amazed at how much we can learn from being parents – it sounds like you are learning that too. Wishing you all the best…

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  19. Well written sir! As for the truth of the matter, we always want for more for our children than our parents before us. And as for cycles, we are prone to repeat what we know and have learned.

    But we also have the ability to recognize and break the cycle on that which we did not appreciate growing up, and thus set forth a new cycle for our children to decide one day … do they want to repeat what we have shown them, or possibly break some of our own cycles.

    And perspective, yes … step back in time in another man’s shoes and wonder. But remember, don’t compare apples to oranges just because you are in the produce aisle. Rather ask yourself, under life at that time (time is relevant & in your case, being 1 of 7) did my parents love me, care about me & provide for me to the best of ‘their’ ability? Did they try to do more than their parents before them, for me & my siblings?

    And while it may not have been as much then as you want to provide for your kids today, it is only becuase of what they provided then, that you are able to provide what you do now.

    So Dadicus, when you turn back time and put on Dad’s shoes … picture yourself for a minute with 5 boys and 2 girls, with the youngest being twins …. and I think you’ll see that you all grew up at your own Castle Park on Thunderhead Rd!

    ps. as we all did …. back then!

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    1. Tom, I keep coming back to this comment from you. I love your perspective, and your reminders about what things were like back in the day. Believe me, I mull over a lot of this, and have for the past decade or so. I can’t believe my parents had this huge family so young, and with so few resources. I do not want to blame them–I am just trying to process it all. I guess I am trying to write my way into a better understanding of it all. I am laughing at the Castle Park = Thunderhead Road analogy. Too funny!! Thanks for reading. Keep the comments coming. All the best to you and your family.

      Michael

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