Porch

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.