I, like probably three billion people worldwide, have plantar fasciitis. This is not a surprise given how much I am on my feet, how much basketball I have played (poorly) in my life, and how little care I have given to rest and rehabilitation after the various injuries that pop up as a result of said poorly played basketball. One day, I woke up and my foot hurt. The next day, I woke up and my foot was immobile. The day after that, I woke up and went to the doctor and told the doctor, “I think I have plantar fasciitis” and he said, “Yes, you definitely have plantar fasciitis.” And that was that.
The impact of this supremely lame and extremely common diagnosis on my life is twofold.
One, I had to get rid of a lot of my sneakers. I love sneakers; if I was wealthy, I would be one of those people who has a closet full of sneakers displayed on lighted racks. But many of my sneakers didn’t fit right post-diagnosis or did not take to the inserts I have to wear in my shoes at all times now, so they were sold or given away or thrown away, each loss requiring a small funeral-like ceremony. I guess my ability to walk when I am 50 is worth giving up my favorite pair of Nikes but it’s a closer call than you might think.
The second change in my life is that I now wear my shoes pretty much all of the time. The combination of my stupid plantar fasciitis and the terrible laminate floors we currently have in our house leaves me limping if I walk around without shoes for very long. I cannot fix my feet without surgery and we do not own this house so I cannot change the flooring and, thus, if I am not in bed or in the shower, I have my shoes on. Again, this is a very minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things (or even the not-grand scheme of things, really), just a thing I have to deal with like everyone has things that they just have to deal with, until hopefully someday I can afford robot feet.
But, because my son notices everything, he makes note of my shoe wearing with great regularity. When I put my shoes on (or change from one pair to another as I do frequently to alleviate pressure points), he is consistently very quick to ask me if I’m going somewhere. “No, buddy, just doing the dishes and need my shoes on” or “Nah, pal, my feet just hurt.” Sometimes I plop down on the couch next to him with my shoes up on the coffee table and he immediately points them out like, “Dad, your shoes are still on.” “I know, dude, but I gotta do something in a bit, I just want to sit with you for a few minutes.”
For a while, this struck him as sheer lunacy. Coop is one of the world’s great loungers. When he gets home from school, he changes into athletic shorts the second he walks in the door. He has always been very quick to assemble “comfy” spaces for himself at the expense of anyone else in the house, building “hideouts” out of every pillow and couch cushion we will let him use. To him, the idea of keeping your shoes on when you’re not up running around borders on sacrilege. He’s almost offended that I would dare sit near his newest hideout without having the decency to take off my shoes.
Recently, though, on a lazy Saturday or Sunday, I started putting my shoes on in order to do some chores or whatever and noticed that he was putting his sneakers on as well.
“Hey man,” I said, smiling over at him. “We’re not going anywhere. You can keep chilling. I’ve got some cleaning to do is all.”
“I know,” he replied as he went about the business of putting on his socks and shoes.
“Why’re you putting your shoes on, then?”
“I just want to be like you.”
There are few phrases and sentences that will stop you short, that will warm your heart, that will make you take pride in what you’re doing quite like that one. My favorite video of Cooper is from the morning after the Force Awakens trailer dropped and I got to wake up my kid into a world that offered him new Star Wars and recorded his reaction to the trailer. But my second favorite video ever (and, I must say, there are a LOT of great Cooper videos because this kid rules) is one Lindsey shot over our post-church lunch a couple years ago wherein Coop tells me when he grows up, he wants to be a coach “just like you” and suggests that maybe we should coach together. When I am feeling like not the greatest parent (often! Because parenting is hard!), I watch that video because it reminds me that at least on some level, I am doing some things right. Coop doesn’t really care about sports, not yet, and maybe not ever, so I know that his desire to coach (however fleeting it may end up being) has very little to do with his love for the game and very much to do with his love for me.
For the next few hours, I worked around the house on various chores, projects, organizations, and re-organizations and Cooper did not. He did not clean or work on a project or re-organize a shelf. He sat, and he watched TV, and he played with toys and a few times he moved from one hideout location to another. But he kept his shoes on because he just wanted to be like me.
There’s an episode of Boy Meets World where Cory is upset (as he often was) that he doesn’t have any special skills or abilities and accuses his father of letting him down. “I’m average because you’re average,” he charges Alan (the greatest TV dad of all-time, by the way). The focus of the episode is about Cory coming to grips with his lack of self-confidence and learning to appreciate his father. But I’ve always thought the real strength of the episode comes from Alan who, while hurt by his son’s lack of respect, acknowledges that coming from where he came from, “if my son thinks average is nothing then I’ve done my job.”
And that’s me to a t. I’m so happy and proud that my son and I are best buddies, that he wants to be like me so badly that he’ll spend three hours wearing shoes inside his sacrosanct hideout just so we match. But I don’t want him to stop there. I want him to take some of the things he will have hopefully learned from me (work ethic, loyalty, “humor”, etc.) and apply it to himself in ways I have never been able to manage; that he will be more patient than I am, that he will be kinder than me, that he will find direction sooner than I did, that he will be more successful than me (in whatever form that shows itself), etc. I want him to be better than me and if someday that means he stops wanting to be like me because he’s already surpassed me, if he sees me as the crude model on which he built his much stronger, better self, then I believe I will have done my job.
I just hope he has the money to buy his old man some new robot feet.