The other day I noticed that a pair of my dress shoes had some deep scuff marks on the front edge. If I didn’t know any better, I might have thought about buying a new pair of shoes. That’s what we do, right? Something gets old, so we throw it out and buy something new.
But I knew better. I pulled out my trusty shoe polish and went to work on the shoes. It didn’t take long for them to look and feel brand new again.
As I sat there amid the shoe polish fumes, I was transported back to my childhood. In my younger years I barely noticed the care my father took with his shoes. It wasn’t until Dad started playing soccer with me as my team’s assistant coach that I realized the way he treated his cleats. We’d come home from practice, smack our cleats on the concrete outside the garage, and sit down with a few brushes and rags.
It was there that my father unknowingly taught me how to treat relationships. Unlike me–when I finished playing soccer, I was ready to toss my shoes into the corner despite the mud caked on them–my father would take a bristly brush to his cleats, then sometimes a touch of water, followed by a softer brush. Often he’d apply some waterproofing or shoe polish. By the time he was done with his shoes, you couldn’t convince a jury that he had sprinted through the mud just 30 minutes prior.
My father could have treated his shoes like I wanted to treat mine–use them until they’re cracked and haggard, then discard them for a new pair. But he didn’t (and he didn’t let me treat them that way), and our shoes often lasted for years.
The key, my father taught me, is that leather is alive. It breathes air and it absorbs water. It soaks in the sun. If you neglect it, it will die.
My father treats his cleats like he treats his relationships. With my mom, with my brother and sister, with his siblings, and with me. He approaches relationships with patience and tenderness, with care and attention. He knows that just like leather, if you neglect relationships–if you treat each relationship like something that can be traded in for something shiny and new–you’ll never find a shoe that fits as well as a cleat that you’ve broken in for years.
I still don’t clean my cleats as well as my father does, nor am I as intentional with my relationships as he. Relationships–particularly those of the romantic variety–take a lot of work, and I simply haven’t been able to sustain that level of effort. That’s why Dad has been married to my mom for 35 years, whereas my average romantic relationship is about 2 months.
I’m still learning. I’ll get there. Most importantly, I’m incredibly proud to have a father who continues to teach me these things by the way he lives his life. Even though we rarely get to share those quiet moments with our muddy cleats, I think of these things every time I take off my cleats and every time I polish my shoes. Those moments, those subtle lessons, are with me forever.
Happy birthday, Dad. I hope you can put on your cleats soon and get back on the field.