The New White Sneakers: A Father’s Day Story

In my closet, I have a pair of white sneakers. They’re practically new but I’ll never wear them. I gave them to my dad last Father’s Day.

It was the last time I saw him conscious.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. My family and I walked into the memory care home and Dad wasn’t in his usual place by the fireplace. (He became cold-natured as his dementia took over). Dad was a greeter and always liked to say hello to anyone who came into the building. As the disease progressed, it stripped him down to his true essence — he loved people. And he loved his family. Normally he’d see us walk in and would smile from ear to ear. But not on that day. He was back in one of the far off rooms by himself.

I knew something was wrong.

He looked frailer than usual. His arm was bandaged from a fall (dementia makes you unstable as the disease progresses). When he woke up from his snooze, he had a disturbed look on his face.

“Hey Dave, (I called him Dave in case he didn’t remember I was his son — although he knew me that day) what’s going on?”

“I have to pay your tuition, don’t I?”

I hugged him and said, “No, I came to tell you I got a scholarship — you never have to pay my tuition again!”

He smiled and became visually relieved. But he was tired. I did not know it at the time, but his kidneys were beginning to fail (which caused his death). We presented him his gift and he perked up a little.

“Happy Father’s Day, Dad!”

We took off his old, worn out tennis shoes and put the new ones on his feet. They were a little big but were comfortable. He seemed pleased. My youngest son entertained him and we visited for a while.

As we left, he followed along behind us, shuffling in his new shoes as he pushed his walker. I still remember the sight of him standing at the doorway, waving and wearing his bright white shoes.

He died two weeks later. My sisters and I were holding his hand as he drew his last gasping breath.

My dad and I had a unique relationship. He played basketball and baseball. I didn’t. He worked on cars, I didn’t. I played football and drew pictures. We argued about politics occasionally and trust me, I know where I get my stubbornness (and temper) from. But I never doubted the man loved me. And I knew for a fact he was very, very proud of me. He taught me how to love my own sons. That’s what a father is supposed to do.

He also had to endure some things I did not know about until the very end of his life. He was incredibly loving to my mom even when that could be a challenge. I better understand the man now that he has died; however, I regret that it took me so long. I moved away in 1993 and didn’t see him but a few days a year after that. Now I pray I see him again someday so I can be nicer to him. And more understanding.

Until then, I have his shoes. Not sure I can fill them. But they’ll remind me of how much he loved his family — and how I should love my family.

I gave him shoes. He gave me his love and taught me how to love mine. In the end, that’s the ultimate Father’s Day gift of all.

About Marshall Ramsey