Walk a Mile in My (Well-Worn) Shoes

Posted January 05 2024
“I think you need another pair of shoes,” someone commented as they looked down and saw the cable tie strapped firmly around my left runner. “No, no,” I replied, “It’s got a few more miles in it yet.” And I smiled.

I smiled not so much for the innovativeness of my action that caught the observer’s eye, although I do like to think MacGyver would be proud of me. And I smiled not for my commitment to sustainability, although I do like to make things last as long as I possibly can. No, I smiled because of the memory those words evoked.

Gosh, it must have been around 40 years ago when my long-departed dear dad uttered them in response to my statement, “I think you need another pair of shoes.”

My dad was clad in his favourite and signature Camel hair coat (don’t panic, it was synthetic), rounded off with his brown shoes. Despite their age and the miles they had clocked up, they were always polished to perfection. Yet one look underneath his shoe told another tale.

My dad said you can always judge someone by their shoes. Far from the classist statement this may seem (for back in those days, words were not as carefully chosen as they are today), it wasn’t which shoes someone wore that mattered to my dad – for, pauper or prince, everyone was the same – but how those shoes were cared for.

And although Dad’s shoe was not held together with a cable tie, it was a firm piece of cardboard he had stuffed down inside that covered the hole in the sole which rendered the shoe functional for many more days.

And so those cable-tied shoes of mine not only enable me to get about, but they are a gossamer thread that links me to my dad, and an ever-present reminder that as an Ahern, you will always find a way.

Every now and then, in the quiet of the day and or the still of night, my thoughts turn to my dad and his shoe. And the important life lessons he taught. Although some were readily absorbed, others took me many a year to fully appreciate.

“Flawed and fabulous”, all in the one breath, covers my dad, and although I didn’t know it at the time, the impression he has left on me is indelible: from hand gestures to humour, and even his nose, along with lessons not only of frugality but of value, humility, gratitude and kindness.

Yet, with the value of hindsight and the wisdom of many years, I think my dad’s tough side was a veneer for the vulnerability he held within

Which may seem kind of odd gleaned from a man, who, growing up, I used to often think of as cold and hard. Sometimes too forgetful of me and even bordering on mean.

Yet, with the value of hindsight and the wisdom of many years, I think my dad’s tough side was a veneer for the vulnerability he held within. He lived in the shadow of his brother’s academic brilliance and always felt the need to prove his worth. He came from an era when showing emotion was a weakness; yet today, it is considered a strength.

Empathy is described as the ability to genuinely understand another person’s feelings, emotions and even point of view.

But honestly, how can we? Unless we attempt, as best we can, to walk a mile in their shoes.

My dad, I have learned, was a self-made man. One who literally pulled himself up by the bootstraps as he pulled his billy cart back and forth to the tip. He would do the rounds of his neighbourhood collecting disused bottles and rubbish, taking them to the tip for a small fee. He went on to create a trucking empire that bore his name, and he took a keen interest in the law alongside his best friend, the famous Australian criminal lawyer, Frank Galbally. Oh gosh, how I learned so much from these two. No doubt this helped frame my sense of justice.

In short, my dad did his best with what he had. God love him.

This is what has guided me to do likewise. My dad was of the belief you didn’t get something in life, you earned it. And whatever life threw your way was a lesson. His scholastic education was poor, but his determination to succeed was not. Nor was his love for his family. Although I never fully appreciated it at the time, oh how I wish I had; I now understand he expressed that love in ways I did not comprehend and am only coming to do so today.

He did his best with what he had.

From what I can understand, he knew little love in his early years, save that from his brother. And perhaps that little love was all that his parents knew too, which was why they had only a little to offer. Who knows? I will never get to walk a mile in their shoes.

And, no doubt, they did their best with what they had.

They did not live in the era we do today, with its abundance of knowledge and an ever-growing appreciation for the evolution of our species.

I think my dad always knew I had a soft side, and he, more than most, knew of the hard side of life. On reflection, I feel he was trying to prepare me for a world that was not always kind. He fought for everything he had, of course, except for my love. That was always a given from me. Even though there were periods in our lives when we did not speak to each other, I always had conversations with him in my head. And I am confident he did likewise.

Be kind to everyone you meet, for you never know what they have gone through or are going through

And although he loved animals dearly and always had a stray dog in his life, I always felt I had failed him for not following in his footsteps to find a place in the commercial world. Yet it was the words spoken by one of his friends just after his funeral that hit me the most. “How’s Edgar?” they inquired. “Oh, he’s doing great,” as my sadness turned to joy as I relayed one of Edgar’s latest endearing exploits. Then I asked, “But how do you know about Edgar?” “Oh, your dad was always talking about you and Edgar. You know, he was incredibly proud of you.”

No, I didn’t know. But in that moment, I more than did. And I felt I had just walked a mile in my father’s shoes.

Even typing those words right now, all these years on, brings tears to my eyes, yet too a quiet joy to my heart and a poignant reminder of one of the greatest life lessons one can ever have. To never judge another, but only, as best you can, walk a mile in their shoes.

Be kind to everyone you meet, for you never know what they have gone through or are going through. Chances are they are doing their best with what they have.

Be kind to everyone you meet, it will make you a better you.

Be kind to everyone you meet, as you cherish those around you, for you never know how long you will have to do so. My dad passed away suddenly and without notice.

Love you, Dad; I know you will understand more than most why I cannot toss out my creatively cable-tied shoes.

And perhaps, if you are reading this now, you will understand, too 😊.