Sport 13 Spring 1994
William Brandt — His Father’s Shoes
His Father’s Shoes
I spent all last winter I was walking around in a pair of those kung fu shoes just made of flimsy cloth and all falling apart with a big hole in the toe and my feet would get soaked in all the puddles and all cold and wet.
I really needed a good pair of shoes. A good pair of leather shoes. Waterproof shoes, comfortable, hard wearing, that I can walk long distances in. That will protect my feet from the road, from sharp objects, from mud and cold.
And my father had this pair of old boat shoes. He didn’t wear them on the boat any more, just for gardening. He’s got a new pair for the boat. But these are just his old knock-about gardening shoes. He never gardens. They just sit around in the wash-house under the sink.
But they were just what I needed. Exactly what I needed. They fit me, they were well made and comfortable and waterproof.
So I made an approach to him at one time, if he would like to give me those shoes. I explained to him that I do a lot of walking and I needed some good leather shoes on my feet. I asked him politely and reasonably. I just quietly asked, or rather if you like I suggested, if I could possibly have or he might like to make a gift to me of those old gardening shoes down in the wash-house.
And his answer was no.
Which was typical for him. And so I asked him, quite politely and reasonably for his reason for refusing, and he said that they had sentimental value. His exact words were: ‘I’d rather not, they have a certain sentimental value, you see.’
I decided to pursue this whole question of sentiment, of feeling, of emotional attachment, because I felt that I had a lot to say to him about this subject. There was a lot that I wanted to say to him. And what I wanted to suggest to him here was that there might be, perhaps, a greater sentimental value to him in the act of giving his son something he needs, in giving him a pair of shoes, than in denying that son a pair of shoes just for the sake of having this old pair of worn-out boat shoes sitting around under the house.page 72
But I did also want to make it clear to him that I wasn’t angry or upset, that I was just picking up, pursuing this theme in the spirit of a spirited or you might even say a high-spirited or almost humorous although at the same time not entirely frivolous debate, but not at all acrimonious, just to say, just to point it out to him, so first of all to show that I was calm and not at all angry, to show that, I yawned slowly, three times, very deliberately, before continuing, to make that very clear that I was not at all excited or upset.
I then stated to him as I have said, that whatever sentimental value he might attach to an old pair of shoes, surely there would be more value to his sentimental feelings, his fatherly feelings, in the act of a gift to his son. Straightforward point, a valid point.
He absolutely refused to enter into any discussion of the matter whatsoever. He quite categorically refused to answer any of the subsequent questions I put to him at that time. He simply repeated his position without discussion again and again: ‘I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it.’ Those were his exact words.
You can’t talk to the guy. This is typical of the sort of attitude he has. This is the sort of situation you get where I am trying to put my point of view to him, to express my feelings, and he just will not listen.
So I threw a glass ornament against the wall, and the glass ornament broke as a result of that, and completely shattered into very small pieces. I also hit the door very hard with my fist to show him how I felt. What I wanted to show him was that he won’t allow me to express my point of view, and that was why I did those things, to express my frustration and anger. But he just walked out of the room. And this is the sort of thing that happens.
This—this gets really heavy. My mother—my mother was standing at one end of the hallway begging me, actually literally begging me, to leave the house, to go. But he was just sitting in the lounge-room pretending to read the paper. But his hand was shaking.
I was shouting at my mother. I left the door open deliberately through to the lounge so he could hear what I was saying. I was saying it to my mother, but it was really for him to hear. I said how can I communicate all these things I have to say if he won’t listen? He could hear, but he would not acknowledge that he could. This is how my father conducts himself. He uses his powerful connections and his cunning to deny me my personhood. It’s quite common.
Now at this time it was mid-summer. My need for a pair of shoes was therefore not so urgent, so I let the matter rest. I went barefoot a lot of the page 73 time, or I would wear the kung fu shoes. I thought if he wants to refuse his son such a small thing which would do me so much good and him no harm, then he can go ahead and do it. Not my problem. Let him sweat it out.
But by the time winter was coming round I again thought that I really needed a pair of shoes. I mean, my feet man…
I did go at one time into Hannah’s shoe store. I looked around and I did find a pair of leather shoes which fitted me OK. They were OK. They had a good hard-wearing rubber sole with leather uppers. They would have been OK. They cost $89.95. I had the money at that time and I did almost buy them but I didn’t, I don’t know why, I was about to buy them but then I just walked out of the shop. I had the shoes in my hand but I dropped them to the floor. I had to get out of there. The place was very uninspring.
So then I thought I’ll give him one more chance. One more chance to do something for his son, a small thing, a small gesture of caring between father and son, the sort of thing that should happen without even thinking.
To make sure that he did actually understand the position I was in, and the full situation, just so he couldn’t say later on he didn’t know all the facts or hadn’t been properly informed, I made a bit of polite conversation, creating an appropriate background or backdrop. Just talking about the weather, about the condition of the roads, about the condition of my current footwear and my feet.
I then asked him again, politely and reasonably, or rather if you like I offered to him the opportunity to give me the shoes. I’d seen them there that afternoon they were still there in the wash-house.
He said he would never give me his shoes. He said I should forget the whole matter, I should just forget it. He was very emphatic. He said there was absolutely no chance that he would change his mind later on, and although I offered him an opportunity just to think it over for a bit, wait till he cooled down a bit, he said no, he said his answer was final as of that moment.
So I made the obvious suggestion of the logical solution, which was a fair compromise. We would share the shoes.
I would wear the shoes. If he wished to do some gardening he had only to contact me the day before, giving a clear twenty-four hours notice (and I was willing to take full responsibility for making absolutely sure that I could always be contacted at any time of the day or night), and I would immediately see to it that the shoes were returned for his use in the garden, page 74 at my own expense. Unless I was out of the country. That would be at his expense.
He told me to get out. His exact words were: ‘Just get out. Just get out.’
By now I no longer had any interest in my father at all. I did not consider myself then and I don’t consider myself now, to be his son.
I therefore proposed to him that we settle the matter once and for all: that he settle on me there and then, as his rightful heir, the benefit of any inheritance or property that would rightfully be due to me on his death, and that I in return sign or execute any document or agreement he might require or suggest as proof that he had discharged any and all obligations under that head or any other. He would then formally and legalistically disown me as his son. We would then part forever. No correspondence would be entered into, and no further claims to be pursuable at any time by either party.
I was willing to take a cheque.
I then announced my intention of leaving the country. I would go to Germany where I held the intention to seek gainful employment as a roof builder. Germany is a highly organised industrial nation with a steadily growing population. The building industry is therefore buoyant, and I had no doubt that work would be easy to find. The German people, as a nation, are highly skilled and organised. They are clean, boisterous, and they know how to get the job done, working as a team. Also they are very pure people. I felt and feel that life under these conditions would appeal to me, and that I could make a new and happy and productive life for myself in Germany.
That was on the Friday. On the Saturday morning I decided to hitch down to Wellington. I got a bus as far as Manukau City and tried to hitch a ride from there. But after two hours I still hadn’t got a ride. I was feeling quite discouraged, quite low, and I decided to take a meal break as I still had seven dollars fifty-five in my pocket.
After the meal break, I tried hitching again for a while, but it was starting to get dark and I still had no luck so I decided my chances of getting a ride were about nil for that night anyway. I walked back into town.
By now I was feeling very aimless, with no sense of direction, or no goal to aim for. There seemed to be nothing to pin my hopes on, in the immediate present outlook, or even for the coming days ahead. Everything had fallen through and I was frightened of the police. I began to feel very sad and depressed.
Also, I had stepped in a puddle while making my way across some muddy waste ground. My feet were cold and wet.page 75
I tried to sleep on the front steps of a church, but it was not practicable. There was a cold wind and dead leaves were blowing around. I could not prevent the dead leaves from blowing against my face in a repulsive fashion.
It seemed a very meaningless way to carry on an existence.
So I decided to return to my father’s house and ask my father if he had considered my proposition. I had nowhere else to go.
When I arrived the house was empty. I remembered that they were going sailing that weeked. I had lost my key so I couldn’t get inside. But the door to the wash-house was unlocked. It didn’t have a lock, in fact. I went into the wash-house, planning to rest and wait.
I turned on the light and I saw there my father’s shoes. They were under the sink. I went over to them. I brushed the cobwebs off them.
And I slipped my right foot into the right shoe.
There it is. The right shoe. Feels good. Good leather shoe. And then I just slipped my left foot into the left shoe, and there it was. And there it was. And there I was.
They’re good shoes. I had no choice. I need shoes, man. He could have given them to me, but he wouldn’t. It could have been a warm and giving thing between father and son, and instead he did what he has always done, he refused to give me what I asked, what I needed, what I wanted.
Want your shoes, Dad. Simple. Want your shoes.