Shoe Shines and Parenting

My husband is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. More than forty years after he graduated, it is still the most formative experience of his life.

Among the many things my husband learned at the Naval Academy was how to shine shoes. A spit-polished pair of shoes is the mark of an officer and a gentleman.

For my husband, shoe shining is both an art and therapy. Before every outing we attend, he makes sure his shoes gleam, no scuff marks or scrapes. If someone later steps on his foot, he winces—not in pain, but because his shoes will then no longer look perfect.

I, however, find watching my husband shine his shoes to be an exercise in frustration. I am usually ready to go, and he is still sitting on the floor, rag and polish in hand. Nothing will distract him from the task at hand.

Sometimes, he will shine my shoes, too. But because of my lack of appreciation, I am usually not granted such attention.

I may have commented before about my husband and our son. Their politics, many of their interests and affiliations, and their career goals have all been quite different.

And yet.

And yet, to me they have always had essential similarities, both physically and mentally. Physically, they are built the same (a fact which I have watched with amusement since our son was a toddler). They are both much more “perceivers” on the Myers-Briggs scale than I am—hence my frustration at my husband’s shoe-shining. And along with being “perceivers”, they are both true romantics, always seeing the possibilities in life, rather than its limits.

When our son was a teenager, there was a period when there was a big gulf between him and us, as often happens between the generations. He didn’t want to spend time with us. He didn’t communicate. (And fifteen years later, he still can go for weeks between contacts with us.)

Yet, somehow, during those hands-off teenage years, my husband apparently taught our son to shine his shoes.

Recently, our son sent my husband the following email and picture:

In case I never thanked you properly for teaching me, shining my own shoes is one of my favorite small pleasures in life. So thank you.

Just an old t-shirt, Kiwi, and I produced this (we’re attending a formal wedding this evening).

J shoe shine cropped

It’s moments like these that bring tears to a mother’s eyes and gladness to a father’s heart.

Our son turns thirty-three this week.

Happy Birthday, Son! And may there be many more shoe-shining opportunities in your future.

Posted in Family, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , , .


  1. Great story! So proud of your son for doing that. Good son.

    Here’s some information that your husband might not want to use, your son might, and you might like to keep on had for those times you’re trying to get out the door. Cliff just found a Kiwi polish with a built in buffer. Took 5 minutes to polish my black leather to a high shine. Just sayin’ (and he found it at HyVee)

  2. I used to enjoy watching my father shine his shoes. My oh my, the brown pair, the black pair, the smell of the wax! I can still smell the wax, yet I don’t have any of the stuff in my house. My father’s attention to how his shoes looked also transferred to how long his shoes lasted. With 3 children and a spouse, you want your shoes to last a long time when finances are strictly budgeted.

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