Spit Shine Shoes

Spit Shine Shoes

It was a pretty good weekend this Fourth of July. It was full of barbecue, fireworks, family and friends. I cooked on Saturday and one of my best friends did his best on Sunday. His name is Don and he lives about 10 miles from me. I must take my hat off to him. His barbecue was the best second tier barbecue I have tasted in a long time. I made sure to tell him so. He mumbled something in response, but I couldn’t hear him over the music. I think he was saying thank you a whole big bunch. But, I could be wrong.

As I was dressing to get ready to head over to my friend’s house, I noticed my black shoes were filthy. A couple of days before I had worn them while cleaning my deck for my own top tier barbecue and had gotten them pretty dirty. I searched frantically in the laundry room and utility closet until I found my shoe shine kit. Mind you, it isn’t the kind of shoe shine kit my dad had. My kit wasn’t made of real wood with a place to put your foot and every kind of black and brown wax polish you could imagine. Mine had no well worn rags nor real horse haired brushes. Instead, my kit was a plastic zip up Kiwi bag I bought some years ago at Dominick’s. It had a cloth and a sadly small synthetic brush. But, it was something.

After I brushed the dirt off my shoes, rubbed in the black polish and started to brush them, I realized that my 8 year old son had never polished a pair of shoes. He didn’t know what a spit shine was! For those of you too young to know, a spit shine is the highest form of a shoe shine. Sure, you could pay for a shoe shine and get the spray water treatment, but there was nothing like going to Sunday church with a spit shine—your own spit shine. And it lasted.

My dad taught me to spit shine at an early age. In fact, I can’t remember not knowing how to do so. It always seemed like my dad could do it much better than I could and his shoes always shined like a mirror. I looked up to him for that and I think about him every time I shine my shoes. I don’t do it often, but when I do, I think about my dad. But, I haven’t taught my son how to shine shoes.

I’m not sure why I haven’t taught him. Did I get too big for my britches? I hope not. I just forgot. But boy, that’s a skill you can always use, and to learn it from your dad is something you never forget. I felt like a terrible father for not sharing that life lesson with my son before he turned 8. I mean, that’s a right of passage for a young man. Now, he probably won’t put down is iPod or DS long enough to listen to me.

As it turns out, once I got to my friend’s barbecue, I found out that none of the fathers there had taught their sons how to spit shine shoes—even though all of them had learned it from their dads. There’s more. We all discovered that we haven’t taught our sons how to tie a real tie, how to change the oil in a car, how to change a tire, how to mow the grass or how to put a chain back on a bicycle.

Its not that we don’t spend time with our sons, we do. Lots of it. Our entire weekends are taken up with baseball practice, soccer practice, lacrosse practice, basketball practice, birthday parties for people we don’t know, play dates (play dates?), tutoring sessions and at least 3 trips to fast food drive up windows. Now all of that is good. But we all wondered if we were teaching our boys life skills. In particular, man life skills. Heck, I don’t think between the six of us dads, we had one kid who could actually skip a stone. All of us could.

Yeah, I think I’ve been a terrible dad, because I broke the chain. My dad taught me what his dad taught him. I haven’t done the same, yet. There is something to be said for teaching self-reliance. And that’s what spit shining your own damn shoes is all about. When you sit down and polish your own shoes, with your own spit, you are preparing to meet the world and to have the world see you as you prepared yourself. Its about being a man, a self-reliant man. And as Mark Twain should have said, “you can tell a lot about a man by his shoes”.

And so, as the last Fourth of July rocket burst in air, and my 8 year old fell asleep in the car on the way home, I pledged to be a better father, like my dad. I pledged to teach him at least one lesson in self-reliance. I pledged to teach him how to spit shine his shoes.

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About vwspeaker

Vincent Williams is an author, speaker, and seminar leader. He was raised in Florida, where the warm nights afforded him plenty of opportunities to wonder if the universe was just an illusion. He lives with his wife and three children outside of Chicago, IL
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