Shoe-shopping with dad, teen nearly gets the boot

November 04, 2001|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

LET ME tell you about the day I didn't strangle my youngest son. Thought about it, mind you, but didn't do it.

There are several reasons. In the first place, I'm rather fond of the kid. In the second place, strangling people is against the law. And in the third place, I don't think my hands would fit around his neck. At 16, he's 2 inches taller than I am and outweighs me by a good 20 pounds.

I know what you're thinking: "Why, Pitts, of course you didn't strangle your own child. You'd never do such a thing."

Well, no. But you'd sure think about it if you ever went shopping with him.

My son worships at the church of cool. Worse, he has bought into the Madison Avenue con job that claims cool is something you can buy. That one becomes beloved by women and envied by men if only one wears the right gear.

I've tried to disabuse him of that notion, but naturally, he finds my cognitive ability suspect, given that I'm his father and all.

Anyway, our philosophical differences all came to a head the last time I took him shopping for shoes. And when I say "last," I don't mean "most recent." Rather, I mean last as in "final," "finished," "wouldn't do it again for a million dollars and Halle Berry's home phone number."

He's in front of the display in Foot Locker, right? Just pacing there, tortured like Hamlet. Communing with the shoe gods or something. I keep checking my watch. Finally I start checking my calendar, because, you know, there's a good ER coming on Thursday night and I don't want to miss it.

Finally, he chooses a shoe. At least, that's what I think it is. It's this basketball player's signature footwear, a plastic and metal contraption with lights and buttons and digital readouts. I think it even has a modem. And the price tag? Enough to retire the foreign debt of a small Third World country.

No way, I tell him. I consider this a definitive rejection. Unfortunately for me, he considers it an invitation to negotiate. So he wheedles and whines. I say no. He sulks and glares. I say no. He assures me I can afford it. I say no. He warns me that sending him to school in any other shoes will make him a pariah, thereby crushing his confidence and condemning him to a life of destitution and want.

I ask if it's the "n" or the "o" he's having trouble with.

We do this routine in five stores - eight, if you count the ones on the Internet. Finally, he starts to sense that Dad's a little resistant. With extreme reluctance, he allows me to buy him a pair of shoes that cost only as much as the weekly grocery bill for a family of five. Shuffles off to school muttering about child abuse. I begin to worry that I'm not going to come off so good in his memoirs.

But here's the upshot: The kid gets his first job. Brings home a fairly respectable paycheck. Rushes off to Foot Locker. Comes back wearing this homelier-than-heck pair of sneaks that look like something from the unenlightened days when we thought shoes were just something to cover your feet. No lights, no plastic, not even a digital readout. Price: $30.

I ask what happened to the other shoes, the ones he needed more than air. He shrugs. "Too expensive," he says.

This is the point at which I did not strangle my son.

So maybe you're saying to yourself, "What's all this talk of strangulation?" Sure, the kid was a pain, but at least he learned an important lesson about the value of money.

You silly person.

Took the boy shopping for a coat the other day. Went down aisle after aisle of them, most priced at less than $150. He stood there communing with the outerwear gods. Finally pulled out this monstrous coat with pockets inside of pockets, zippers on top of zippers and some rapper's name stitched into the fabric. Price tag: 250 bucks. He gave me this hopeful smile. I felt my hands rising without conscious command.

So now we don't go shopping for coats, either.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He may be reached via e-mail at leonardpitts@mindspring.com or by calling toll-free 1-888-251-4407.

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