A dad is always there to provide support and encouragement just when it's needed most, as well as to help teach us some of life's most invaluable lessons — from how to fly a kite and pitch a tent to how to change a tire, negotiate a raise, or take on our first big home improvement project. Now it's time to say thank you! In his latest book, “Big Shoes,” the “Today” show's Al Roker and 45 other well-known personalities share personal stories about how their fathers have been there for them during times of both adversity and triumph — and the countless ways they've shaped their lives throughout the years. Here's an excerpt.
Let’s face it. We tend to overlook dads. Sure, we buy them the requisite tie on Father’s Day or their birthday. Maybe a power tool or ratchet set if they’re the handy type. But by and large, fathers are down a few links on the family food chain.
First come mothers. Have you ever seen a football player, after scoring the winning touchdown, mouth the words, “Hi, Dad!”? Nooooo. It’s always, “HEY, MOM! I LOVE YOU!”
Ever see tattoos on a tough guy that spell out “F-A-T-H-E-R”? Not likely. After all, for my generation, dads were generally the ones who meted out discipline and justice. You tend not to have warm, fuzzy feelings about the person who is about to punish you.
Even grandparents tend to rate a little higher than fathers. They are kindly old folks who show up bearing gifts, giving extra servings of dessert, and shoving dollar bills in your pockets with a conspiratorial “don’t tell your parents, this is between us” wink.
What I hope to do in "Big Shoes" is to get you thinking more about your father. What does the old guy really mean to you and to your life? How does what he did, and hopefully still does, influence you?
No matter who your father is or was, whether a great man or someone who left a lot to be desired, there is something in the man that you can learn from, something that will make you a better person.
I lost my father to lung cancer in October of 2001. He died a little more than a month after 9/11. I watched him wither away and die. I had to mourn him while a country mourned the loss of life and innocence. I realized I had to step into those Big Shoes before I felt ready. Suddenly, I was the patriarch of my family. I didn’t feel prepared for the role. And yet, my father had been preparing me for this all along; helping me raise my children, helping me become a good father. How? By just being my father.
To this day, I’m still working on my relationship with my father. I play back certain scenes in my head, moments that define my father, and by extension, me. And then I started to wonder, “What about other people? What are their relationships with their fathers? What do they remember most? What have they learned? How did their fathers impact their lives for better, for worse? How does the way their father raised them affect how they parent?”
So, this is what "Big Shoes" is about. It’s not necessarily a big Hallmark card to fathers. What I want to bring you is an honest, human look at fathers and fatherhood over a couple of generations from many different perspectives.
I never thought about the time I would have to step into my own father’s big shoes. He was always there to fill them. Then suddenly, he wasn’t. Now I have had to step into them; for my mother, my siblings, my own children. I have become my father. I hope that it’s not too tight a fit or too loose. I would hate to have to take them off.
My father always kept his shoes polished. It goes back to when he was a bus driver. He was always impeccable in his bus driver’s uniform. My mother would iron his shirts and press his uniform pants and jacket, but he always spit-shined his own shoes.
He told me that if a man had unshined shoes, it reflected poorly on him. His shoes always had a shine you could adjust your tie in. Whether he was going to work or to church, his shoes glistened. If he could’ve shined his sneakers, he would have. And as he climbed the ladder of the New York City Transit System, responsibilities increasing, he still shined his own shoes.
This book represents the big shoes, the footprints if you will, of many different fathers. Some of the stories will be by people you know well, other names may be less familiar to you, but I hope you’ll see something of your father in many of these essays — something that makes you think of your old man while you read. And, maybe, you will find something that keeps the memories alive.
I guess that’s the hardest part of losing my father at a relatively young age. He was three months shy of his seventieth birthday. While I have tons of pictures of him in my home and office, home videos, even a Food Network special that revolved around him and my mom, I’m having trouble hearing his voice in my head the way I used to. The voice is getting fainter as time goes on. Maybe this book is a way to keep his voice loud and clear. I want to pump up the volume.
Excerpted from “Big Shoes,” by Al Roker. Copyright © 2005 by Al Roker. Published by Hyperion. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.