(This is the newest feature in “Dad’s Rules”, a recurring series at SeeyaBub.com. To learn more about the “Dad’s Rules” series, check out my first installment.)
Dad’s Rule #119: Socks are part of a specific pair. Therefore, they shall be numbered.
“Dad, I’m seriously afraid to even ask you this question, but…why do you have 5’s written on the bottom of your socks?”
I don’t remember when the craziness started, but my memory tells me I was in college or had just recently graduated when I noticed Dad’s newest quirk. I was sitting on the couch watching television when Dad came bouncing down the steps in his usual, peppy way.
“Hey, Bub!” he said with his familiar smile and sparkling personality. I returned his greeting as he moved towards the recliner that sat in the corner of our family room. Dad loved kicking his feet up in that recliner, but this time, there was something noticeably different once his legs were kicked up.
For as long as I could remember, my Dad had mostly worn big, thick, fuzzy, wool-type socks around the house. Yes, on occasion he would wear typical white, athletic socks made by Nike or Under Armour; but mostly, the big woolly types were his favorite. Maybe it was a function of his years working outside in carpentry settings accompanied by frigid temperatures. Maybe it was a function of him just trying to embody the whole “Dad’s Wear Weird Clothes” stereotype. Regardless of the origin or motive, he wore them most of the time—especially during those unpredictable Ohio winters. He would pick up new pairs at Bass Pro Shops, Quality Farm & Fleet, or other outdoorsy stores that he frequented (mostly outside of Mom’s purview). Some of the socks were white, and others came in different colors, usually with a gold or other-colored toe and ankle patch complete with a colored ring around the top of the sock. I can picture them as clear as I saw them on that day when he popped his feet up on the recliner; but on that day, there was something drastically different about the socks he wore.
Written on the bottom of each sock in black, permanent ink in Dad’s familiar, precise script, was a huge “5” for no apparent reason.
This had to be good. Or extremely embarrassing.
“Dad, I’m seriously afraid to even ask you this question, but…why do you have 5’s written on the bottom of your socks?”
Like Sherlock Holmes getting ready to divulge the certain facts of a case that only he could divulge, Dad took a deep breath with a smug look on his face and launched into his explanation. “Because socks wear differently. Over time, the heels and toes start to get worn thin, and you can’t be comfortable in one thick sock that’s brand new and one thin sock that’s about to get a hole. So, I number them, and I don’t have to worry about that problem any longer.”
For one of only a few times in my life, I was literally at a loss for words.
After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I sat up calmly on the couch and began to ask Dad about his day at work. Had he inhaled any fumes in high doses? Had he excessively sniffed the permanent marker that he had used to write on the bottom of his woolly socks? Blunt force trauma to the head? Did he have a new side-job working with fashion line whose goal it was to create clothes for Dad’s that would absolutely mortify their children?
No matter how hard I pushed, Dad continued to act like he had a legitimate reason for writing these numbers on the bottom of his socks. As I began to howl like a hyena on laughing gas, convulsing at the completely ludicrous nature of his newest fashion choice, Dad kept trying to explain his line of insanity.
“I’m not making this up!” he said through a wide, mischievous smile. “You mean to tell me you’ve never had discomfort from wearing two socks that weren’t from the same original pair?”
“Dad, I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that’s never once happened to me,” I answered, still in shock. “I really feel like there are bigger problems in the world right now than uneven socks.”
With his usual sense of expertise in all matters, Dad kept pushing and told me why it made sense to number your socks. In response, I continued to tell him that he was crazy and that he was closer to the nursing home than I had originally thought. Then, to my disbelief, Dad went into his dresser and pulled out the other socks that he had numbered. I laughed hysterically when I realized this wasn’t just a one-pair-trial. Dad had gone into his extensive sock collection and meticulously numbered each pair with thick, black numbers.
There was just no way any of this could be real.
I laughed for hours. And after the laughter, I prayed with every fiber in my being that my friends did not come over and see these numbers on the bottoms of Dad’s socks. I had a hard enough time making friends. I didn’t need my Dad running around explaining the physics of sock fabric to make my social interactions even more infrequent than they already were.
Over the next few years, and to my explicit frustration, Dad’s sock numbering became a ritual as steady as the ocean waves. Every time Dad bought a new pair of socks, he would sit down and number them with a thick, black permanent marker, picking up with the number right where he had left off with his last addition. As more socks were added to the drawer, the number grew and grew. And the more I protested and ridiculed, the bigger the numbers became. Before he knew it, his sock pairs grew into the thirties and forties.
And as the numbers grew, so did my utter confusion. Every time Dad would kick his feet up onto the recliner, I would be staring at a set of “17’s” or “6’s” in my face. I never, ever let it go unnoticed.
“Ah, I see you’ve got the 8’s on tonight,” I’d joke. “Solid choice.” Or “Oh, you going with the 14’s today? Must be feelin’ lucky.”
“Joke all you want,” he’d smugly respond, “but when you’ve got a sweaty left foot and a right foot with frostbite on the same night, you won’t be laughing then.”
“I’ll be sure to let the pigs I’m flying next to know they should be numbering their hoof covers, too,” I’d shoot back.
No matter how much I ridiculed him (which was frequently), and no matter how often Mom would protest about how frustrating it was to have to sort through the laundry while folding to find two 12’s to match up into a ball, Dad continued to fight the good sock fight. He never let our teasing deter him from his battle to eradicate uneven socks from the face of the Earth.
And then, one day, his line of defense hit an all-time low.
Dad and I often found ourselves sitting together in the family room watching episodes of comedic sitcoms like Home Improvement, Everybody Loves Raymond, Seinfeld, and The Office on an endless loop—a tradition I’ve carried on in his absence quite well, if I say so myself. On this particular night, our show of choice was The King of Queens, a recurring favorite in the family room of our humble home. One of our favorite characters on the show was Arthur—the nearly-senile father/father-in-law of Carrie and Doug, who lived in the basement and caused more problems than any one human should. For those who haven’t ever seen the show, Arthur is…completely crazy. He burns down his house using a hot plate and has to move into Doug and Carrie’s home. He screams about…well, absolutely anything. He is “walked” by a neighborhood dog walker, and he creates altercations with anyone who doesn’t give into his ridiculous demands. He completely infuriates Doug with his random obsessions and eccentricities. And in the cold open of the episode Dad and I were watching that night, Arthur walks into the room, sits in the chair, and throws his feet up on the coffee table. Emblazoned upon the bottom of each of his white socks? Bright, flaming-red 4’s.
“Shut up,” I said in complete bewilderment as I stared at the television. Dad began gesticulating towards the screen as he let out a victory shriek that sounded like it came from an other-worldly language.
With the same look of confusion I had the first time I saw it, Doug begins to question Arthur about why his socks have huge numbers on the bottom.
“It’s my new system,” Arthur responds in his usually odd diction. “I label them so I don’t mix them up with my other sets of socks,” as he points to his head to show what a brilliant idea he’s had.
“I TOLD YOU THIS WAS REAL!” Dad had jumped up from the recliner, legitimately shrieking and cackling with excitement. “I’M VINDICATED!”
“Dad,” I said, still feeling like I was living in an episode of The Twilight Zone, “you realize you’re identifying with the crazy guy on a television sitcom, right? That’s probably not a good thing!”
He didn’t care, because just seeing that he wasn’t the only person in the world—real or fictitious—who thought numbering socks was a brilliant idea gave him all the security he needed to keep on keeping on. He had proved the naysayers wrong with the opening minute of a family sitcom.
Still confused, Doug begins to ask Arthur why he’s doing this, which opens up a whole new line of ridiculous reasoning Arthur describes as “Toe Memory.” He explains that over time, a sock either evolves into a left sock or a right sock, taking on the unique shape and curvature of each respective foot. Wearing a sock that has evolved into a left sock on your right foot is enough to drive you mad, Arthur argues. All the while, Dad is nodding along as Arthur explains the method behind his madness. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing.
“How do the 4’s tell you which one is a right and which one is a left?” Doug says.
“Look, Douglas,” Arthur responds as he raises his voice, “my system has its flaws. But I’ve come at this from every angle and believe me, there is no better way!”
“Mhmm, mhmm…” Doug says as he falls back into the couch, getting ready to drop a bombshell on Arthur. “Or you could just label every sock with an L or an R.”
“Well, THERE GOES MY FUNDAY!” Arthur shrieks as he jumps up from the chair and retreats to his basement dwelling.
“Again, Dad,” I said as we laughed at what we were watching, “you want Arthur Spooner to be your co-defendant on this one?!”
Dad and I laughed about that moment for a long, long time; but something even scarier happened. Dad actually began to realize that his system, like Arthur’s, was also flawed! Like Arthur, although the socks were numbered, he hadn’t been able to crack the whole left/right conundrum.
That’s when the two-component sock labeling system was born, adding fuel to my critical fire.
If my shock could’ve grown more, it did. Now, not only was Dad labeling each pair of socks with a number; each sock within the pair was also being labeled with an “L” or “R” after the number. From this point forward, within the set of 15’s (for example), there would be a “15L” and a “15R”.
Insanity had reached a new peak, and it was the two-component sock labeling system.
For the rest of his life, any time I saw those black, hand-drawn number/letter combos on the bottoms of his socks, I made fun of Dad. And every time I made fun of him, he would always shoot back with a witty (and completely insane) retort. No matter how much teasing occurred, he never quit. His resolve was steeled with every insult, every jab. Until the day he died, every sock he bought was appropriately paired and labeled, much to my chagrin.
His feet were always warm, and my heart was always full of laughter. In the end, I guess it was a win-win.
My Dad had a lot of those quirky little idiosyncrasies: numbering his socks, weaving his extension cords into perfect chains to prevent tangling, writing on graph paper to make his already-precise, all-capital printing even more precise than it already was. When he was alive, those peculiar behaviors were sometimes perplexing, sometimes endearing, sometimes annoying, but always seemingly mundane. Now that he is gone, I miss those little ticks in his behaviors and personalities. I miss how way he always cut apples into two large halves while still extracting the core and preserving all of the fruit. I miss the way he’d organize tools or clean his truck. And yes, I even miss his sock numbering, ridiculous as it may have been. I miss every single thing about my Dad, but as much as I miss the big and memorable moments, I think I miss the little quirks more because I took them for granted while he was alive.
And sadly, but also beautifully and completely against my will, I realize how I’m becoming more and more like him—no matter how hard I might fight against those quirks.
The other day, a crazy thing happened that reminded me how much I missed him while completely terrifying me. I was putting on one of my black ankle-cut socks to head to the gym. (I’m a bit ashamed to admit that during the winters, I’ve started wearing those hideous, wool socks that Dad used to wear—he really was on to something with his choice in foot coverings.) Nonetheless, on this day, as I was putting on my gym socks, I was running through what clothes I was going to wear to the gym in my head. I put the left sock on, and before I could even stop my internal dialogue from churning, I felt the phrase cross into my line of thought:
“This sock feels kind of weird. Maybe I should put it on my right foot instead.”
The shock of what I just thought hit me hard. My eyes were as big as the 2’s that had once been written on the bottom of my Dad’s socks. I had to stop getting dressed and collect my thoughts before I started hyperventilating. There was no way, no way Dad could be right about this one. It just wasn’t possible. And as I sat there on the edge of the bed freaking out and questioning everything I’ve ever believed about socks, I could hear Dad’s laugh. I could see him looking down from heaven and laughing hysterically, pointing and shouting, “I told you, Bub!”
And after the shock wore off, I laughed through a few tears as I realized how much I missed his weirdness and everything else that made him so real and so special.
I’m glad that the nature of my Dad’s death from suicide has not prevented my ability to appreciate those happier moments. I’m glad that the questions I have about why Dad died on that July morning in 2013 haven’t completely darkened the beautiful, vivid intricacies of his personality that made him so exceptional and unique. I’m glad that I can still remember the good days and moments in spite of the one bad day that ended his life. I’m glad that I can look back on numbered socks and laugh, because his death has taken enough from me and from all of us who loved him. I’m glad that I can look back at my Dad and remember him for the man he was for 50 years, not just the man he was on that last, painful day. I’m glad that I can still laugh with him and reminisce on those mundane yet elegant memories. I am really looking forward to the day when I can laugh with him about those moments again.
And along with those streets paved with gold, I hope that Heaven is home to socks that no longer wear thin unequally.
Dad, I still laugh when I think about your sock-numbering-insanity. I still smile when I think about all of the times I would rib you about putting numbers and letters on all your socks, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really miss seeing those numbers. More importantly, I miss seeing you kick your feet up on the recliner in our family room. I miss laughing with you while we watched television together. I miss hearing you snore as you napped in the recliner wearing your lucky pair of 14’s, and I miss those moments of levity and peace that we were able to build in our family home. Your personality was a force for good in our family, Dad. Through the big moments and the little, everyday behaviors, you made our home a better place. You made all of us better people—even though you couldn’t get anyone to join in on your sock-numbering. Those beautiful little moments gave life vivid color. You gave us entertainment and joy in seemingly simple ways, and I’m glad that I remember the quirks of your personality. I’m glad that I can focus on the simplistic beauty of your life without obsessing over its tragic end. Dad, thank you for always making life more beautiful. Thank you for giving to all of us more than we could have ever given you in return. I miss you tremendously. I miss you each and every day. And if I get to Heaven and you have numbered socks on, I seriously don’t know what I’m going to say to you. I’m sure you’ll keep me on my non-numbered toes. But until I can tease you again, seeya Bub.
“Even in laughter a heart may be sad, and joy may end in grief.” Proverbs 14:13 (HCSB)