Grin and bare feet

My son came home from school one day, and I met him at the door as I usually do, asking about his day and his bus ride and what homework needed to be done.

He looked me up and down, lingering at my feet, then asked, "Why do you have shoes on?"

An odd question, you might think, made even odder by the note of suspicion in his voice, as if I were up to something because I was wearing shoes.

But in the context of our household, the question made perfect sense. My sons know I work at home all day, and they know I usually do it in bare feet. If I'm wearing shoes, it means I'm either going somewhere or just coming home from somewhere, and the boy's natural curiosity makes him wonder.

(Our dog knows about my bare feet, too. He gets excited every time I put on my sneakers because he thinks it means we're going on a W-A-L-K. Sorry, but we have to spell it out. If you say "the W-word" within in his earshot, he gallops to the front door and spins in excited circles. Disappointing him makes him mope.)

To me, going barefoot is one of the joys of working in a home office, right up there with avoiding neckties and hanging up on telemarketers. But going around unshod is yet one more way that I'm set apart from other dads. Most dads go off to work in wingtips or brogans or steel-toed boots. For the kids at my house, "Men at Work" equates to "No Shoes."

It only gets worse in summer. Warm weather means shorts and T-shirts for me, along with the bare feet. I look like one of the contestants on "Survivor."

My kids have accepted this. Not that they've had much choice. I've worked at home for years now. They can barely remember when Dad went off to a real job.

If asked, they say that having me working at home is "cool." But then, that's what they say about everything that's even moderately acceptable. And it's what they say when grown-ups ask. For all I know, they tell their friends something completely different:

"Why's your dad home all day?"

"He works at home. He's a telemarketer."

Or: "He can't go out. He's got mental problems."

Or: "He used to have a job. But then he started going around barefoot all the time and they fired him."

I wouldn't put any of the above past my boys. They'll flat-out lie to their friends if they can get a cheap laugh out of it. I don't know where they get such behavior.

Overall, though, I think they truly like having a stay-at-home dad. There's almost always someone at home when they arrive from school, or in the event of an emergency. Dad's usually available to drive them places. They get out of a lot of chores because I'm at home all day, taking care of things. Their favorite clothes are regularly laundered. There's usually food in the house.

Of course, there's always the downside. Having one parent at home -- the neurotic, barefoot one, no less -- means they can't get away with as much as they might if they were latch-key kids.
They know Dad's there at the house, keeping an eye on the clock. If they stray too far or show up too late, he'll come looking for them.

And then they'll be in big trouble. Because it meant Dad had to put on his shoes.

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