A Different Kind of Nike Protest

To my youngest son,

This morning we had a fight. Wasn’t our first of the week. Wasn’t our last of the day.

These fights happen because one of us is absurdly bullheaded and strong-willed. I say it’s you, and nothing you’ll ever say or do can convince me otherwise.

So in that case, maybe it is me.

Back to this morning- I learned as we readied to leave the house that you believed very strongly that today at your school was a pajama themed-spirit day. I had no evidence to back your theory up, and your mother is out of town on business, so I made the executive decision that, even if true, you would not be participating.

I wasn’t going to chance having my kid be the only one in the school wearing pajamas.

You didn’t like my decision, and made it very clear that you were willing to risk the embarrassment of a full day in a long-sleeved Paw Patrol getup regardless of whether or not it was actually pajama day. What you were not going to do, was miss your first ever school spirit day.

I packed an extra set of clothing in your backpack in the event that long sleeves and sweats became too much of a burden on a typical 105-degree day in the desert, and away we went.

When we arrived at your school, I noticed something was missing- your shoes.

In my frustration with your stubbornness, had I forgotten to put shoes on you? No. I distinctly remember you making the task of strapping up your electric-blue Nikes as pointlessly arduous as you like to make any run-of-the-mill task.

So if I put shoes on you, and now, we’re here at your school without your shoes, where in the hell could they be?

“I threw them out the window.”

Your tiny voice took a moment to break through my exasperated parental haze.

You… did what?

“I threw my shoes out the window of the car.”

I was stumped. My little friend, of all the nonsense you’ve pulled… why this? You’re difficult, but not impractical- stubborn in your actions, but far from obtuse.

I pursed my lips, but it took several moments for the breathy “wwwwwhy?” to fall out.

“Because you don’t wear shoes to bed.”

I laughed.

You’re weren’t wrong. I mean, you were definitely wrong… but your assertion, if situationally abducted from our current reality, was correct. Wearing shoes to bed is not something you should do (I’d also like to contend that equally unacceptable is hurling footwear from a moving minivan).

We hopped back into the car and went searching for your Nikes. The irony was not lost on me that, at a time in our culture when the very same footwear company has prompted widespread protest (as well as praise) for their choice to name an ex-NFL quarterback, who has become more known for acts of evoking social consciousness and provoking debate than he is for his athletic exploits, you chose to toss your sneakers out a moving car window in your own fit of protest.

Your act of defiant nonsense almost perfectly personified the spirit of Nike’s new ad campaign.

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

You believe things very strongly. To you, your beliefs aren’t even beliefs, they’re simply knowledge. You didn’t believe today was pajama day, you knew. You didn’t believe that shoes aren’t part of a traditional pajama ensemble, you knew. That’s called conviction, and convicted people are what make the world go ’round.

Convicted people can also flip the world upside down, and that may or may not be a good thing. I suppose it depends on if the world being right-side up involves the “right side” being up.

I know you’re young, but the conviction you feel when making your decisions is already my most formidable opponent as a parent. You’re already willing to sacrifice the peace of your home to take the proverbial knee on any number of issues… issues that may feel trivial to us as your parents, but issues that encompass your entire miniature kindergarten world.

Issues like turkey sandwiches being an acceptable breakfast food. Or pajama day.

But some day, your causes will be larger than food and dress. Some day your cause will be one that, when your stand is made, will make greater waves than making you late for school or planting the seeds for a blog idea in your father’s head.

When that time comes, as heroic as Nike’s “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” campaign might sound, some things are worth hanging on to, even if they conflict with your beliefs.

This isn’t meant to be a comparison to Colin Kaepernick, or any of the connotations that come along with his mission to draw attention to racial injustice at the hands of authority figures. This is about you throwing shoes out the window.

Having those shoes on conflicted with your belief that you didn’t need them, so you tossed them away.

Some day those shoes might be something more consequential- like relationships. You can’t just throw out the people in your life in the times that you feel their presence conflicts with your current causes or needs.

Belief can certainly invite a need for certain sacrifices, but it doesn’t demand them. Never forget that you need people, especially people that you don’t think you need, to remind you that convictions are only worthwhile if shared in a community of people that can help see those convictions through.





One comment

  1. Dear Ralph,

    This is so beautifully and sensitively written. I hope you will write books to share with the world! I am Christian’s grandmother by marriage, and have followed The Dad Letters from time to time. My daughter has a kindergartner also – a girl. They live in England, and I have been visiting them there every summer to help care for my granddaughter. She behaves quite like your son at times, which either makes me laugh or cry. She can be brutally honest or sweetly sentimental. I’m going to forward your letter to my sometimes frustrated daughter, so that she may not feel quite so alone.

    Thank you, Diana Lindvall

    “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken” -Oscar Wilde


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