And Alexander stretched, climbed up the back of the chair and as if to complete the destruction of Dad's corporate image and grooming, calmly ran a paw across his perfect hair, ruining the part.
"Oh, not my HAIR too!" groaned Dad, as he felt the huge paw slide slowly through the neatly combed hair. "You don't suppose he knows what he's doing?"
I am SURE he knew what he was doing! I am certain now that cats have personalities and know very well what they are doing. Alexander returned to his lap, and looked up at Dad with knowing eyes, savoring his victory, and went to sleep. Dad went back to reading his mail, careful not to wake the cat that now used him as a human mattress!
I found all of the trappings of his corporate identity that had been stripped from him; they were piled on the sofa in an expensive heap.
And that night, for the first time, my father ate dinner in his bare feet and a tee shirt, his hair messy, at the big formal dining room table. He looked liked a needy guest taken in for a meal!
My mother just smiled.
My sarcastic youngest brother said to him: "What did you do with my Father?"
Dad pressed his lips together.
My brother looked under the table, grinned and said in a perfect imitation of my Dad's voice: "Sir, those were YOUR shoes on the front step! I expect you to dress like a gentleman! You cannot come to dinner in your bare feet! Show some respect! Keep your shoes on through dinner!"
Dad just pressed his lips together again and glared at him. He was the only one at dinner without shoes on!
My brother went on. "And a tee shirt! Where is your necktie sir?! And your socks!"
"Dad - Someone who wears a size ten might steal your shoes and socks. Better pick them up off the step" Laughter.
"That's enough!" snapped Dad, and sighed. "And yes, the old rules about wearing shoes and dressing like gentlemen at dinner are over."
That was the beginning: Alexander now dictated my Father's wardrobe in his own home - what he was allowed to wear, and what was forbidden, for the sake of the cat's health, safety - and well-being and Dad's clothes.
After that day, I would find his always beautifully polished dress shoes on the front step on work days, with his dress socks always neatly folded inside. That became the pattern. It was as if Alexander had entered his mind and taken up residence, and was changing him from INSIDE as well.
There was something deep going on in my father and this was the beginning.
As he got less and less formal, he would leave his shoes and socks on the seat of the car on sunny days. On rainy days he would take them off and stuff them in his briefcase. On snowy days he would come in his full suit, gloves, scarf and overcoat and quickly strip his footwear off inside the door. Before the cat could get his paws and claws on his tie or suit or watch, he would change immediately and put on jeans and a tee shirt or sweatshirt.
Twice Dad did accidentally step on Alexander again. But the cat wasn't hurt those times – because he wasn’t wearing any shoes. This only confirmed the big changes in my Father.
The crisp, commanding click of his shoes around the house had of course completely stopped. In the morning, Dad would dress completely in his full formal business attire, and then put on his shoes and socks just before leaving after breakfast; it was the only time I ever saw him in a suit now.
On Saturdays his shiny tasseled loafers and boat shoes and tennis shoes were there on the step - and he would be barefoot in his khakis and polo shirt. One night he and Mom came home late from a formal banquet and I found Dad barefoot in his white tie and tails; his patent leather pumps rested on the front step.
The crisp click of his dress shoes around the house had stopped, replaced by the soft pad of his bare feet.
But there was more – MUCH more!
The change in dress also started changing my Father’s personality. Bring forced to walk around without any shoes for long periods of time has an effect on a man – especially for a man who never did that before.
Alexander transformed my father's identity and his image against his will, but he eventually and grudgingly became used to it and once the process began it could not be stopped.
He was never again the dapper, distinguished and dignified gentleman around the house; he almost always went barefoot around the house from then on and his general attire became much more casual. Dad went from a man who ALWAYS wore shoes and a shirt and tie at dinner to a man who NEVER wore shoes at any meal. On Saturdays he would even sometimes skip shaving. That had NEVER happened before.
For three years Alexander had been pushing my Father to allow him on to his lap, and now Dad had put up the white flag and surrendered. Alexander had won the battles of the shoes and the chair.
Dad could not even wear his watch anymore, because the cat loved to play with it and would never leave it alone. He was always checking the clock in the kitchen.
We then gave Dad gifts of sweatshirts and jeans and funny tee shirts - things he would NEVER have worn before. He hated to wear them at first and said they were humiliating, but soon he was changing into them when he got home. It was the only way to protect his business clothes.
And from then on Alexander was Dad's friend and never left his side.
"I suppose he likes me" said my Father one day, grudgingly.
That was as close as Dad would get to admitting that Alexander was now his friend.
But he continued to pay a very high price for Alexander's friendship.
I can see now that for the new man to come forward, the old image of Dad had to be broken down very slowly.
As Alexander rose in power and influence, my Father went down slowly but surely. In a real sense, this was now Alexander's house. He set about deconstructing my father - he started by taking away his shoes permanently, and then other things began to change. Dad saw it as being brought down a few pegs. We saw it as a wonderful change that brought us closer. For now he was just Dad, without all of the extra stuff.
That cat even took stripped my Father of his own NAME!
My formal and commanding Father was always called William or "sir" by everyone; he insisted on it; he had been William even as a boy. But there was a day when the delivery man dropped groceries off one evening and saw my Father with his new look - a sweatshirt, jeans and bare feet. He asked me if my Dad had lost his job(!) He said my Father looked like a blue collar guy now!
Dad patiently explained that this was not true. But soon the whole neighborhood thought it WAS true and it took some work to convince them otherwise.
After that he called my Dad "Billy," instead of sir! This was soon used by others in our town, including our neighbors, and including the garbage man who sometimes called him "Billy boy!"
Somehow the image of Dad without his perfect suit and his necktie tied just right and his fancy shoes had brought him down in their eyes.
"BILLY!" he cried. "They call me Billy! If I was allowed to wear shoes again, maybe I could go back to being William! It's all because of that cat! Maybe I should beg Alexander to allow it! If he’s in a good mood he may say yes!"
"No Dad. You'll have to allow other people to see you without your shoes on! Remember what the doctor said? Alexander may not survive another operation!"
Dad sighed. “Alright, alright – no shoes for me!”
One thing he especially disliked was that he was referred to by people who didn’t know him as "a joe sixpack". He overheard that one day at a local store by a clerk. It wasn't said as an insult - just a description.
He came home and told us that a few times. "I'm a banker! A white collar executive!" We laughed and told him they didn't know where he worked. And my Father would press his lips together and raise his eyebrows in the way that we knew so well. His resistance was wearing down, and he complained less.
I even bought him a sweatshirt with the name 'Billy' on it. He didn't like it - but he did wear it.
But if he lost authority with them, he became far more accessible and lovable to us. Alexander's cheerful demands had forced our Dad off his pedestal and closer to all of us. My Father in a sweatshirt was a lot more fun than Dad in a business suit. He laughed much more often and talked with us a lot more. A shoe-less Dad was a shock at first, but we found that he was much more relaxed and cheerful.
My Father did strongly resist the new name and image and lower status, but he had to live with it. Yet if Dad was no longer William or 'sir', Alexander was always called by his full formal name!
Who was the owner? They had traded places. Alexander dictated the rules and my Father now meekly obeyed.
I am certain that although Alexander appeared lazy and relaxed, he was really a brilliant cat. He intended to take over the house and he knew just the right way to go about it. My Mom and my brothers and me already loved him and would let him do whatever he wanted.
My strong-willed, strong-minded, cat-hating, impeccably dressed father was the only thing in the way... So he had to be dragged down off his high horse – kicking and screaming if necessary - and taught who was the REAL boss!
I am certain that Alexander had won his victory through his own careful planning:
He had decided that he would use manipulation and guilt to force my well-dressed Dad out of his dapper shoes and socks - in his own house, and even by order of a doctor! - take him out of his expensive clothes, divest him of his name and his authority, and push him out of his magnificent leather chair to fit with his own requirements for our family.
Once that was done, it was just a matter of time before Dad would take his appropriate place, according to Alexander!
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