What is our new self?
Who are we – REALLY – when all the masks are removed?
How intuitive are animals, really?
Do they have a deep knowledge we don’t really grasp?
Sometimes we need someone or something else to bring out our new self.
That happened to my Father.
This is the story of how our family cat completely transformed my Dad while I was growing up. If anyone has any doubts about the influence of a beloved animal, I will point to the story of our Maine Coon - and my father.
Our cat brought out his NEW SELF – and we didn’t even know it was there. Neither did he!
When I was ten we bought a huge Maine Coon and called him Alexander. He spent most of the day sprawled out in various parts of the house. He looked like a big, soft gray rug. We bought him because he was gentle and needed a home. But there was more to Alexander than we knew – much more!
We all loved him - at least my mom and my four brothers did. My dignified, reserved, immaculately dressed Father didn't like cats very much and thought Alexander was just lazy. The cat slept everywhere and Dad was constantly avoiding him or just missing him when he walked through the house.
"That cat just lies on the floor, wherever he wants! I'm not going to have him run the house!" he said more than once.
Also, Maine Coons are friendly and affectionate and he happened to choose my Dad as the focus of his attention. That made it much worse because it was even harder to avoid stepping on him. Alexander even wanted to sit in Dad's big leather chair, and that was forbidden. But Alexander would not give up.
In addition, Alexander would grab at his necktie when my Dad came home. Dad would keep it on through dinner and the cat would snatch at it, and also at his wristwatch and cuff links and shoelaces and anything else that could be grabbed.
"That cat does not run things around here!" snapped my Dad. "I have no time for putting up with a cat who is always demanding attention!"
However Alexander had the last laugh - and much, much more.
My father was an investment banker and was always dressed to the nines when he went to work: impeccable pinstriped business suit, silk tie, starched white shirt, briefcase and on his feet a pair of mirror-polished black English shoes and black dress business socks.
The authoritative sound of the crisp click of his very expensive shoes echoed throughout my early childhood. He would often tell me and my brothers that we should dress like "gentlemen" at the dinner table.
"I expect you to dress like gentlemen" he said hundreds of times. "It's a matter of respect! Keep your shoes on through dinner, sir!"
Then one evening Dad came home late from work. He stepped into the front hall and a terrible sound went through the house - a combination of a yell and a shriek that brought us all running.
My Father was standing in the hall looking stunned. And Alexander was in the living room, peering around the door with wide frightened eyes.
"I didn't mean it" said Dad, apologetically. “I’m very sorry”
He then explained that he had not seen Alexander asleep on the floor and had stepped right on his stomach! The cat had let out a blood-curdling yowl and had taken off in a rush.
We all took him to the vet immediately and found that he had suffered damage – and needed surgery.
Fortunately he came through it very well.
But the vet said that one more accident like that could be fatal and looked hard at my Father. He pointed at Dad's dapperly attired feet.
"How would YOU like to be stepped on by a wingtip? By someone six times your height? You need to take those shoes off when you walk into the house! Your cat's life may be in danger" said the doctor. "He may not survive another accident!"
Dad just pressed his lips together, narrowed his eyes and lowered his eyebrows. We all knew that meant: he didn't like what he was hearing. We were silent in the car.
When we got home, we all looked at Dad expectantly.
"NO!" he said firmly "Absolutely not. I told you: that cat does not run this house! I will not walk around in my bare feet to please a CAT! My shoes stay ON my feet, where they belong!"
The next evening I was walking towards our house for dinner and saw something shining in front of the front door as I approached the front step.
I couldn't believe it. It was a pair of my Dad's black executive shoes, shined - as always - to perfection. And placed on top were a pair of my Dad's long black dress socks, neatly folded and stuffed into the shoes.
I walked in and went into Dad's den, which was his own private room. And there was my Father.
He was sitting in his big burgundy leather chair as usual and looking through his mail, with his feet on the matching leather footrest as usual, as I saw him every evening of my early childhood.
The first thing I saw as I entered were his legs propped up on the leather footrest, as usual.
But I didn’t see the soles of his SHOES. I saw the soles of his FEET…
My formal, perfectly dressed Dad was barefoot! And that wasn't all.
There were only two things left of his immaculate business attire and grooming: the trousers of his pinstriped suit and the razor sharp part in his full head of silver hair. His suit jacket and his neck tie and even his white shirt had vanished. His wristwatch had been removed from his wrist.
He wore his white tee shirt - and sprawled across his lap was Alexander. There was almost nothing left of the dapper and well-heeled executive he always was.
Alexander had always been forbidden to enter that room at all. It was off limits to the cat.
I blurted out: "Dad! What happened? What's going on? Where are all your clothes? What is Alexander doing there?"
He looked at me with a resigned stare and sighed.
"I thought about it all day, and finally realized you were right about those dress shoes, so I stepped out of them at the door when I got home from work" said Dad, "I thought that would be enough. That was hard enough. I don't like being forced to do anything. But then I found out that my dress business socks are much too slippery for the hardwood floor - I started to slide - so I finally had to take THOSE off too. The cat WATCHED me while I peeled off my socks! Then Alexander followed me in here!"
I’m sure that Alexander took the sight of my shoeless Dad as an invitation. The cat was now MUCH bolder and more aggressive, and had then and happily followed him into his den - and started grabbing at his watch and his cuff links and his necktie and his tie stay.
Have you ever had a 24 pound Maine Coon grabbing at your clothes? Or your watch? It is impossible to ignore.
So each item came off, one item at a time.
Finally, Dad said he had stopped fighting the cat - and allowed him to climb up on the chair. His big leather chair, which had always been off-limits to the cat, had now been claimed by Alexander as his throne!
Dad realized the rest of his business clothes would need protection or Alexander’s claws would tear them apart. So then the very expensive pinstriped suit jacket and the impeccably starched white shirt had to be taken off as well - and were then protected from cat hair, teeth and claws. A newspaper covered his pinstriped trousers.
"Now look at what that cat has done to me. Do you know he pulled the pocket square right out my suit? I almost thought he was trying to untie my necktie with his paws" Dad sighed. "I hate going barefoot. I look ridiculous!"
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