It's a brisk fall day in1966 and an undersized five-year-old boy stands beside a social worker on the doorstep of Jim and Edwina Watson's home.
Two brown grocery bags filled with every earthly belonging the boy has sit on the step in front of him. The social worker leans down and hastily straightens the boy's tattered clothing, then reaches up and presses the doorbell. A car sits in the driveway at the side of the house, which he hopes is a sign that someone is home.
In a muffled whisper he practises his opening lines, just in case someone actually does answer the door. Every few seconds he glances down to check on the boy beside him--his toughest case, a severely disturbed foster kid no one wants. He's been told to find the boy a home by the end of the week or the child will have to be placed in a group home, which he is sure will doom the boy to a life of unachieved potential.
The boy is little Tommy Plum, a child taken into foster care after being removed from his mother's home some four years earlier. Sullen and seemingly devoid of emotion, five-year-old Tommy is a veteran of the foster care system, having already passed through twelve foster homes that have left him a wild, unmanageable child.
Tommy has rarely, if ever, known the feeling of stability in his life. He's an angry, unloved boy who has been beaten down physically and emotionally. If a family were considering taking a child into their home, little Tommy Plum would likely not be their child of choice.
Tommy's story is near and dear to my heart, not only because it is a true story, but because it is my story. It's the story of a child whose life was forever altered by the support and unconditional love and mentorship of an elderly couple, Jim and Edwina Watson.
To be honest, the interest my book, Man Shoes, [Advantage Media Group, $21.99] has garnered throughout North America both surprises and humbles me, especially when you consider that I had no intention of writing a book in the first place. My journey in becoming an author started approximately eight years ago. My wife and I were in the midst of busy lives, parenting our three sons and engrossed in our careers. I was living a hectic, often stressful life, as many of us do. One evening, as Kathy and I returned home from dinner out with friends, I suddenly felt very ill: nausea, accompanied by a racing heart and a drum-like pounding in my head. As it turns out, I was having a stroke--a TIA--a smaller stroke that often leads to much larger issues.
With the help of modern medicine and a skilled medical staff I survived that stroke, but I was forced to take several months off from work to recover. It took a few weeks to come to terms with what had happened; when I finally did accept my illness, I relaxed and began to think about my wife and three sons. I thought about how fragile life is and I realized that I had really put very little thought into my own mortality. Frankly, I had been living my life as if it would go on endlessly.
The more I thought, the more I realized that for several years, I had busied myself building my business and in many ways neglected building my family. I wondered what my young family would recall of me. What would they say my legacy had been to them as a husband and a father if I was to suffer another stoke or heart attack and pass away? Would they remember me kindly, or would they remember the workaholic who neglected them? Would my boys know my personal story, my origins? Would they know how much I loved them? Would I have passed along the love and wisdom Jim and Edwina Watson had passed on to me? Would Kathy know how much I loved her?
Each time, the disturbing answer to my question was, "Well, maybe."
I soon realized that that answer just wasn't good enough. I wanted my sons and my wife to know about my life. I wanted them to know what journey had brought me to them. I wanted them to know the things I had learned throughout the course of my life--and just maybe, they could use some of the knowledge I had gained as they lived theirs. Maybe that could be my legacy to them.
Without anyone's knowledge, I embarked on the process of writing a journal to my family. A simple process, I thought. What better place to start than with the story of little Tommy showing up on the Watsons' doorstep back in 1966 with the social worker? Then the subsequent years, when I was mentored by them and the people they surrounded me with, and...
I began to write and before I knew it, raw, unresolved emotions emerged, tears flowed, realizations surfaced, and real healing and thankfulness began. Days turned into weeks and the journal moved from life event to life event, each time leaving me amazed at how the process of honestly writing down my thoughts brought about tears of joy, tears of sadness, and healing.
A few years after writing the journal, I was out for coffee with a friend of mine one Saturday morning, and we were talking about our families and the importance of sharing our personal life stories with our children. I told my friend about the journal I had written for my sons. Intrigued, he asked if he could read it. I was very hesitant to do so, but finally I agreed to let him look at it. A couple of weeks passed, then one day my friend phoned and as we chatted he said, "You know, I finished your book. It's the best book I've ever read."
"Well, it's not a book, it's a journal," I replied.
"Oh, no--that's a book!" he said. He encouraged me to send it out to publishers and after he'd persisted for a while--I think more to shut him up than anything--I did. To my surprise, there was great interest in my story. I spent the next year transforming the journal into a book format which was published, printed, and released in May.
Now, some nine months after the book release, the book is available through bookstores across North America and is featured as a 5-star book on Amazon. Weekly I receive emails, phone calls, and Facebook messages from people who have read the book, telling me how my story has helped them rethink their lives and focus more on their families. It's very gratifying, to say the least.
The writing of Man Shoes was a legacy exercise for my sons that turned into a therapeutic exercise for myself. The healing and understanding that has come about through the writing of Man Shoes is miraculous. At fifty years of age, I am now a much stronger, more secure, happier, and more productive individual than I have ever been. Hopefully Man Shoes continues to inspire others in the coming months and years--just as it did me as I wrote it.
When love takes you in... a miracle starts.
Follow Tom W. Watson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/yourbetterlife