There’s a black mark on my big toe. Looks like it was done with a Sharpie marker. I’m not sure how it got there, or exactly how long I’ve had it, but it’s been around for at least three years. It doesn’t hurt, and until now, not many people have seen it, as I rarely go barefoot and hate wearing sandals. I haven't shown a doctor, but I’ve been watching it closely.
For the first year or so, it just stayed put at the base of the nail, then it started slowly migrating north. At first I wasn’t sure it was actually moving, but after several months, its progress was undeniable. As you can see from the picture, it’s almost reached the end of its journey. I’m guessing by the next time I cut my nails, it’ll be gone. And I’ll be sad.
You see, my dad has an ugly big toe. For as long as I can remember, he’s had nine normal ones, and a nasty, gnarled, yellow one. And for some strange reason, many of my friends’ dads had similar issues with their feet. Now, before you go thinking I have a foot fetish, you should know that most of the families in my neighborhood had swimming pools, so I couldn’t help but notice their feet. Especially when there were so many with missing toes, shriveled black nails, and big old bunions flip-flopping around the patio.
And if it wasn’t a foot, it was hand. Thumbs with chunks missing from errant fish hooks, or knuckles swollen to the point of bursting, or perhaps a pinky without a nail. To an impressionable young kid, it seemed like in order to be a dad, you had to have some sort of disfigurement.
So even though I was vaguely concerned about what the mark on my toenail might be, I was happy thinking it marked my membership in the Dad Club. It made me feel good to know I had something my son and his friends could marvel at when they got older. But now that it’s about to disappear, I’m starting to get a little worried. Not so much that the loss of it is going to somehow make me less of a dad, but more over my concern about where my REAL dad-defining injury is going to come from! Now every time I go to pick up a saw or hammer a nail, I flinch, thinking this could be it.
I was foolish to think that a pain-free blemish on my nail would be enough to go toe to toe with my dad. I know that being a good father requires more than a freakish foot or mangled thumb, and that the truly defining moments are the ones that typically leave scars on the inside. But in the meantime, while I’m not looking forward to earning my black toe of honor, when it does happen, I will wear it with pride. Even if it means sporting sandals.