I’m not the guy who can wear a cowboy hat. I’m pretty much attached to my trusty Detroit Tigers baseball cap, but I’m realistic enough to know a Stetson is not my style.
Let’s be completely honest about cowboy hats. The list of people who can wear one and pull it off, and I mean really pull it off, is small. Timothy Olyphant on “Justified” has earned the right to wear one. I have a theory that George Strait may have been born wearing his. John Wayne, Hank Williams, the cast of “Bonanza”, Ronald Reagan and anyone who has ever used the phrase “I’m your huckleberry” also qualify.
“Because we have the coolest hats, that’s why.”
There is another name I can add to the list: My dad.
I want to give you some background information so you can get a good mental picture of who he was. I have four sisters and a brother, so I came from a pretty big family. I am number five and there is a decade gap between me and my next oldest sister. When I was young, my father developed health problems and started to settle down a little bit. But I’ve heard stories about his younger days and can sum him up by saying that he was a Grade A, 100% USDA Certified Hellraiser.
My dad rode Harleys and spent more than his fair share of time in bars and honky tonks. My dad was tough as nails, with a temper like a bipolar rattlesnake. My dad didn’t look for trouble, but never backed down. My dad could single handedly affect the profit margin for Pabst Blue Ribbon depending on his weekend plans. He walked hard.
“1950 @ 17 years old”
My dad never went to college, but he was brilliant. He didn’t attend church, but had a well developed sense of fairness, ethics and morality. He was definitely an outlaw, but had a big heart and a razor sharp sense of humor. My dad was selective about who he called a friend and valued those he had. He never failed at anything he tried and was passionate about his hobbies, from flying planes to ham radio, from classic westerns to country music.
My dad passed away on Groundhog’s Day in 2011. We had gone through a couple of close calls in the past, so I had the satisfaction that there was nothing between us that needed to be said. That being said, it was still tough. As a guy, there’s something about losing your father that takes the wind out of your sails.
My dad is probably the reason I love music. One of my earliest memories is riding with him in his truck, listening to Hank Thompson’s “Humpty Dumpty Heart” on 8-track. Radio has afforded me the opportunity to do some pretty amazing things and I never failed to call my dad and share what I was doing, where I had been or who I had met. When he passed away, the one thing I was adamant about was the music. I put together the playlist of songs that were played at his funeral service… everything from Ernest Tubb’s “Walking The Floor Over You” to Del Shannon’s “Runaway”. I knew I had done well when a friend of my dad’s said it was the best soundtrack he had ever heard for a funeral.
When I was very young, my family took a vacation to Colorado and Wyoming. I have a great picture of me sitting on a horse and my dad holding the reins, decked out in full western gear and his brand new Stetson hat. Over the years, he wore that cowboy hat to the point of wearing it out. Years before he passed away, I told him that I wanted that hat after he was gone.
I had left the hat at my mother’s house, because somehow, it never felt like the right time to take it. This past weekend, I broke down and brought that old cowboy hat home with me. It was dirty and out of shape, with a dark stain on the front from the countless times he had adjusted it on his head. I took the hat to have it reshaped, cleaned and ready for display. It will sit in an old Edison Victrola cabinet that I am working on restoring.
My dad’s Stetson is the one thing he owned that personified who he was and how I choose to remember him.
I’m not the cowboy hat type, Dad… but I’m glad you were. You pulled it off.