But then this post has little to do with hats. Sure, my father wore them. He made me wear them when I was younger too. For some reason, I was forced to wear those little brimmed hats with feathers in the side. I hated them! Maybe not always, but at some age, I grew to hate them. Seems like the only time I had to wear one was on Sunday to go to church. But my dad—he couldn’t go out of the house to get the newspaper without putting a hat on. It was something about his generation best I can figure.
Hats were something I never understood and swore I’d never wear. So at the age of 18 I joined the Air Force and had to wear a hat outdoors when in uniform for 16-plus years. It became second nature to put on a hat. Just this past weekend, I needed to do some yard work and guess what I put on? Yep, a hat. Not as a fashion statement, but for protection from any falling tree matter. I rarely wear hats now and typically they are purposefully donned if at all—sun protection, cold weather, bugs and stuff. Never a fashion statement. Nope, not me.
So what brings me to hats? I was going to blog about my dad and was looking for a photo. Here’s the one I found. It dates back to 1963 during his time in the Air Force. He was stationed in France and apparently had some downtime. Not my favorite picture of him, but certainly characteristic.
It contrasts with one my sister sent me last night of my dad lying in a hospital bed. There in the corner of the photo is one of his hats.
He is 88 and has been ill and dealing with chronic issues for nearly a year and a half. His tired body is wearing down and he was not expected to make it through the night. News of the morning said that he had survived the night but his prognosis remains grim. He will be moved into hospice care sometime today.
As I got ready for work this morning—life goes on—I realized I had some things to say that I’d rather write while he is alive than to put to page afterwards. You see, he and I have had our issues along the way. Some might say that’s normal, but it’s a normal I would have preferred not be the case. At times it felt as if the neighborhood boys or my cousins had a better relationship with “Mr Dunn” or “Uncle Buster” (respectively) than I had with “Dad”. Maybe that’s to be expected but it seems he always held me to a higher standard. Sometimes that standard seemed unattainable as I always fell short with chores and tasks around the house. Nothing I did was good enough.
In later years, it became clear as he stated once that I never did what he wanted me to do. This was a man who had hopes and dreams for me, or goals he wanted to see achieved in my life. But this was also a man who rarely if ever shared what those goals were. I guess I was just supposed to know.
When I was 17, this is the man who told me I needed to be out when I turned 18. And the same man who asked me where I was going at the age of 18 when I decided to leave. And the same man who repeatedly tried to get me to come back home over the years. Nope, I never did what he wanted me to.
In 1984, I quit the USAFA Prep school. He wanted me to leave the Air Force, return to New Jersey, and go to Rutgers. By the way, his desire for me to go to Rutgers is the very thing that took me to Colorado and the Air Force Academy in the first place. No way was I coming back home. I enlisted and stayed in Colorado.
At the end of that enlistment, again the invitation to come home and go to school. So I reenlisted and took an assignment to RAF Greenham Common. (See “Newbury” and “RAF Greenham Common“) As that tour ended, a request for me to get stationed at McGuire AFB in New Jersey was followed with my assignment to Ramstein Air Base, Germany. I was getting farther and farther from home and staying away longer and longer. Life continued that way. I won’t and can’t go into every disagreement we’ve had, but suffice it to say that I am my own man and make my own decisions—typically at odds with my dad.
In 2008, he and I had a heated argument in which I told him I hope that God shows him one day where he was wrong. I didn’t speak to him again for four months and even then, only because of his hospitalization due to a stroke. Even so, he was not quick to forgive or forget and I doubt he has or ever will forgive me. You see, this was the issue with my brother I wrote about in “My First Movie“. It remains an issue to this day and one more disappointment for my father.
I know I did the right thing. I just wish my father could acknowledge that before he takes his last breath.
Many decades ago I ceased looking for his approval. With this latest issue, I didn’t expect him to be happy about it. But somewhere along the line, I half expected that he might say something to indicate that he had done a good job with me if I could stand up against the incredible situation I found myself in and still have the strength to do what was right to do. Well, whether he ever acknowledges it or not, I take comfort in knowing that even despite the continued judgment from my father, I had the conviction to do what was right.
You see Dad, I have done what you wanted me to do. I grew up as a bravely honest man. I grew up with strength of conviction and with integrity. I grew up able to stand on my own two feet and to make my way in the world. And now with my own family, I take the lessons of my youth and apply them in an attempt to be better. It will be up to my children now as they come into their own. They may not do what I want them to do, but I will respect them enough to let them try, fail and/or succeed. I will suggest and I will support.
And I won’t force them to wear hats.