I see a newspaper clipping with the image of my father smiling back at me. A furry unkempt beard on a stern face, aged with labor and stress. You can tell by his bright eyes that he is an honest, kind man with a lot of strength. “He’s still wearing that hat,” the tattered, green, John Deere hat my brother and I bought him for Christmas 5 years ago, he just never took it off.
My mind wanders off… I remember I was eleven that year and Cade was probably 8. We worried about what to get him as usual, I don’t know why because he always liked everything, or pretended to anyway. Cade found the hat at some store in the mall and really thought he would like it. Little did we know that soon we would despise that hat more than even eating vegetables.
My dad is a landscaper so he’s always outside working hard with his hands; in the earth, on the tractor, just getting the job done. So, naturally he’s going to get dirty and reeking. As well as wearing that hat everyday, it was only a matter of time before it took on the appearance of our working dad. Sure, it was washed and tried to be made, to at least appear new again but it just seemed permanently dirty and tattered. But dad still loved it and continued to wear it despite its dog-eared appearance.
In the morning it was on his head, at work it was on his head, at home, at the dinner table it was on his head. Even out shopping or at the movies, we were focused on this eye sore of a hat which we quickly began to resent. At times, we begged him just to leave it at home, on family nights we compromised that it would be ok for him to wear; picking us up from a friend’s house definitely not and anywhere out in public was generally a big no also. A couple of times my step mom would take Dad off to the side when we were going to a BBQ at her friends house or going to her mother’s for dinner. Sometimes she said “I know you like it but it’s not appropriate for tonight.” Dad would mostly agree and reluctantly leave it on the coat rack as we walked out the door. He always said it was a part of him, that he felt naked without it, an old familiar comfort.
Whenever he was asked to leave behind his hat it was like we were asking him to abandon his dog or one of us kids, well maybe not that severe, but still you could clearly tell it bothered him and he wasn’t himself without it. Always reaching for his head to adjust a cap that wasn’t there, he just wasn’t as content and we noticed that. In some repressed way Cade and I had maybe grown a little use to the old thing and even if we hadn’t, we realized how petty and selfish we were being. We gave dad a gift that he truly enjoyed and then we took it away from him because we were worried about how it made us look. The hat was apart of dad, built into his personality, you didn’t see him without it ever, unless one of us begged him to leave it off, “just for tonight.” From then on we never complained again, we embraced it, at least to his face.