He's got ranch land, farm land, cattle, hosses, boots, cowboy hats, bacon and eggs. He's grit and iron. He's burly and his chest hair literally bursts out of his button-up Wranglers.
My Dad was never my friend. He was my DAD.
I was fine with it. I had enough friends. I didn't need friends. I needed a Dad.
Dad had expectations of his kids. He didn't expect us to beat out anyone else in life -he didn't even encourage it. Instead, he fostered an environment of independence... we were challenged daily to out-work only the person we were the day before.
And Dad towered over us, a barrel of a man. We were terrified of letting him down in any way.
I never snuck out of the house. I never got detention. I never rebelled terribly or lied to him or ditched anything... the thought of the consequences at home was too much for me to bear. It wasn't that Dad was abusive or anything like that. It was me and my bloody conscious. If I let him down, I would carry it with me for years afterward, and I didn't want to deal with that.
"Tell me about your Dad," my then-boyfriend-now-husband said to me as we made the long drive home to introduce him to my folks, "What's he like?" I thought for a minute before answering. I could have told him that my Dad scared away every boyfriend I'd ever had...
"The minute you meet him, you automatically respect him, and you'd rather die than let him down," was what came out instead.
"I don't understand," he said.
"You will..." I replied.
A few miles outside of my little hometown, we were pulled over for a car-repairish thing (college cars. What are you gonna do?) and when I handed over my registration the officer saw my Dad's name on it.
"Which one of you two is related to this man?" he pointed to my Dad's name.
"Me," I said, fearing nothing... it's no shameful thing to be related to That Man.
"I know you'll get this taken care of then. Take care."
And then he left... no repair order. No warning (we were speeding). No intimidation. My boyfriend turned to me with eyes that rivaled dinner plates.
"Who IS your Dad?"
Dad is John Wayne.
He's rough and hysterical. He's the smartest man in the world -with the worst report cards. His smarts don't come from no stinking books.
They come from dirt, experience, and grease.
Living with a man like that can be hard. I don't fault him or blame him or hate him. I don't. In fact, I love him dearly.
For Christmas, I compiled all of my Cowgirl Poetry (that is just the nuttiest, silliest, fluffiest stuff with no sentiment involved what-so-ever) and made a blurb book out of it for him. I dedicated the book to him, filled it full of vintage cowgirl clip art and watched him break down and cry when he opened it.
He's a rock... a squishy rock.
But there was shame. I don't know where it came from. Maybe from my parents? Maybe from me? Maybe I wanted so badly to never, EVER let them down that I took it too far and spent my entire life hiding the bad parts of me rather than facing them?
All I know is that when I was 12 years old, I was strong because (get a load of this crap:) I didn't cry. I was tough. I was above tears.
Except I wasn't. I had just trained myself to push emotions down, to stifle them, beat them, hog tie them, brand them, castrate them...
And then one day they fought back. I spent two weeks living with my nurturing grandmother because my nerves were so SHOT from the shingles that I couldn't live at home with my big, fun family (and the loud man who happened to be remodeling the bathroom and thought it was super cool to tease me and swing me around and make me miles of uncomfy [he later went to prison for acts which completely validated my uncomfiness]).
One night after my mom had applied a paste made from water and asprins to my shingles, she sat next to me on my grandmother's couch.
"Alicia," she said, tears welling up in her eyes, "You're going to have to learn to get things out. CRY if you need to... and talk! Talk everything out!"
For years, I'd been teased about my ability to never, ever, EVER shut up. I hated it about myself. It's still something I really struggle with. I was a horrid burden on adults because I didn't know when to stop, how to stop, or really: WHY. And the shame crept in, so I quit talking.
After that, my mother -who had been the one primarily irritated by my mouth -became a cheerleader of it.
"Talk! Talk! If you don't, you'll DIE!"
I thought about all of this tonight. I did.
I thought about my shingles and my Dad and shame and John Wayne and the smell of grandma's bathroom mixed with asprin paste.
I thought about it all while my hands were covered in pumpkin guts.
THESE pumpkin guts:
We carved pumpkins early this year. My daughter has show and tell this week -she's supposed to bring something that starts with the letter "j" and she requested "Jack-o-lantern" which is perfect because we have a few pumpkins growing outside.
I sat with my kidlets around me tonight and I showed them a small-ish pumpkin.
"What is this?"
"What is inside of it?"
"GOO!" My daughter giggled.
I told them all about Yuckies. Pumpkins are delicious -they are part fragrant, wholesome goodness and part... yuckies.
"We are ALL like pumpkins," I told my kids, "We have lots of good in ourselves!" We spent some time listing good qualities we all have.
"And we all have some yuckies in us as well, and that's okay."
I told them yuckies are a part of life -and we can't get rid of our own yuckies. We need to realize that when we DO something bad, it's just the yuckies acting out. WE aren't bad. We're mostly juicy goodness!
We cleaned our pumpkins out and talked about Heavenly Father and Jesus and how they're the only ones who can get our yuckies out of us.
I illustrated the COOLEST Alma the Younger story (stick figures are my delight), and when I was done I asked the kids:
"What did Mama just talk about?"
"We don't know, Mom," my son admitted.
"Al..." I tried giving them a hint, "Allll...."
"ALVIN!" My daughter cried out and immediately starting quoting Alvin and the Chipmunks.
At least the pumpkins turned out. Will I ever reach jack-o-lantern status? Will all of my yuckies ever be gone completely? Will I ever have the humility to ask God to please just take all of my nastiness?
The truth is: I have no idea.
I was terrified to let my own personal John Wayne on Earth know that I was weak.
How do I face my John Wayne in the Sky?
Maybe by taking The Real John Wayne's sage advice.
I suddenly have a hankering to watch "Bonanza."
The only cowboy that comes close to even touching John Wayne in rugged sexiness is Little Joe (and yes, I realize that I just made you feel weird because a few paragraphs ago I was calling my DAD John Wayne and now I'm calling John Wayne sexy. My Dad isn't sexy. My Dad is the guy who let me put ponytails in his hair and draw pictures on his arm with a ball point pen while he read Dr. Seuss to me):
My first TV crush. SUCH a heart breaker.