The Search for a Cowboy

If you’ve read any of what I’ve written, you know that I appreciate and attempt to live by an old-school value system that came from my old-school upbringing. I don’t run across a lot of other people my age who grew up on a ranch, attended a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher for kindergarten through eighth grade….  and ate lunches comprised of vegetables from the garden washed in water from a livestock tank to avoid going to the house and being put down for a nap. So now that I’m an adult (and a contemplative one at that), I’ve thought a lot about how my upbringing has translated into my search for a husband.

Or really… my search for a cowboy.

I’m speaking metaphorically when I say that, because I’m not actually looking for a man with a big belt buckle who saddles up a horse to start the day’s work. Rather, I’m looking for a certain mentality. I’m looking for the way in which a man conducts himself, and the standard he holds himself to. You see, there are certain traits that I associate with cowboys, and those are the traits that capture my attention and command my respect. Those are the traits that cause me to put a man on a pedestal and look at him with admiration in my eyes. This list is not comprehensive, by any means, but it’s a good start.

A cowboy lives by a code of honor. Somewhere along the way, people pick up a set of rules or principles to live by. Sometimes their parents give it to them. Sometimes it comes from an influential figure, or maybe even the military or an amazing coach. But this code of honor guides a man to do what is honorable, whether or not it’s easy. For example, a student’s code of honor requires that the work he turns in be his own. A soldier’s code of honor requires him to stand and fight rather than deserting his fellow soldiers. A father’s code of honor requires him to protect and teach his children to the best of his ability. A cowboy looks for the appropriate honor code and upholds it without needing to talk about it or be praised for it. He does it because it makes him a man.

The code of honor really encompasses everything that follows, but I think it’s worth detailing them anyway.

A cowboy has good work ethic. He does what is necessary to get a job done. He takes pride in his work. Simply good enough is simply not good enough.

A cowboy is compassionate to children and animals. He recognizes that he has a duty to those who cannot help themselves, and he gladly shoulders that responsibility. I’ve never met a true cowboy who didn’t play with children or love a good dog. I’ve never met a true cowboy who was cruel to his horses. In fact, a cowboy will take any measures necessary to correct a man who is abusing his power and strength with those weaker than himself. He defends the weak, and he’s not afraid to teach a lesson that needs to be taught to those who don’t.

A cowboy respects women. Men and women are different by God’s design. It’s unfortunate, in my opinion, that society has worked so hard to mask those differences. But a cowboy sees and appreciates them, and cherishes a woman for the ways in which she differs from himself. Now don’t get me wrong… not all women conduct themselves in a way that warrants respect, in which case, a cowboy simply moves on. But when he does find a good woman, he knows how to treat her.

A cowboy respects his elders. At some point in his life, he will slowly take over the responsibility of caring for his parents in the ways that they used to care for him. He will value their wisdom, listen to their stories, and cherish the time he has to bridge the gap between generations before that opportunity is gone.

A cowboy makes no apologies for being a man. Even in the midst of a society that has devalued masculinity, a cowboy remains masculine. He recognizes that it’s in a woman’s nature to test him and make sure he won’t break… make sure he has the strength to be her man. (Forgive us. We don’t even know we do it sometimes.) Men are naturally more inclined to be competitive, to enjoy sports or the great outdoors or whatever their particular “thing” might be. A cowboy embraces what’s in his nature, pursues his interests and desires, and is a better husband, father, friend because of it.

A cowboy is prepared physically, mentally, and spiritually to fight for what is right. That means he protects his family, stands up for what he believes in, and fights for his country if necessary. And he takes the steps necessary to make sure that he can.

A cowboy is humble. He recognizes that even if he has spent a lifetime working tirelessly toward his goals, he is still thankful for his health and good fortune. He doesn’t look down on others and doesn’t forget to count his blessings.

A cowboy has quiet strength. I’ve found that the strongest of men are sometimes the ones you’d least expect. That’s because they’re humble (see above). And you only learn how strong they are when they are tested. You learn just how much of a rock a man is when you push on him, attempting to move him. A cowboy will allow you to push, but when you reach his limits, you’ll be stopped in your tracks and no amount of pushing will budge him. The loud one in a room… the boastful one… is not a cowboy.

Lastly, a cowboy has courage. Winston Churchill said “courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” Without courage, a person cannot hold themselves to any of the standards listed above, because inevitably his convictions will be tested. Courage will be required to stay the path, to uphold his code, to fight for his beliefs, and to withstand pain because sometimes life delivers pain. To recognize your own faults and correct them requires courage. Even to love requires a great deal of courage. A cowboy has enough of it.

So there you have it. The man I seek is a cowboy, not by occupation or dress, but by the qualities I’ve listed. I’ve been disappointed by the lack of cowboys in my generation, but once in a great while, one will appear. He might be a business owner, a salesman, a construction worker, an accountant, or a pilot. But regardless of how he looks on the outside, he’s saddling up and riding for the brand… a true cowboy at heart.

Bravo to all of you who are.

My grandfather and his brothers, the Blair boys. Their parents are on the left.

…or maybe more appropriately, I DON’T hunt like a girl

Just a quick follow-up to my last post…

We returned home from our whirlwind trip to Dad’s ranch last night. We met a blizzard on the way there, so the 8 hour trip turned into almost 10 hours. We made it through snow drifts a foot high on the interstate for the last 100 miles of the trip, and pulled into the ranch just shy of 3 am. I didn’t make it out of bed for the first hunt two hours later, but the guys came home empty-handed so I didn’t feel too bad about it. I did go out the rest of the day, but with temperatures in the single digits, I didn’t stray too far from the pick-up.

Actually, I didn’t even chamber a round over the weekend. Neither did Dan or my Dad. The only successful hunter in the group was Connor, the youngest son of my high school debate coach (and close family friend), Bob Speirs. Connor is 12 years old, and this year he scored his first deer tag. So this year, it was all about him. That was fine with the rest of us. We were just  happy to be together and content to send Dad to shoot a doe for meat when the weather warms up.

The weekend went by way too quickly, and by Sunday afternoon, we were packed up and headed out again. Next year we plan to give ourselves more time, and hopefully the weather will cooperate a little better. I was called a “fair weather hunter” this year when I didn’t even get out of the pickup after seeing three “shooter” Mule Deer bucks in our south pastures. I would have gotten out… but my feet were cold.  🙂  One of them would have been a trophy though! Hopefully he’ll survive the next week and be there next year.

Sunset on "Hall Draw", facing the river from the old house

Connor's first buck

Dan, Jack, Marybeth, Dad, and me, forcing smiles in the single-digit temperatures

To a Strong Woman… and Back Again

I mastered it. The art of being a strong, independent woman. Somewhere in my early 20’s, I figured out how to not need anything from anyone. I didn’t need to waste my time on a relationship. I was busy getting my education. I had a goal in mind… a successful career that would require a graduate degree, publications, long hours in a high rise office.

I would make money, I decided. I would be able to provide a good life for myself and if the time ever came, I’d be able to send my kids to Ivy League schools if they chose to go to one. The idea of a husband didn’t really come into the picture, although I knew it was a necessary detail. I would do it. That’s all that mattered.

Why would I do it? Because I had something to prove. A sheltered childhood left me ill-equipped for the world that would greet me when I struck off on my own, as a barely-18 year-old girl who weighed 100 pounds soaking wet. I learned the hard way that not everyone has good intentions. I learned that your first love might cheat on you with a woman of questionable morals. That you might get your heart broken because someone’s addiction is stronger than their love for you. I learned that you can’t keep a routine, because someone might study it. I learned that it’s not safe to go places alone at night. That you have to worry about parking garages and dark stairwells and telling people where you live. I learned that a lot of men aren’t like my dad. I’d been hurt. I’d been scarred. And for a while, I’d been beaten by life.

But you can only live that way… feeling beaten… for so long. Then you decide that you aren’t going to let the trials of life win. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and decide that you’re stronger than that. I began a journey to build a fortress around myself. I became smarter. I became tougher. Harder. Stronger. I faced my fears head-on. And before I knew it, there I was… a strong, independent woman. I had my career. I owned my home. I learned that with perseverance, I can overcome anything that might stand in my way.

I did it on my own. And as a result, I was alone.

Men, you’ve all met a woman like I described above. There’s not much you can say or do to convince her to let her guard down. Most men walk away from a woman like that. Or they latch onto her because her confidence makes up for the confidence they’re lacking, and eventually, she walks away from them. Men have told me I’m intimidating. Men have told me they feel they have nothing to offer me. How wrong they were. But still, it kept me alone.

But the pendulum always swings back in the other direction. My defenses served me well, as they do all women who are trying to protect themselves. But my perspective has changed again. I’m in a different place in life and the tint on the lense has changed once more. I’ve healed. And now I realize… I don’t want to be so strong.

Men, take note. When you meet a woman, regardless of how tough her façade is, treat her as if she’s delicate. Because she is. Recognize that even if she’s the CEO of some big corporation, she still worries about what you think of her. She still feels insecurities and is thrown out of her element by hormones from time to time. When she questions you, open your eyes to the reason behind her questions. Even if she’s a beautiful, intelligent, seemingly confident woman, she still wants/needs that one man to show her kindness and affection. She needs his reassurance. If she walks away angry, she wants him to follow. She’ll show her insecurity with defensiveness. Ignore her walls. Let her know that you see through them and that you’ll walk through them and that you’ll be there to catch her when she needs you.

Even the strongest woman needs a man who lets her be soft and sensitive. We want to be the weaker sex. When a man recognizes this and treats us accordingly, it’s like a sigh of relief. A burden taken off of us that we’ve been carrying since the first time we caught a glimpse of how cruel the world can be. When you see what’s underneath our tough outer shell, you give us permission to be the person we really are… be the thing that comes natural to us. Feminine. And it elevates that man in our minds to be the only one who ‘gets it’. The one who makes us feel safe. He is the man; she is the woman.

His woman.

Those Damn Double Doors

At about 6:00 this morning, I was walking into the gym to do some morning cardio—my typical Monday morning routine. When I was a few feet from the front door a man’s voice yelled from behind me, “I’ll get the door!” I turned around to see a young man, maybe early 20’s, jogging across the parking lot toward me. I stopped and waited, pleasantly surprised, and thanked him when he opened the door for me. In a Southern accent, he said “you’re welcome.” Then I walked through the doors and dammit if I wasn’t stumped once again by the double door. I never know what to do! In this instance, he had put so much effort into getting the first door for me that I stopped and waited, allowing him to get the second door too. If I had gotten the second door for myself, I ran the risk of being unappreciative of his chivalry. But if I don’t, I might look lazy or seem to have a sense of entitlement. I have always just relied on a genuine ‘thank you’ with eye contact and a smile to redeem myself for any mistakes I might be making.

But it gets even more complicated than that. Does the polite thing to do change depending on if it’s a stranger or your date? What if it’s a first date versus a date with your long-time significant other? What if the gentleman holding the door is older, from a previous generation where chivalry was the norm? Do you respond differently then?

I realize that there are a lot more rules for men to know than women… assuming the man wants to be chivalrous. He needs to worry about the rules surrounding opening car doors, which side of her he should be on when walking down the sidewalk, whether to be in front of her or behind her on the stairs, whether to let her go first through a revolving door or to go ahead of her and do the work for her. He needs to walk the delicate balance between offering to pick her up for a date versus respecting the fact that she may not want to divulge her address. He needs to know when to put his jacket around her shoulders and when to refrain because she isn’t cold enough yet to cover up her cute outfit. He has to worry about offending her by treating her as if she’s incapable. (If only we all wore signs, announcing where we fall on the feminist rating scale.) Lastly, but certainly not least, is the issue of picking up the check. This one stumps women, too, btw.

I’ll shed some light, from one woman’s perspective, on what is appreciated. It can be summed up quite simply:

I like it all! There’s no such thing as too chivalrous in my book, as long as you’re not making a show of it. I love having doors held for me. I love it when a guy offers to pick me up for a date, opens the car door (all the time, not just on a date), pulls out my chair at dinner, puts his jacket around me when I’m cold. I like it when he walks me to my door after a date, or at least checks to see that I made it home safely. I love it when I feel a hand on my lower back to guide me, even though I’m perfectly capable of finding my own way through a door. I like it when a man pulls me to the other side of him to make sure he’s closer to the street when we’re walking down a sidewalk. None of it goes unnoticed, and none of it goes unappreciated. It reminds me that I am a woman, and more importantly, that he is a man.

So now that you have the female perspective, I’d love to hear the man’s perspective. At what point do you feel that a woman is being presumptuous? If you hold the first door of a set of two, what do you expect her to do for the second door? When the check comes, do you want her to offer to pay or not? Does it make a difference whether it’s a first date, or who asked who to dinner? If you pay for dinner, do you want her to offer to pay for the dessert/drink/movie that follows, or is she taking something away from you by doing that?

Let’s help each other out here. Chivalry is not dead. It’s just muddled. I, for one, would like to know how to leave a good impression.

Signed,

Modern woman with an old soul