Something to be proud of

It’s quite possible that the thoughts I’m about to share are largely due to hormones, seeing as how I’m 8 months pregnant. Nonetheless…

Several months ago I found a picture of my late grandparents, Robert (Bob) and Inga Blair. I found a rustic frame to put the picture in and created a place for it on the bookshelf in my home office. It’s a simple picture—just the two of them standing in their dining room. Grandpa was wearing his good cowboy hat and Grandma was wearing earrings, so they must have been on their way to town. Grandpa’s arm was around Grandma, and she was holding his hand. They both wore their big smiles that had created deep lines in their faces over the years. Smiles that, if you knew them, reminded you of their wonderful senses of humor that had endeared the entire rural community to them.

Grandma and Grandpa

Grandpa was a small Irish man who was as tough as he was kind-hearted. He had a funny saying for every situation, and he never met a child or animal he didn’t love. He left home after the 8th grade with no possessions, started his family during the Great Depression, and accumulated more than 10,000 acres of land over the course of his lifetime. He left a legacy behind him, rich with not only possessions, but family and people who loved him. He was the bank when his friends couldn’t get a loan. He was the voice of reason when someone was being rash. And he was a scrapper when he was defending the code he lived by. At his funeral, friends shared memories of him that filled the room with laughter. I shared something I’d written about him called The Greatest Man I Know that filled the room with tears.

My grandmother was equally unique and wonderful. Her love for her family knew no bounds. She was a Norwegian woman with a personality big enough to handle my grandpa’s and a spirit light enough to appreciate his shenanigans. She was always trying to put meat on people’s bones. When we were young, she’d disappear into the other room and reappear with a measuring cup full of skittles for each of the grandkids that came to visit. We never did find her hiding place for those skittles. Grandma was a woman of few words, but when she spoke, you listened. She was the perfect complement to my grandpa, like a team of horses. They just worked better as a pair.

Without going into a lot more detail, suffice it to say that I loved my grandparents fiercely. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that the special role my grandpa played in my life is one that not everyone has had the pleasure of experiencing. Not everyone has had a rock—a role model—like my grandpa. For some reason, my brothers and I just wanted to make my grandpa proud. Sometimes that meant getting out the lawnmower and mowing his lawn without being asked. It would have been enough to hear him say thank you, or to receive that “good job” slap on the back from him that almost hurt… but he would also reward us with a crisp $5 or $10 bill. My brothers and I worked hard and played hard with Grandpa, and loved every minute of it. Some of my favorite memories of my childhood involve having an ice cream cone with Grandpa after a job well done, or taking a ride on the bench-seated 3-wheeler that Grandpa would pull out before the sun went down on a summer night. They were simple pleasures but they meant the world to us.

To this day, the opinion of my grandpa matters to me. It’s one of the reasons my hair has been long all my life. Grandpa liked it that way. He’s also big part of the reason I’m frugal with money. He didn’t buy what he didn’t need. He taught my dad to be that way, and from watching both of them make financial decisions for the ranch over the years, I’ve learned to be careful with money too.

Now, since finding that picture of my grandparents, at least a couple times per week I’ll look up from my work and glance at it. It always causes me to pause for a minute and remember them. It always causes me to shift my focus and see my life in simpler terms—the terms Grandpa lived by. I find myself wondering what Grandpa would say about my life if he were alive today. I wonder what questions he would have for my husband and what adventures he would have taken Mylo on out at the ranch. I wonder what new stories he would tell about his life as a young cowboy that he’d recall when spending a day with us now. (No matter how many stories he told, there were always new ones we’d never heard.)

Today I sat in my office chair, feeling my unborn son moving and kicking inside me, and I glanced up at that picture. Suddenly tears were streaming down my face, partly because I miss them, but mostly because my husband and I have decided to make our son’s middle name Robert. I think my husband agreed to it because he knows it means a lot to me, but he will never know how much it means. He’ll never know how sad I am that my grandpa never got to meet my husband… never got to look in my husband’s eyes and grip his hand firmly with a handshake that both greeted him warmly and evaluated him as a man. He’ll never know how much I wish my grandfather could have seen what a hard worker he is and how well he takes care of me and his sons. As I thought about this I was reminded of the Montgomery Gentry song, Something To Be Proud Of. You see, I know my grandpa would have been proud of the family I have and the life we’ve built. I know he would have liked my husband and I know the smile my sons would have brought to his face. So my tears as I thought about all of this come from sadness at the missed opportunity to see pride in my grandpa’s face. But they also come from the joy I have about my husband, my boys, and my opportunity to let my grandpa’s name live on in my son.

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.