Today is a special day. On this day in 1939, Jess B. and Saphronia Evelyn Huffman gave birth to a bouncing baby boy. This bouncing baby boy would go on to marry my mother and become my dad. My granddad was 36 when my dad was born, and he was 36 when I was born. Now I will be 36 when my own son is born in December.
One of the first songs I remember learning as a child was Willie Nelson’s “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” And this song could not be more appropriate. My dad is a cowboy through and through. He grew up in a different era. My dad took piano lessons to appease his mother, not for the lessons, but because he got to ride his horse to and from the teacher’s house. He grew up farming and learned to work at a very early age. He ran a bulldozer and raised hogs to put himself through college, then went to work for International Harvester as a service rep, not because he was such a great mechanic (which he was) but because he knew how to find the answers in the pages and pages of manuals that had been given him. He would eventually manage, then own a farm equipment dealership, which was the business that provided for our family as long as I can remember.
As a child, my dad wanted me to be a cowboy so bad, and I wanted desperately to make his dreams come true. However, for some reason, the Good Lord allowed me to be deathly allergic to horses which kept these ambitions in check. After only being around them for a few minutes I would break out in hives and my eyes and nose would swell shut as the wheezing would set in. It would not be until I was in high school that I could be around horses for any length of time and I would eventually learn to ride alongside my dad.
But on this special day, I want to pay tribute to a great man, for the things he taught me, like the value of hard work. At 73, my dad can still outwork me to this day. And although the work I do is completely different from the work he did and still does as a cattle rancher, every time I put in a long day and come in after dark to a yard that hasn’t been mowed, I think of my dad and like to think that somehow he sees the work ethic he instilled in me. He would eventually teach me to saddle and ride a horse, pen, sort, and work cattle. He taught me how to catch fish and filet them–how to hunt and dress game. He taught me how to fix a 91 Chevrolet pick-up and knew that I could replace the starter even if it meant doing it after dark in the parking lot of my college dorm room. He taught me how to build things and how to work with my hands. He taught me how to take care of animals and that they deserve the best care we can give them. And while these are skills he taught me, the best things I learned from him are much more important.
My dad taught me how to trust others, even if it’s to a fault. My dad taught me how to be generous, even if it means some people will take advantage of you. My dad taught me about faith. Even though his faith often looked different than that of my mother or me, I knew where my dad stood with God. He taught me the value of telling people you love about God’s saving grace. He also had a way of seeing the good in people, even when they were a little rough around the edges. He showed me that loving one woman for your entire life is a very attainable goal and that commitment goes beyond personal gratification in a relationship. I learned that no matter how busy you are, you can still make time for your kids.
You would think my life would be filled with horses and saddles. And while I do still live on the back side of my parent’s little ranch outside of Palestine, TX, and I do still help dad bale hay and work the cattle, most people probably would say I’m not much of a cowboy. But I feel that my dad empowered me with a cowboy spirit, complete with hard work, loyalty, and a disdain for shoe laces. He gave me a love for the great outdoors and an understanding that sometimes the best green you can have is a field of coastal bermuda grass. To this day, I wear mostly boots when it’s not summer youth ministry season. And while I’ve just come to enjoy the simplicity of the footwear, they are a reminder of my heritage. They remind me that I come from good stock, rooted in a different era.
Dad, I love you. I can never be thankful enough for all you’ve given to me and Mom over the years. I know you will never be repaid for everything you’ve given me, but I want you to know I appreciate every bit of it.
My heroes have always been cowboys.
And they still are, it seems.
Sadly, in search of, but one step in back of,
Themselves and their slow-movin’ dreams.