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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

My Father's Hat*



*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
June 20, 2010
as "Tip Your Hat to Dad On His Special Day"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

The relationship between fathers and sons is a complicated one. For most of us, our Dad was a towering figure; the source of unquestioned wisdom and authority. We loved him, and yet feared him, or rather, feared that we would be measured and found lacking in his eyes. The good ones taught us how to be men, stressing the importance of integrity, honesty, fidelity, and inner strength. We learned from them how to treat our wives, with respect and dignity.

They made it look easy, but it wasn’t until we became fathers ourselves that we discovered how hard it was to be “Dad.”

My father died in the spring of 2004 from a host of ailments. He was a man of immense dignity and intelligence; a minister who had taken the Word to remote jungles in Africa, the hinterlands of a dozen Asian countries, and across the Iron Curtain during a time when people of faith were being imprisoned and even executed. And this after serving in the Navy on U-boat patrol in the North Atlantic. He lived a full life, touching the lives of thousands. My sister and I still feel his loss deeply, but at the same time we recognized his passing as a healing. He was in Heaven, released from his pain, and reunited with my mother and step-mother, both of whom had died of cancer.

In the days following the funeral, it was our sad duty to collect his belongings. One afternoon, as I was going through his clothes, I found his hat. Dad wasn’t much of a hat man after the popular Fedora of the ‘50s and ‘60s faded from fashion, but in his final years, he had often worn this one. And as I gently ran my hands across the surface, I knew I had to keep it.

It is called an Ivy cap, similar to but not as round as a Newsboy or a Gatsby. It’s color could best be called gray, although there are a host of blues, whites, browns and yellows scattered across its surface. It is a simple piece of headgear, but it was the last one he ever wore. It’s a comfortable fit and useful for those ‘tweener days when it’s too warm for my big black Russian Ushanka, but not warm enough to go bareheaded. It could best be termed “stylishly jaunty” and as I look around these days, it seems to be coming back in vogue.

But that’s not why I wear it.

In the years since his passing, I have missed him, especially in those moments when I was desperately in need of sound advice. He was smart, yes; but he was also immensely wise, his counsel always profound. When I wear his cap, somehow I feel closer to him; sheltered by his comforting presence.

I don’t claim it to be a transdimensional communications device, or a pathway for paranormal channeling. It’s just a hat. But it means the world to me, a treasure the value of which is measured solely by the heart.
Someday in the future, I will pass it to my son. He may wear it, or just put it on a shelf somewhere; that’s up to him. But I hope I can convey to him what this cap has meant to me; how it connects me with the memory of my Dad. And someday when I am gone, perhaps he will also find in it a memory; the bridge to the best of what we were.

I’m not wealthy; there won’t be a lot of gold and silver to pass along to the kids. What will be left is a collection of highly personal possessions, each one recalling a memory, warm and sweet; marking the mileposts of our lives. However, there is one priceless thing I can leave. The one thing most valuable; the greatest gift any father can give to his children...

The knowledge, writ large upon their hearts, of how deeply they are loved.


Duane E. Couey, 1924-2004
A true and faithful servant.
My Dad.
My Hero.
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