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That darn hat


Fri, Jan 3rd, 2014
Posted in All Commentary

I came from, arguably, a family of nomads. My family lost the family farm through various means, some of them slightly questionable, and as a result my clan have wandered through northern Illinois and into central Wisconsin. My mother, father, and older siblings moved six times in 20 years and finally settled into a little town called Neillsville, almost smack-dab in the middle of the state. We stayed there for 11 years which was, up to then, the longest my family had stayed anywhere in the 25 years my parents had been building their family.

So, what does this have to do with a hat?

Well, as my wife will tell you (often while sardonically humming “Deutschland Über Alles” and rolling her eyes) my family is quite close. Not necessarily by design, as the gap between my eldest and youngest sister is 13 years, but more by necessity. When you move so much, and the children are so young, it can be tough to form and hold onto friendships and the like. Even in this world of Facebook and Twitter, I don’t keep up like I should with people I’ve moved away from. When your family moves as much as mine did, you may not have those childhood friends we see in Hallmark movies that ride Schwinns down sun-dappled lanes pas colonials and Cape Cods… but you still have your family. You always have your family.

Now, anyone will tell you that being the new kid in town, or at school, it a tough go. I just learned a few years ago about the fights my older brothers got into being outsiders at the schools they grew up in, which I found a little shocking when I heard of their ferocity. Through all of this, though, there seemed to be one common thread that kept us all going. It didn’t matter how much you got beaten up, or teased, or bullied, or whatever, because you could still come home to a loving family and, sometimes, that was all you had. As a result, the decisions and actions you make, like some sort of weird Japanese stage play, seem to have heavy overtones of “family honor,” even when your family was a bunch of German nomads in the middle of Wisconsin.

Which brings me to… the hat.

I was born in 1985, to a family that originally called northern Illinois home. If you know your NFL History, it should come as no surprise that I was brought up to be a fan of the Chicago Bears. Of course, that ran into a bit of a snag when my family spent 11 years in one of the deepest parts of Packer country. Naturally, I got teased, particularly when Brett Favre’s magical mystery bus rode all the way to a Super Bowl win in 1997. Kids used to follow me down the hallways chanting “The Bears Still Suck” over and over again like it was some sort of dogma, but always I remained firm, and why? Because my family expected me to. Whether they actually spoke it or not, it was understood that this house was a house, certainly, of people who did not cheer the Green and Gold. Sure, my brother liked the Dolphins, and I had a soft spot for the cannon-armed lefty quarterback in Cincinnati, but no one in that house backed the Pack, no matter what.

But one day, at a Farm n Fleet or a Fleet Farm (I never could keep them straight), I buckled to the pressure and my 11 year old hand reached out to grab a simple Packers hat on clearance, asking my mom with puppy-dog eyes if I could have it. To my surprise, she allowed it, and luckily neither of my older brothers or my father were along on the trip to criticize my decision. Instead, I got that when I returned home.

“Oh, my son!” I remember my dad saying sorrowfully, ready to rip the garments he was wearing, “A Packer fan! I can’t believe it!”

I never wore the hat. Not once. I had shamed my family. I put it away and tried to never look at it again. The surge I felt in the store to my soul, that maybe I wouldn’t be mocked as much, or maybe this would help me make some new friends, had turned sour in my stomach in the face of my father’s admonishment. The things you say to your family stick, no matter how much you may mean for it to be a joke. Just a week ago, at the family Christmas, when I let my shaggy hair fall where it may because, hey, I’m on vacation, my brother took one look at me and said, with some over-the-top bravado, “what is that, a center part? Leitzen men part their hair on the side!” and ever since I’ve been trying to keep my hair where it should be, as a point of pride. I know it sounds ridiculous, even at this age, to let something like that get to you, but as this new year dawns it would be a good idea to reflect back on what you’ve said to those who are important in your life and see what may still affect them 15 years later.

You might be surprised.

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