I was about to turn 41 when I was taught a wonderful life changing lesson from an unexpected pair.
One Saturday afternoon while my son was playing in his room, I was sitting on his floor sorting through his clothes. I noticed Judah was looking at something in his closet. Pointing to the top shelf he asked me what was in the square box. Not knowing what box I stood up to see more closely. As soon as I saw the box, I remembered it was an old hat of my dad’s which I told Judah. His eyes lit up with excitement as he asked if he could see it. At first I hesitated. I had this internal voice that just so happened to sound like Daddy telling me, “Absolutely not!” Then, I looked down at my son and saw his face so eagerly wanting to see this mysterious hat in the old fancy box. I thought about it and figured showing him the hat would be no big deal. It wasn’t as if he was going to play with it.
I got a stool and took the box down off the shelf. Judah could’t wait for me to open it. I adored the joy he showed in wanting to see this hat. It was as if it were his birthday or Chanukah. His excitement was contagious and I became eager to open the box too. As I opened the box and pulled out the hat, Judah’s eyes got really big. He said,”Momma, that is SO cool!”
The hat was from the early 1960’s. It was tan with small feathers on the side. The rim went all the way around and was bend up. Judah asked if he could try on the hat. I cringed when he asked and immediately said, “Judah, no…this was my Dad’s hat.” Without missing a beat Judah looked up at me with his big brown eyes and said,”Well, is your dad still using it? I thought you said he wasn’t alive anymore.”
I could hear two voices in my head. One voice was Daddy angrily yelling at his daughter, me, on how my child could ruin his hat. The other voice was from me as Judah’s mom which was saying to let him enjoy something of his grandfathers where good memories could be created. While listening to these voices I hadn’t noticed Judah had taken the hat, was trying it on and looking in the mirror admiring himself. I took a moment to not react and to simply watch him.
Judah was tipping the hat covering one of his eyes. Then he’d talk from the side of his mouth with a deep voice. I loved watching him play different characters according to the way he was wearing the hat. If only he knew quotes from Casablanca that would have be perfect.
After looking in the mirror Judah turned towards me. He excitedly said,”Momma, don’t move. I’ll be right back and you’re going to love my costume.” He ran out of his room with Daddy’s hat went downstairs. I could hear him opening up our old barrister’s cabinet and I couldn’t imagine what he was getting. As he was running back upstairs he yelled for me to close my eyes so he could surprise me. So I did.
When Judah told me to open my eyes and I did, I absolutely loved what I saw. He was wearing Daddy’s hat at an angle, an adult size brown trench coat, and holding one of Daddy’s old pipes. He told me he was a detective solving a crime. Judah stood in front of me while intermittently pretending to take a puff from the pipe and said in a deep voice, “Momma, some jewels were stolen and we need to find them. So, come with me to look for the clues.” Forgetting all about my concerns with Judah using Daddy’s hat, I became his assistant to find the stolen jewels. Carol knows that pretending is not easy for me but Judah so had me at “Momma”.
Watching Judah play with Daddy’s hat the way he did truly gave me joy. Even so, I told Judah he needed to put it on his dresser and take care of the hat. In my mind that was how I could justify my child playing with Daddy’s hat. But, come on who was I kidding? What 6 year old is going to take care of a hat? However, Judah promised, so I was able to let it go. I suppose I needed to hear him say it for me to get past my own issues.
A year later Judah’s school was having a fundraiser. If a student paid a dollar, they could wear a hat to school. The morning of the fundraiser Judah told me he had the perfect hat to wear. He ran upstairs so excited about the hat he had chosen. I have to say I never new the amount of pleasure I’d get from seeing my kid’s excitement but I feel that way every time.
When Judah came downstairs I was shocked to see him wearing Daddy’s hat. My heart stopped. You mean my kid wanted to take that hat to school where it could be thrown around, pulled on and even worse could get dirty? I heard Daddy’s voice haunting me again. But, it was interrupted as I saw Judah’s jubilation over wearing that hat. For the first time in many years, that hat was actually being used and adored. What good was it just sitting in a box? Judah was giving it new life and creating wonderful happy memories. At that point I finally was able to say,”What the hell. It’s OK.” And so I told Judah he could take it to school without giving him any stipulations. It was his hat from that point on and he could do as he wanted.
Judah’s face lit up when I told him he could take his hat to school. He put it on and instantly stood very tall with pride. He paraded around the living room showing off his cool hat and he was so excited to take it to school to show it to his classmates. I took pictures of this pivotal moment (for me). Judah and I had the best time laughing and playing before school and all because I was able to let go.
Moments after Judah left for school it hit me. I realized Daddy spent his entire life putting more value on his things than he did on his own family. My sister and I wanted nothing more than to be given unconditional love from him but he threw us away without any care. Instead, he gave unconditional love to his belongings giving them the best care. He’d go to great lengths to protect them and would not protect my sister or me. I guess he didn’t have to worry about inadament objects thinking differently than him. He could put them in their place and they’d stay.
As I thought about Judah loving his “new” hat I began thinking how I came to get that hat. I remembered when we went into Daddy’s house after he died. All of the things he valued most were carefully hung, wrapped, boxed and placed in a safe spot. His shirts were neatly lined in his closet, ironed and still with the plastic covering on them from the cleaners. His shoes were in a perfect row on the floor of his closet with old wooden lasts in each of them to keep their shape. He had a special closet for all of his hats which were boxed in their original hat boxes and neatly sitting on the top shelf. I don’t know why but I took two boxes of hats. At the time I couldn’t see how much Daddy cherished his personal belongings and how he placed them first. Oh the irony… I say that because Daddy (by his own accord) sadly died in a cold, sterile hospital room with none of his valued things and with not one family member around him.
I suppose it’s hard to not perpetuate the same behaviors. I didn’t realize I was even doing that as I wasn’t trying to put value on a hat but was trying in a weird way to respect Daddy. It took my son to ask why to make me think. I realized what mattered the most to me without a doubt was for my son to see I valued him more than any object. Me putting so much value on a hat who’s original owner hurt so many people just didn’t make any sense. The craziest part was it took my son who fell in love with an old hat to realize these truths.
I visited Judah at school that day he wore his hat. Even during lunch he refused to take his hat off. I joined him for recess and I took the best photos of him running and playing all while wearing his hat. And to think I may not have had this awesome memory if I had chosen to keep an old hat in an old box way up on a shelf in a closet just as Daddy did. Now, we have great photos documenting a wonderful time which Judah can share with his children and his children’s children. What more could I ever want as a mother than to have fond memories with my child?