My dad just left my mom and me… He’s a real *&@#$ and I’m so pissed off, I don’t even know why I’m writing you…
I am so mad and I wish we could make him pay for this in some way if that could be possible…
I just can’t figure out why.
Thanks for reading this,
JACOB, (13 years old)
Before I answer you letter, I want to say one thing, and it’s a little off the subject, so bear with me.
Have you ever watched any old Westerns? I’m talking silver-screen heroes in ten-gallon hats with quickdraws, who call everyone “Pilgrim.”
No, you probably don’t watch movies like that. Only geeks watch those sorts of movies. Geeks like me.
Still, it makes me sad that we don’t have Westerns like that today. There was a time when mankind was fortunate enough to have Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Glenn Ford, Randolph Scott, and the immortal John Wayne.
Anyway, we don’t know each other, so you probably don’t want any advice from a middle-aged fuddy-duddy like me.
If you WERE to ask me for some advice, which you didn’t, it is my basic belief that all 13-year-old boys need classic Western movies in their lives.
Look, just because there are no great silver-screen cowboys in today’s age doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the old vaqueros. The Duke is still alive and well in digital color. Hopalong couldn’t look any better. And don’t forget “Maverick,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Bonanza.”
If you were to ask me which old Western movie to start with, I would have an answer for you.
“Stagecoach.” John Wayne’s first big movie. The Pilgrim himself, saving the day.
Then I’d tell you to watch “True Grit,” and “Red River.” From there you could work your way up to “The Searchers,” and “The Magnificent Seven.”
When you were ready for more, you could watch “The Wild Bunch,” and “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance.” Finally, I’d tell you to watch 1953’s “Shane.”
Keep the tissues handy.
After you have watched the above titles, then and ONLY then might you be ready for “Lonesome Dove.”
I will warn you. You’ll probably find these antique movies boring at first, and that’s okay. You are from a modern era of fast-paced movies. Old Westerns don’t move fast, and you won’t see half-naked pop stars, either. They are slow, deliberate, soft, far-fetched, corny, and sometimes downright ridiculous.
But oh, Jacob, they have heroes.
Right now, you need a hero. I know this because I grew up hard like you. My father died when I was younger than you are. He left a terrible wake when he left.
I was mad about it. I cussed the sky. I said a lot of ugly things to a lot of nice people. But back then, I couldn’t help it. I was without a compass, I was lost, I was afraid of everything.
One night, a local TV station broadcasted a John Wayne marathon. I will never forget it because it was the Fourth of July. All my friends were having picnics with their happy little families while I was at home, babysitting my kid sister.
The telecast started with “The Comancheros,” and it ended with “McLintock!” I stayed up until three in the morning watching Marion Robert Morrison save the world.
I was exhausted the next day, but I felt good inside. Because that night influenced me forever. I started calling my friends “Pilgrim,” and I wore a cowboy hat for the next thirty years of my life.
I told you I was a geek.
Jacob, I know you feel alone right now. I want you to know that’s okay. In fact, it’s part of the script. Every cowboy feels alone during the climax of any good Western. But the cowboy is never alone. He is a man on a horse, facing the rest of the world.
The odds are not in his favor, but the whole universe is on his side whether he knows it or not.
The hero doesn’t know that the audience watching the silver screen is cheering for him.
I am cheering for you, Jacob. I can’t tell you how to stop being angry with your father. That feeling might never go away entirely, but I hope it does. The truth is, I don’t know anything, and even if I did, I wouldn’t know how to tell it because I am still a kid trapped in an adult’s body. What I can tell you is this:
I love you. With all my heart.