Spaghetti Western

I called my father last night for his birthday.  He’s not a big phone talker, so we had our usual 5-7 minute catch-up.  As we were wrapping up, I asked him about making plans for his annual visit to our house.  We both agreed that we’d aim for late August, and then he qualified it with this casual, throwaway detail:

“That should work, but I have to check and see when I might be helping my buddy do some digging for gold.”


Of course. 

Because, why wouldn’t you have to check your gold digging schedule?

Here’s the thing.  My dad is a transplanted cowboy.  Without a lasso or a horse.  He’ s a guy from Brooklyn and New Jersey who, in his 30s, began a love affair with the State of Montana. It started with fly fishing trips.  Then hunting and skiing.  It was him and some other mid-life-crisis pals (remember the movie City Slickers?).  Then he brought my mom a few times (not really her thing).  After a few years, he knew the lay of the land well enough that it was just him and the locals on his return trips.  He sort of became an honorary citizen — Fake Cowboy in one part of his life, New York City General Contractor in another. 

This went on for the better part of two decades, with increasing frequency.  He made it clear that he’d retire there.  And, true to his word, off he went about eight years ago.  Now, he fishes some of the most beautiful and revered rivers whenever he wants.  He’s a licensed river guide, which means he’s now the local who brings the visiting City Slickers fly fishing.  He has come full circle. 

The last time I was there was about six years ago with P, and my father took us on a day trip out on the Madison River.  In my mind, a river is, well, a narrow little body of water.  But this — this — was majestic.  I’m no nature gal — I prefer sidewalks and cities — but it was abundantly clear why they call it Big Sky Country. 

He knew exactly where to spot the wildlife.  He knew all the best spots to catch the fish — depending on the direction of the wind.   He tried to teach us.  Let me tell you, fly fishing is incredibly difficult — and he made it look effortless.  I was watching him, standing alone, waist-high in the river, weaving that fishing line like a gorgeous ribbon in the air.  And I thought about how these were the same hands that parallel parked a truck in Manhattan every day. The same hands that pointedly made deal after deal to run a business that stayed in his family for many years. 

These hands had moved on to fishing.  And pointing at mountain lions.  And to driving open, gravel roads.

As I was thinking about this, out in the middle of the river, two guys float by on another boat, see my dad, and address him by name.  As if they expected just to see him there, ribbon and all.  We were a good 40 miles from his house.  The man is a fixture on the river. 

When he took us to Yellowstone, he knew every bend in the road, every fire-swept part of the park, every body of water — all of them had a story from his many visits there over the years. 

When he needed six arteries bypassed urgently about four years ago, he opted to do it in Montana.  I couldn’t understand, could not fathom, why he wouldn’t go to Denver or Seattle — somewhere close enough to travel safely and yet slightly more renowned for such a complex surgery.  Thinking back on it, I think he wanted to face any potential mortality issues right there, near the place he now calls home (he’s fine now, don’t worry). 

His life back here in New York and New Jersey is all but unrecognizable at this point — apart from his family, he no longer relates to it.  Yes, he misses The New York Post, the good Chinese food and having something other than Wal Mart open 24 hours.  But the pace, the lifestyle, the attitude and possibly the house pet (who may or may not be a now-domesticated bobcat of sorts) — he’s all Montana now.  Even if he looks more than a little like an Italian gangster out of central casting.

He golfs.  He takes part-time delivery jobs.  He tells you that the traffic on the Madison River moves faster than that on Madison Avenue.  And, apparently, he digs for gold. 

It’s funny.  I’ve never had a place like that in my soul — a place I visited and knew I had to live in at some point, had to make part of me.  I’ve lived my entire life in the Northeast, and most of it in the NYC vicinity.  I’ve traveled far and wide, and I’ve had places speak to me and loudly beg me to return.  But not to return permanently. 

I envy him in this respect — taking action to re-invent himself and lay new roots.  I swear, it has added years — if not decades — to  his life.  And, while I wish he lived closer and I wish my kids knew him better, I admire the loyalty he’s had to a place that has become so much a part of who he is.  It’s easy not to do what he did — we’re all busy getting through each day.  But for those people like him, who step back and say “I want to live my life somewhere else,” I tip my (non-cowboy) hat.

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  1. This is a really beautiful post. I’m sure your dad is proud to have raised such a writer!
    I, too, followed my heart and left my TN roots to move to California, just because I wanted to try. People always seemed to be amazed that I could just set out in my own like that (at 23) but I’m more amazed when people happen to be born in the place they want to STAY.
    Cheers to your dad for following his dreams!!

    • fordeville says:

      Wow. I could not have picked up at 23 and moved that far away. But NYC drew you in after all 🙂
      Thanks for the kind words — glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. Jen T. says:

    Happy birthday to your dad! Great post…my mom feels the same way about Santa Fe.

    • fordeville says:

      Ah, right, your mom. I can totally see the same mentality. Couldn’t either one of them have picked a better vacation destination? 🙂

  3. Alexandra says:

    I don’t know..

    I imagine my place to include sunshine, that much, I do know.

    How’s it going staying home?

    • fordeville says:

      Not bad, so far. It’s still a little surreal and I’m definitely trying to figure out a routine. But, overall, all is well. Thanks for asking!

  4. Jessica says:

    It is nice that your dad is happy and living where he wants to be but at the same time it’s hard that he’s not closer to your family. I would love to live somewhere else but I don’t know if I could go too far from my mom.

    • fordeville says:

      Yeah, that’s the hard part. It’s particularly hard that he chose one of the few “cities” in America to which I cannot fly direct from any of the three NYC airports.

  5. What a post to wake up to. This is one of your best. You should submit it for publication on Father’s Day. (That is, if you don’t mind the gazillion people that will show up at your blog after reading it.)

    Reminded me of one of my favorite songs–Big Sky Country by Chris Whitley.

  6. Luisa Megale says:

    Glorious post Fordeville

  7. This is great and what an inspiration your dad is. I get so wrapped up in the day to day and so much live in the now. I envy your father for having that vision of where he felt he should be after his “working” life. I’ve lived in St. Louis my entire life with the exception of two years in Kansas City for work. We visited San Diego last year and my husband and I both hear it calling. However, we realize that we would have to live in a box on the beach in order to afford a life there.

  8. Stopping by from Theta Mom… two great posts that make wonderful points. It sounds like you have reinvented yourself recently in your own way… making a big change for the better of yourself and your family. Good for you and good for your dad!

  9. anna says:

    love this post. it’s how i felt when i discovered nyc after growing up in rural virginia.

  10. Erica says:

    Montana is a beautiful state that I hope to visit someday! Just one thing about which I am unclear: does your mom live out there with him?

  11. Erica says:

    So, you have to get ready again this year for the television being hogged by Sean Hannity and Bill-O! 😉

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