A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Beck wasn't the best player on our church league softball team that summer. But then, he didn't have to be. He was the lay leader of our congregation, which sort of made it HIS team. And nobody was going to tell him that he couldn't play.

But somebody had to tell him about The Hat.

My brother-in-law, Tony, was the first to notice The Hat during warm-ups. I saw him laughing, and I asked him what was going on.

"Check out Beck's hat," he said.

I glanced over to where our fearless leader was warming up with his 18-year-old son, Kevin. The Hat looked fine - it was brown and gold with some kind of cartoon message on the front - and he seemed to be wearing it correctly. This was back in the day when people actually wore their hats with the bill up front to shade their eyes - an old-fashioned concept, I know.

"What's wrong with his hat?" I asked.

"Go look at it," Tony said, still chuckling. "Read what it says on the front."

I ambled over to where Beck and Kevin were throwing a softball back and forth. I noticed other members of our team walking away from them, most of them whispering to each other while fighting to suppress laughter. I greeted Beck, and while shaking his hand I read the message inscribed on the front of The Hat. It was stunningly vile, and not the least bit funny.

But it wasn't the hat's message that Tony and others were laughing at. It was the fact that Beck - of all people - was wearing it. And he obviously had no idea what it meant.

I stood there for a moment, uncertain of what to do. I glanced at Tony, but he was too busy pointing out the haberdashed obscenity to our teammates to be of much help. Beck needed to be told - that was clear. But it was bound to be embarrassing for him - and for whoever told him. I mean, how do you explain to someone so pure and innocent that the cartoon character on his hat represents something disgusting? I struggled to come up with a way to ease our spiritual leader - and his pornographic hat - off the playing field as unobtrusively as his indelicate predicament would allow.

Meanwhile, Kevin noticed the attention that was being directed at his father's head. He moved closer and peered at The Hat. Recognition registered on his face, then shock, then amusement, then concern. He smiled affectionately as he called out: "Dad! Come here!"

Every eye on the team was on Kevin as he draped his arm around his father's shoulders and walked with him toward the parking lot, speaking to him confidentially. We couldn't hear the conversation, but there was no doubt about what was being said. Beck stopped suddenly, looking at his son intensely. He ripped The Hat off his head and looked at it. He returned his attention to his son, who nodded, pointed and explained. Beck looked at The Hat again, then crumpled it in his hands and strode purposefully to a nearby trash can, into which he forcefully deposited the offensive chapeau. Then he returned to the team - hatless, humbled and a little less innocent.

It's sad that we live in a world that makes it so difficult to be innocent. Sadder still that a son would be in a position to have to teach such things to his father. While it's true that the dark, seedy side of life has always existed, there was a time in the not-so-distant past when innocence and virtue were values to be cherished, and unseemly topics were kept under the hat.

As opposed to being worn on it.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and