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Ties That Bind - Country star Tim McGraw wanted to be a good son and an even better father


Wearing a faded blue do-rag instead of his usual black Resistol cowboy hat, Tim McGraw can sit nearly unrecognized in the corner of a noisy Nashville catering hall. The bandanna is only the latest in a long line of gear that McGraw uses to cover his head -- and therein lies a mystery, since there really is hair under there.

"Not much!" says the personable country music star, flashing a winning grin. "I'm just trying to stay young."

And doing a fine job of it, from the looks of things. At 37, McGraw has the trim, hard body of a man a decade younger. He's married to the stunning Faith Hill, the country-pop chanteuse with whom he has three daughters. He tours constantly, ministering to a stalwart band of fans who have purchased more than 30 million of his CDs. So what if his hair is thinning?

"Tim McGraw occupies the Tom Cruise slot in the current country pantheon," says venerable music journalist Chet Flippo, editorial director of the country website cmt.com. "Men admire him and women desire him. No one in the country audience or the country industry, for that matter, does not like him and respect his work."

Work is exactly what it took for McGraw to get where he is today. He grew up in rural Start, Louisiana, and can recall always having a fierce drive "to do something. I didn't know what it was going to be, but I knew that I was going to take advantage of it when I got the chance."

For starters, McGraw wanted to make life better for his family. "My stepfather [truck driver Horace Smith] was a wild man, a great, big-hearted guy, but he could be meaner than anybody you've ever met," says McGraw, who tried to shield his mother, Betty, and two younger sisters from the "really scary" abuse that went on in their house on a nightly basis. After his mother and Smith split in 1977, Betty sometimes held three jobs at once. When she wasn't working, the family got by on welfare. At one point, they lived in a barn with hay on the floor.

Timmy Smith, as he was called then, dreamed of becoming a pro athlete and taped the baseball card of his favorite player, Tug McGraw, to his bedroom wall. In a now famous story, at age 11 he ran across his birth certificate while looking for pictures for a school project. He was astonished to read that his baseball hero and biological father were one and the same.

Tug -- a standout relief pitcher for the Phillies and Mets -- agreed to a meeting later that year. Though Tug, who now had a family of his own, remembered a tryst with the boy's mother in Jacksonville in 1966, he convinced himself that Timmy Smith could not possibly be his son. For a time, he refused to answer the boy's letters and calls -- a period Tim now refers to as "the stormy years."

When Tim turned 18, a straight-A student graduating second in his class and heading to Northeast Louisiana University to study music and pre-law, Tug agreed to pay his tuition. But he said he wanted nothing else to do with him, and had legal documents drawn up to that effect. Tim wanted one last face-to-face meeting with Tug before he would sign the papers, so the two met in a Houston hotel.

"Once I turned around and saw Tim, I knew that he was my boy," Tug wrote in his autobiography, Ya Gotta Believe! "It was as if I was looking at a picture of myself 20 years earlier."

And so a relationship began, although it was rocky at first. Tug still kept Tim at arm's length, but in 1991 he helped his son get an initial record deal through a baseball pal. Years later, Tim says that reuniting with Tug inspired him to aim for the top in his career. "It made me think, If he can do that, I can do that."

From: Reader's Digest

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