Fifteen-year-old Joey Burkett wonders if he will ever be successful at anything. He always thought he would grow up to be a rodeo performer as his father, a world champion cowboy, had been, but Daddy died in a rodeo accident. When he grew to six feet tall in the eighth grade, he thought he might be a basketball player, but that would mean college, and he is failing math. Joey hopes that whatever his future, his new peer tutor, Julie Hernandez, who he really admires, will be a part of it, and that Matthew Kane, the new man in his mother’s life, will not.
When Joey quarrels with Julie and becomes upset at his mother’s going out with Matt, he goes along with a friend to “borrow” an expensive sports car. In an attempt to see how fast it would go, they wreck the car. Joey thinks he is headed to Juvenile Detention, but Matt Kane comes up with a plan for Joey to work on his ranch and raise beef calves for the summer to earn money to pay for the damages..
Joey hates ranch work and considers running away to Colorado where Daddy’s old rodeo partner lives. Then, he learns that his mother had mortgaged their home, and he is determined to stick it out until the calves are sold. When the calves are stolen, Joey is devastated, but he pulls himself together, and his quick thinking saves the day. With Matt’s help, Joey gains the knowledge and confidence to work on his math skills and return to school.
My Daddy Was A Real Cowboy is set in modern day Western Oklahoma where cowboys still herd cattle on horseback, and rustlers still steal cattle.