I was trying to think about how to follow-up on the farm post and decided this was a good time to get into some meatier back-story.
After all, it *is* back-story month around here.
Dad was born and raised on a farm, the oldest of 4 children. His heart has always been tied to the land, which is true of anyone raised thus. He did do one year of college, but decided he’d rather work. So he worked at a bakery for awhile until he met a gal who was an operator for the phone company. They got married and he began working for another guy on a farm before Grandpa helped him get one of his own. I vaguely remember those days in the beginning. Dad actually worked for John Deere for a few years while getting started in the farm business. I can’t remember how old I was, but was very young when he finally started farming full-time. He, his next younger brother and his dad sort of farmed a mini-empire together. This is the way farms grew in prosperity and stature in those days as families would pool their resources and gradually expand ever-further. So you see how having lots of kids was a real asset is the agricultural world.
Grandad and his boys were able to share machinery and assist each other for working, planting and harvesting. However, there were tensions as there always is in even the best of families. Grandpa was into grain and beef cattle. Dad wanted to try milking cows and Grandpa was dead set against it. Dad decided to do it anyway, and converted an old chicken house into a stantion milk barn.
Tensions were also present between Grandma and her daughter-in-laws as there were no women good enough for her sons. And this carried over to tensions amongst everyone as everyone is always in each other’s business. So Dad decided to strike out on his own, with no small encouragement from mom. They wanted to make their own way without the interference of the in-laws.
So when I was 10, we moved about 80 miles northeast into dairy country.
Dad was always a hard worker, and that was one of his defining characteristics. He was not afraid of hard work and in fact might often be accused of always choosing to do things the hard way. But a good question might be; what drove him to work so hard?
It wasn’t necessarily money. A body does have to make a living but he could have done better working at John Deere. Was it building a legacy? Possibly. I think he did have visions of farming with his sons early on. And while I do feel the call of the earth to plant something every spring and I do feel a sort of connection it is not as strong as it is for him. And it is that attraction and that calling which I think drove him and still drives him to farm to this day. He and his land are one, that way.
Dad was generally easy going, although he was also very hard in, many ways. There was no backtalk and very little negotiation with him. He was king of his house and of the farm.
In those days, sex roles were very strictly defined. He ran everything outside the house, and Mom ran the inside. I only remember seeing him cook once and I don’t think he’s ever done a load of laundry. The one time I remember him cooking was when Mom left for a few days.
Dad was definitely an avoider when it came to conflict. The farm was a very handy and convenient avenue for escape, since there was always something to do. From dawn to dusk, and even after dark, he was out there working. Once we moved away from the rest of the Jones family, Mom had to help out more with the farm work and chores. This was actually a selling point for her wanting this move, because she wanted to be more of an equal in the farming. I’m thinking she might have regretted that, later. Dad was not an easy person to work for. He expected everyone else to work as hard as he did and to his high standards. Or higher. When mom would make a mistake, Dad had a tendency to cuss her out, which was not at all the sensitive thing to do. Mom tolerated it to a certain extent, but had her limits. Sometimes she’d cuss him right back, which would result in him laughing at her which made her even angrier.
Mom would occasional nag at him when she got irritated at him about something he would laugh at her…for a good while. But she would sometimes keep at him and keep at him and keep at him until he’d get mad. Then she instantly regretted it. Dad could tolerate a lot and let much roll off his back. But once he got angry, it was like an atomic blast. He never hit Mom, but you could tell he was barely controlling his anger.
I didn’t see them fight often, but it did happen on occasion. Again, it mostly involved Mom needling at him and then him finally getting pissed. Mom was not the sort to hold a lot inside, But Dad definitely was. He actually had a habit of visualizing and reliving or rehearsing things to the point where you could see him talk to himself or laugh to himself. One might actually believe he was talking to imaginary people like the Russel Crowe character in A Beautiful Mind. But these were real things or imaginary scenarios based on real people. I know this because I inherited a lot of the same sort of thing. Writing is actually an alternative outlet for me that he never had, so while I can spend as much time as him living in other places and times, it doesn’t look quite as odd. But there were times when we were both milking cows that we were doing things so automatically we were both in alternative places and acting it out. It was probably comical to watch.
While my avoidance is similar to Dads, my temper is between his and Mom’s. I can take a lot but eventually I can get into a red zone. But I could never vent as terribly as he did. My brother got that one.
Dad was not terribly demonstrative with his affection for Mom but there were moments. He would sometimes flirt with her and grab her bottom, which she seemed to like. But that was as graphic as it got.
I have no idea where he and Mom were libido-wise. Mom seemed to have a libido as high as his or perhaps even higher. I remember 10 years or so ago she moved out of the house in one of their fights and she wrote to me that she was missing the sex. That was kind of weird hearing something like that from my mother. I suspect that they alternated highs and lows as Dad was often working to the point of exhaustion and many of their fights were about him working too much or too long and him not knowing how to take a day off. On the other hand, I know us kids were a handful and we often drove her absolutely batty. The cooking, laundry, cleaning, canning, and chores represented a lot of drudgery for her. But her back-story is for another time.
My relationship with Dad went through its own ups and downs. As a kid, I was scared of him. He gave me a whipping exactly one time when I was 2 or 3 and I never ever forgot it. I had embarrassed him at church.
As a teen I still had a healthy respect for the power and authority he represented but began to mightily resent him being the dictator over our lives. I began to feel a bit like a slave when in reality he gave me quite a lot of free time to wander, explore and be a kid. He never stood in the way if I wanted to be in an activity in high school. And I quickly discovered that being active in high school = not having to do chores at home. I was voted most active in my graduating class! I was in 4-H, FFA, football, wrestling, basketball, track, speech and drama. Basically everything nonmusical our small high school offered. My sister and bother were in the band and chorus as well as sports for many of the same reasons as me. Mainly we got a pass from chores for school events.
The downside was that Dad was rarely at any of these things because he had to do chores. He never came to any of my sporting events, not that I was that good or anything. The 4-H events he got involved in somewhat because these were always scheduled around chore times of the families in the area. He was always there when I showed my cattle and made the FFA awards banquets. Part of this might have been that he didn’t want to be the one father who didn’t show up.
Dad was an immensely proud man in the old school sense of the term. He would make his own way before relying on anyone else. He would not think about accepting charity if he could at all help it. I never have seen him cry. Ever. At the funerals of his father and mother, he did get quite choked up, but held his composure. And this was and still is the way of the men in this family. Be rugged, tough and strong.
As I got older and more independent as a teen, I of course saw my dad as a fool and an idiot who had no idea what the hell he was doing. He looked like a buffoon sometimes. And it is true that his own social skills are not at all overly polished which is true of many of us who spent so long in desolate places alone.
I also began to develop my own ideas about how to run a farm. I’m sure this is the same sort of thing that happened with his own dad and I’ve seen it replayed more than once in the lives of classmates who were trying to follow in their father’s footsteps. The father maintains his control, independence and supremacy (especially after having had to fight his own father for it) and clashes with the next generation who has new and sometimes foolish ideas and notions.
Dad got increasingly physical when it came to me not wanting to get out of bed or when making mistakes. And I made more and more mistakes as I was given more and more responsibility. Like driving the tractor too fast and going through a fence. Or the time I turned to sharp with the rake, and wrapped it around a tractor tire. Or the time I ripped the roof of the barn roof off because I had the loader bucket too high. Or the time the cattle destroyed a field of corn because I forgot to shut a gate. Or the time I flooded the barnyard because I forgot to shut the water off. Or the time he got shocked by the electric fence because I turned it on without telling him.
We can laugh at most of these things now, but back then they were sometimes very costly mistakes, costing thousands of dollars. Dad wouldn’t hit me, per se, but he would shove me to the ground. If I tried to run, I’d just get a boot up my ass.
The biggest fight we ever had was about the #1 contention everyone in the family had about the way he ran things, namely with chore time.
Unless there was some special occasion, Dad would not start milking cows until 7:00 p.m. This meant that we did not finish until 9:30-10:00 which meant that the entire evening was shot. Every other neighbor who milked cows was starting at 5-5:30 and was finishing at the time Dad was starting. The older I got (and the more of a social life I had/wanted) the more this vexed me. I never saw a prime time TV show because I was milking cows. My friends were all talking about Welcome Back Kotter and I was stuck in the barn!
It was the summer after my sophomore year of college and Dad and I had been battling about schedules and running things all summer long. I wanted to work from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. and then have fun at night. Dad was not seeing it this way. I was old enough by this point that I could milk the cows alone and I had on a number of occasions before while he did farm work late or when he actually did take a vacation a couple of times. I told him that I was not working after 7 p.m. anymore. Period. I told him I was willing to do whatever chores before, and do them alone if necessary, but my days of working into the night were over. This was after basic training, and after other Army training. I had a mind of my own and asserted it. I defied Dad.
At this point, his pride kicked in as well as that hidden drama he did within his own head. He went out to the barn at 7 and I refused to go. He fumed the entire time. My brother said, “I don’t think you should have done that!” I didn’t care. And I had anticipated my father’s response.
The next morning, I got up early and went outside as Dad was feeding the cattle before milking. I asked him if he wanted me to rake the hay in the back 40.
He responded, “You know what I think? I think you should get in your car and get the hell out of here!”
And that’s exactly what I did. I already had packed it up with all my stuff the night before while he was milking cows. I pretty much knew what his options were, and my insubordination was not to be tolerated.
Of course this drama happened without Mom’s knowledge. She was not at all happy he had kicked me out, especially without consulting her. I stayed with a friend and helped him do his chores for the few remaining weeks before college restarted in the fall. My mom contacted his mom to let me know I could come home if I wanted, plus I had an Army reserve check to pick up. So I did and Mom and I talked it out. But Dad and I never talked about it. Neither of us ever apologized or brought it up. Things were awkward for quite awhile but we got over it. The next time I worked for him, the terms were strictly defined ahead of time, including hours and rate of pay.
A few years later, when I did work for him again I let cattle into a pasture where he didn’t think the fence was built well enough. He got pissed and hurled all sorts of insults at me. I was stone silent, contemplating getting in the truck and driving off right then. I held my tongue and then he came about the closest he has ever come to an apology. He called me his best hired hand. I can’t recall him ever complimenting me before. So it was no small thing.
Later that year, my therapist suggested that most of my psychological baggage was because of my relationship with my father or rather the lack thereof. Mayhaps it is and mayhap it isn’t but I knew I had zero chance of getting him into a therapist’s office and it was about then the counselor said I needed no further treatment.
Over the years, our relationship has improved. Dad has softened up in his old age. Plus, in my middle age, I see more of him within myself. I understand him better than anyone else, perhaps even better than Mom. I get him because so much of what he is, I have also become. I have many of the same strengths as well as most of his weaknesses. I’ve actually helped Mom understand him and his thinking at times, because I have more verbal tools at my disposal than he does.
After living in Georgia for several years, we were all going out to dinner one night. Arwyn and I got dressed downstairs while Mom and Dad got dressed upstairs. We met in the living room and we all burst out laughing.
Dad and I were wearing the exact same shirt. This wasn’t a plain pastel shirt, either. It was an unusual color and pattern.
We had each bought the same shirt at Wal-Mart in two different states and had independently chosen to wear it at the same time amongst all the other shirts we had. It pretty much crystallized for me how remarkably similar he and I really are. At one time this would have terrified me to no end, but the older I get, the less awful the old guy looks. In fact, he looks better, wiser and smarter the older I get!
BTW, he did change his shirt before we went out that night.