My Dad is generally a quiet person. He goes about doing what needs to be done without much fanfare. As his son, he never handed me a written seven point creed. Writing long letters, or even short ones, is not something a Midwestern farmer typically does.
What my Dad did do is live his life as an example. Through this, there are several principles I have learned and have tried to apply in my life.
Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Family farming is not an easy job. Through the seasons, there is always something to do, and it is not pristine work. There is a lot of dust, dirt, mud, and more to work through. From early daylight hours to dusk, the pace is constant. At the end of the day, a welcomed shower comes, and you can watch the dirt circle down the drain.
There is no real opportunity for procrastination in farming. You have to get in there and do what needs to be done when you can get it done. Some of the jobs entail getting your hands dirty, and the work needs to be done without hesitation.
Plant the seeds, no matter what. Taking risks is the name of the game in farming, although it is not viewed that way. There are so many uncontrollable elements in farming that you cannot really think about them at all. You just have to do it. Yes, farming may have been the inspiration behind Nike’s campaign slogan but with more depth.
You cannot worry about the results in farming. You place your bets in what you will plant, take care of the land, pray the rain will come and the bad weather will stay away, and harvest what you can. It is a faith business, but one which requires putting your faith into action.
Take a day off, preferably Sunday. Even with the hard work, a needed rest is taken. Sundays are not a day to sleep in, but a time to worship God and pray for continued strength, guidance, and a little rain now and then. The afternoons usually drifted into a deserved nap, refreshing the body for the week ahead. Combining church and rest was the formula for individual renewal.
Be kind to your parents and even kinder to your spouse. Every Sunday after church, we visited my grandparents. We did see them during the week sometimes, but almost without fail we saw them Sunday mornings for a “visit.” We lived in the same area, so it was easy to do this. Today, many families are spread across various states. What my Dad did though was set a standard of respect for his parents and a standard of caring for them. As they grew older and less strong, Dad was always there for them.
In a similar fashion, Dad was always there for Mom. Their love was clear. Almost every departure - after any meal, for example – started with a hug or kiss. Love was shown many more times than anger. During my time growing up, I probably could count on one hand how many times they got into any real intense arguments. They were partners in life, and it showed.
Stand tall in adversity. There were not many times when Dad had to stand tall when dealing with other people, but there were a few. Whether it was with the church congregation when a new building was needed or when it came time to decide what should happen to my grandparents next, Dad was there to fight the good fight, to try to do what was right. There was a steeliness to his resolve when it came to family or God issues, and the farmer transformed into a leader with a clear sense of direction.
Live simply and within your means. Being frugal is a lifestyle, and one frequently found on many family farms, including ours. Maybe it was because it was more of an imperative than an option, but always spending wisely and infrequently was the constant approach. He probably learned it from his parents, as they grew up during the Great Depression. I remember my Grandma keeping the bags which noodles came in, because those bags could be re-used in storing other items. With our current economic pressures, abiding by this approach for the past decade or so may have prevented some of the predicaments we are in now. Simple lives do produce fruitful ones.
These are the core principles I learned from my Dad. The important point may be the fact they were not written; they were acted out, put into daily practice by him.
Living your life as an example is probably the best lesson I could have ever learned.