“Your dad never took you fishing?!”
The question caught me off guard.
I grew up never considering that a father was SUPPOSED to take his son fishing as some sort of rite of passage, the way it was being implied to me my first year of college, when my classmates were all disappearing opening fishing weekend in Minnesota.
I thought for a second, and had a pretty simple retort.
“No, he was busy farming. Did you ever get to fall asleep planting corn in the tractor with YOUR dad?”
He didn’t really have an answer to that.
When I was 12, I took off to go pick up bales in a field for the rest of the afternoon with the 4440. I was young and full of self-confidence, so I turned the corner by simply downshifting at full throttle, turning at a pretty good pace. Except I turned into something I’d not yet encountered before.
The road grader had left a very wide swath in the middle of the gravel road, so wide that I barely could hug one side, which is usually what I had done when I encountered a grader swath in the past.
Needless to say, I tried to hug the side and up shift, and as the tractor lurched forward, still in full throttle, I hit that big swath in the middle of the road, overcorrected, and the tractor tipped over into the ditch, bouncing many times with me in the cab.
I walked, shaking broken glass out of my shoes, to a neighbor who was baling hay in a ditch nearby that I’d seen as I turned the corner previously. I didn’t have my glasses, lost in the bouncing, so he drove me over to the tractor and asked how I got out.
“Walked out the back?” I answered, not sure myself, as I pointed at the now-missing back window of the tractor.
He drove me home, where my father was working with my grandfather and others in the yard, repairing equipment, and I barreled out of the neighbor’s tractor, running to my father’s embrace, bawling that I had just destroyed the 4440.
He didn’t pass me off to my mother and drop me off at the doctor because there were things to do on the farm. He took me in, where I had a long piece of glass removed from my hip (still have a scar today!), and he reassured me many times when the tears and guilt came rushing back that he was much more concerned that I was okay than the tractor.
While he didn’t have the best jump shot and really couldn’t teach me about my fastball, it was rare that the farm took priority over attending our extracurriculars as kids. In fact, when I chose to move six hours away for college, he came to many concerts for the choirs I participated in during my collegiate years, even though those concerts always seemed to be scheduled during harvest or planting season.
I grew up wanting to find a way to separate from my father, especially after my voice developed very similar to his.
I came home from college for the summer while my dad was the president of the Wolsey School Board during the first attempt to consolidate the Wolsey and Wessington School districts.
A few people who I’d known my whole life attending Wolsey called the house to let the current board president know how they felt, often with a few choice words included. When the first breath of their rant was taken, I’d interrupt and ask, “Would you like to speak to my dad?”
That shared voice, I thought, was a curse, not allowing me to break free.
I heard the loud end of that voice more than a few times in my life as well. Reaching a size that (I thought) could challenge my dad physically in my early teen years led to some rough years in the house. I figured once I got out of the house, he’d be so happy to have me gone, he’d wipe his hands of that and tell my future wife, “he’s your problem now!”
The years since have shown me quite different. As my wife and I chose to adopt four children that come from tough backgrounds, he’s not only welcomed in each of them as if he’s known them from the cradle, but he has supported the two of us in parenting struggles that have come in our situation.
Now, when people tell me that they hear his voice in mine, it’s when I’m at my most passionate on a topic.
Knowing that my father’s passions focused on his family, his faith, and his farm/community, I can take pride in having inherited that passion to protect and enhance those areas of life as well.
Holly Dunn’s song “Daddy’s Hands,” speaks of a father’s hands that were often calloused, dirty, and not always gentle, but they always showed love.
I remember hurrying to wash my hands before Dad at mealtime because somehow the water below his hands would be near-black as he came in from outside (and that had to make the sink afterward germy, right?!). Those hands had cuts and bumps from years of dealing with barbed wire, fixing equipment, and working cattle.
However, when those hands took me in embrace, I knew I was safe. I knew I was loved.
I still do.
No fish on the planet could tell me that.