With Father’s Day coming up it seems a fitting time to pay tribute to my dad.
I spent a lot of time with him while growing up on our cattle ranch.
I was the youngest of three daughters. I think he was resigned to me having to be the son he would never have and I did my best to fill the role. I can drive a tractor, vaccinate calves and chase down a cow on horseback. If you asked me for a specific tool, I could probably hand it to you.
Being a father is a lot like filling a toolbox.
You give your children lessons and experiences that they can tuck into their toolbox of life. They’re the kind of tools they might not use every day. They might only use some of the tools once. But the important thing is that the tool will be there when they’re ready.
When things are falling apart they can fish about into their life toolbox and say, “Hey, I didn’t even know I had one of these! That’s just what I need. Thanks Dad.”
Dad put a lot of practical items in my toolbox. How to check the oil, inflate a tire and predict tomorrow’s weather by scanning the evening skies.
He also put a lot of things in there that I may never use again. How to castrate a calf comes to mind. But the jewels in my toolbox are how he taught me to be kind, compassionate and to appreciate the natural world. As a farmer he spent a lifetime in the outdoors observing nature.
I remember one spring I was disking with one tractor while Dad came behind on another pulling the seed drill and planting oats. We were going around and around the field when he suddenly stopped, got out of the tractor, popped open the lid to the seed drill and filled an old coffee can he kept a few extra bolts in with oat seed. Then he walked to the edge of the freshly tilled field and dumped the oats onto the ground. Afterwards I asked him what he had been doing and he said he had noticed a pair of Canada geese by the creek. It was early for them to be back and there wasn’t much for them to eat yet so he had given them some of his seed oats. That’s the kind of person my dad is.
He knows the land and all the creatures that share it. He is fascinated by all of them from ants to elk to red-tailed hawks. He would know where ground birds had their nests and when he was cutting hay he would be careful to raise the blades and go over or around the nest without disturbing it. Of course he couldn’t know where every single nest was, but he knew how to watch for distressed mother birds. They would pretend to have a broken wing and hop through the grass hoping to appear as easy prey and lead the predator away from the nest. If Dad saw a bird dragging its wing he would always stop, figure out where the nest was and go around it if he could.
It was rare to spend time with my dad without coming away with some small insight or greater appreciation of the miraculous world around us. I have fond memories — as do my sisters and our own children — of his nature walks and talks. Together we observed ant hills and beaver dams, fox dens and crows’ nests, and so much more.
I’ve read lots of poetry and memoirs about growing up on farms. So often the writer depicts the harshness of rural life. Their stories are filled with violence, abuse and want.
They describe a mean grey world of relentless work and broken dreams. When the first opportunity came to leave the farm they didn’t walk away. They ran. We bought a home only four miles from where I grew up and continue to live there today. That alone is a testimony to my memories of rural life. You don’t run away from happiness.
In my childhood there was certainly relentless work, but my father’s compassion and his inquisitive and gentle nature made all the difference. Even picking rocks is less a chore when your ears are filled with descriptions of the ice age and the glacial movements that brought them here. And it didn’t hurt that when we were very little our mom bribed us with comic books and treats which were doled out after every couple swaths of the field. Thanks Mom. And thank you Dad for filling my life’s toolbox with the things that matter.
Shannon McKinnon is a humour columnist from northern B.C.. You can read more of her writing by visiting www.shannonmckinnon.com or you can contact her by emailing email@example.com.