Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sometimes I Think I Need The Couch

The hardest part of returning to the family farm is the reason I left in the first place. My dad and I have a very hard time working together. This is hardly a rare situation but that doesn't make it any easier to struggle through. The only real difference is now that I am well into adulthood, as opposed to the hormone driven 19 year old who walked away those years ago, and now I am at least a little better at not losing my temper. And dad is much older so our confrontations are no longer physical.

I'm not really interested in getting into the psychology of the matter, and there is a lot of it, for both of least not today. In all honesty, the biggest reason I keep this blog semi-autonomous is so that I can speak as openly as I would like to, which I just don't think I could do if I knew that friends and family might wander through at any time. This is an issue upon which I have begun to write many times, but which I am still not quite ready to delve into just yet. But for the purposes of this post, suffice it to say that while I love my father...he is a very difficult man. Its not ALL his fault, I accept my share of our issues, but I feel a significant amount of the fault lies in his his mother (my grandmother) and his siblings (both older). The result is that I have a 70 year old father who can be very juvenile and defensive in his interpersonal dealings, especially in regards to his wife and children.

Now I am not new to our family, I have been handling this situation for years. It was either that or not be around at all...and that's just not in me. But now that we are working so closely together and I am trying to guide us all into moving forward (rather than the "treading water" which has been occurring for at least a decade), well it is sometimes nearly impossible to handle.

Let me give an example or two before I move into the point of the post.

First of all, dad thought that mom and I were full of shit when we started talking about trying to sell the products of the farm as "direct to market" as possible. He didn't think we would be able to find enough customers for eggs or beef. Basically, he is almost totally pessimistic about ideas from anyone but himself or his mother/siblings (whose ideas I think he also resents, I should add) or the very small number of people whose opinion he deems as worthy of concern.

This could easily turn into a psychological discussion here but I will try to avoid that digression for now.

So another example is my search for a breed of pig on which to focus our pork production. This could be a much longer story but the short version is that when I informed him of my interest in Red Wattle hogs, he was against it because when we had two of them years and years ago, someone told dad that he was lucky to be rid of them when we were (0ne died of heart attack and the other was sold soon thereafter). Dad could not remember who had told him this OR what the specific reason was, but it was enough that he was adamant that Red Wattle hogs should not be considered. So I spent a few hours perusing the Web for information as to why this might be the case. Dad had said that he thought it was something to do with the pigmentation of the meat, but I could find literally nothing to suggest that there was some problem with this breed of pig. The only issue I could deduce was that they did not seem to do very well in captivity, especially in industrial conditions. So, based on the fact that we had our Red Wattles in the mid 80's when people were not concerned at all about buying locally or organically or what have you. So the industrial producers controlled the market almost totally. As such, this seemed to me to be the main reason why Red Wattle hogs went out of production, not that there was anything wrong with the meat. Quite the opposite, Red Wattle pork is quite highly rated among chefs, especially those concerned with local food and heritage breeds. But no matter how much research I did and then shared with dad...he was going with what SOME guy had told him all those years ago, the details of which he cannot even remember.

This is the kind of BS that I have been dealing with for years, only now it hits close to home because I have been putting so much energy into learning as much as I can, and sharing. But it is received with resentment and defensiveness. Not so much from my mother, but some. At least with her I can talk about it though, and hear her response. We can both eventually accept if we`ve been the "jerk". With dad that isn't possible...and I have tried and tried and tried. The best you can get from him is usually the odd admittance of being wrong about some trivial thing, in order to later claim to be able to admit when wrong.

So mostly I hope that I am able to start to show the results of my ideas soon, and perhaps avoid doing what I am so critical of in others....unreasonably hoping that the situation just irons itself out, mostly because I just don`t know what to do about it, and because I can`t just say "ok that`s it, I`m taking over". But then I get slapped with another sign of how likely it is that I will one day have to do just that.

Which brings me to the source of this whole jumbled thought process today. When I got out to the farm today, the house was awful quiet. Turns out that mom and dad were both outside, they returned just as I was going out to feed pigs. Dad was carrying a hack saw so I asked what he`d been cutting. They had been clipping chicken beaks since another hen had been cannibalized over night. I didn`t ask or say anything beyond asking how many they had done. The last time they trimmed two hen`s beaks I made it clear that I did not support that action, that I did not feel it was going to remedy the situation and that it was only tortuous punishment for following their nature. I even tried to explain how trimming their beaks this was was akin to our having a thumb, finger or even a whole hand cut off...and that it wouldn`t stop them the cannibalization. And sure enough, it didn`t. But somehow, doing 10 more of them this time is supposed to remedy the situation.

This time I didn`t say anything to either parent about it. They both know what I think and obviously that isn`t enough to sway their reasoning. They don`t see how the extension of their logic says that the only thing keeping us from individually caging each bird would seem to be the initial cost. They don`t seem to understand my reasoning that if we cannot afford to solve what is causing the aggressiveness then we should kill and eat the aggressive birds...not maim them this way in order to retain the egg revenue. I don`t think they even believe my explanation of why a chicken`s beak is akin to our thumb, fingers or entire hand due to its complex network of nerve tissue. Granted, the other two hens seem alright now and I don`t think they are aggressive anymore, but still...I struggle with it.

The same with the sick calf that died. I feel we should have tried to get it some veterinary attention but I know dad did the best that HE was able to do. But at the same time, I can`t help but wonder if it is cost that kept us from that option, or mistrust of unknown people.

And what bothers me the most is the fact that a reasonable solution is impossible. We can`t just talk it through. I`ve tried that route more than once before and I don`t think I can carry it myself. But at the same time, the only other option is to go on as we are now, which is much too similar to the path that he and his mother are on. Her mind finally slipped away to the point where she has to be in a longterm care facility and she never knew it was going on, or never accepted it. No one really tried to tell her and she was far too stubborn to accept it anyway. I don`t know how to tell dad that it is starting to happen with him too, albeit lightly, and he is far too stubborn to accept it...certainly from me.

THIS is the hard part of working towards a future for our farm. All the rest is easy in comparison.


Teresa said...

Wow! Tough situation trying to change habits and patterns that have been set for many years in addition to the increasing effects of aging. The truth is, you can probably never change him, especially as he clings to the familiar. Discussing the differences in farming practices will probably not help as it will be seen as a personal attack on him rather than the methods he learned. You definitely have my good thoughts in this situation.

Jerry said...

You`ve hit it exactly. I know I cannot change him and I have realized just how much I was wanting approval, so now I can start moving past that.

I appreciate the thoughts!

WeekendFarmer said...

I know exactly what you mean. Thats a tough situation. Your patience will help, I am sure. I see that a lot..and I always thought it was a matter of generational gap. Hang in there. I am sure, he will see your projects bearing fruit, and secretly respect you.

linda said...

You have my support. I want you to know that I understand totally what you are experiencing. I can't really offer advise. I don't believe that anybody really wins in situations like this. I'm sorry that you are going through it.

Jerry said...

Weekend Farmer, I appreciate the thoughts. Thank you.

Linda, you have touched on the most frustrating part...and that is that everyone comes out of this kind of thing worse off.

There's always the learning opportunity, I hard as it can be to see.