It’s my 22nd Father’s Day column and I will do my best to not make “Charlie from Saskatchewan” feel like I am beating up farm dads! A reader asked me to write about the emotions of quitting farming. Let’s take the approach of the farm culture attributes farm founders appreciate. What might it feel like when those qualities are present or missing on the farm team?
1. Respect. The transitioning manager (not boss) who is letting go of being the ultimate decision maker still wants and needs his opinion considered. A seed grower retired and abruptly felt like his opinion was not important anymore. I found this surprising as I put a high value on elder wisdom and experience. I think young farmers are wise if they consider the sage advice of their parents. If you are sad about a lack of respect in your farm experience, talk about it, don’t just stuff away your disappointment. Showing respect earns more respect.
2. Appreciation. Small-business coach Tom Hubler, says, “the lack of appreciation” is one of the key stumbling blocks in a successful farm succession plan. Just last week a farmer confessed that he could likely show more appreciation to his farming son. This is urgent, because the son is not convinced he can work alongside his parents for the next 15 years. The emotions they showed at that table were tears of fear when they realized that their 40 years of toil, risk and growth may not be a secure legacy to the next generation. How are you showing appreciation to others on your farm? Father’s Day is the perfect chance to make a special effort to write a short card to Dad and express words of appreciation.
3. Success mindset. What is your definition of success? If it is richness of relationship then a harmonious culture on your farm will make you feel deeply grateful and satisfied. If you are not on speaking terms with siblings, in-laws, or grandchildren due to silent treatment and conflict, you are likely feeling like a failure. Unfortunately as a coach I do not possess magic fairy dust to sprinkle on grumpy people to make them behave well as emotionally mature adults. If success is eluding you, are you ready to call in help for counselling and do deep communication work?
4. Timely effort, a healthy work ethic. Farm dads who have a hard time stopping their work are likely “lazy in relationship,” as they tend to overwork and underrelate. If your identity is tied to what you “do,” then the crisis of letting go of your roles on the farm is likely going to leave you floundering and grieving. Healthy managers who hand over responsibility over time usually have a new dream or goal to work towards that energizes them. I can’t say that I know that many retired farmers. One who is happy has moved to town, supports his farming children by driving out to help on request, and spends lots of time playing with grandchildren. If farm work has become an untamable monster, what are you going to do when you wake up in a hospital bed someday and wonder where all your friends have gone? It’s time to feel great about what you have contributed, be grateful for the years left to create new meaning and purpose. You are “getting ready” for a new chapter that no longer includes 100-hour workweeks. You will be OK.
5. Growth in business, technology is exciting or fear inducing! Don’t forget to grow the skill sets of your people. One farm founder is causing grief because his sense of self-worth is dependent on the farm business continually expanding. He is not listening to the younger generation whose energy is maxed out, while they are begging for more time with children. If your self-worth is tied to the size of your net worth statement you may be sad that you aren’t as rich as you thought you would be at this stage in your life. Again, what is true wealth? Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “your health is your wealth.”
6. Fun. It is OK to play and have a culture of fun on your farm. If folks are happy and getting along as a team you are likely a very happy farmer. Many folks who request coaching think that increasing their communication skills will help them get along better. Sometimes I wonder if a good holiday and long rest would be more helpful. Your body is not a John Deere/Case IH tractor. We need rest and renewal, and we need to pay attention to sadness that just doesn’t lift which might be depression. Emotionally, I want you to give yourself permission to enjoy the fruit of your labour and have some fun!
Be radical and stop working on Sundays! This works at our farm.
7. Leadership. Strong fathers are great leaders of their families and farms. They also allow team engagement and other family members to “lead from any chair.” They don’t have a need to always be in control, or to have the last word on key decisions. Brene Brown talks about leading a “wholehearted” life. She suggests that writing down experiences of heartbreak and grief have emerged as the most help in making clear to people what they were feeling so they could articulate it to each other. Be an empathetic leader.
“Time is the most important gift you can give your family,” says Frederick Goddall.
I would be really interested to hear about the feelings you experienced when you “quit” farming. I have a new presentation called “Planting Hope Amidst Grief and Loss on the Farm.” We need to recognize there are many kinds of losses in life, not just financial ones. I lost my farming dad to Alzheimer’s and then to death five years ago. Be grateful if you have a live, loving father to celebrate with. Make good memories this June, and be free to share your true feelings. Blessings on your journey. GN