I’ve taken to music therapy to lift my mood during this Great Pause, and one of my favourite playlist songs is “Good Good Father” by Chris Tomlin. It helps me keep perspective on the character of God as we are all searching for answers far and wide. It reminds me of the many farm dads I coach who may be grandfather, manager dad, or the new young father of the successor team.
It is heartening to me to see many farm dads in 2021 being willing to go for family counselling to heal wounds in the family dynamic that are keeping the farm business stuck. These brave men are no longer willing to hook into the stereotypical image of “just cowboy up,” or “soldier on.” These farm leaders and managers are opening up with vulnerability to find new ways to be a good father, and a team player. Families are starting to understand that the emotional factors affecting planning on their farms need to be addressed.
Leadershift coach Kelly Dobson encourages farmers to work on their internal landscape to have a growth mindset to keep pace with the challenges of agriculture. As Tomlin’s song says, “only God is perfect in all of His ways,” yet we all get to choose if we will work on building stronger character and be a good soul with healthy emotions, mind and will.
Growing stronger internally to be an emotionally strong parent, whether Mom or Dad, requires some self-reflection and better language. Love does not read minds. The family has no idea what is really going on for Dad until he is willing to share his thoughts verbally and disclose what is working for him and what is not.
As I write this encouragement to you I can see in my mind’s eye several clients who have no intention of causing hurt to their hard-working adult children, yet are falling short of the next generation’s expectations. In other columns you have read my prompting to write a letter so you can clarify your thoughts on paper and process your feelings you want to share with your family. Then they can have the time to ponder your written intentions and formulate a careful, kind response. But what then?
In God’s Good Book, Galatians 5:22-23 reveals the fruit of the Spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” This is the character of people who are working on their internal being by the grace of God in His Spirit. Let’s unpack what that could look like on your farm, regardless of your current faith journey.
Farm dads are longing for these things:
1. Respect. As men age, their thinking may shift, and their identity as farmers is challenged when their ideas and opinions are not considered valid. Author Emerson Eggerich (Love and Respect) believes all men have a key need for respect. You can respect your father and still disagree with him. He’ll hear it in the tone of your voice, and how much time you give him to explain his perspective. Love and respect are a team in a strong marriage, and also applicable to showing up with gentleness when you are communicating to either generation on your farm.
2. Time to process. Many farmers are not quick to think on their feet, and they need time to process a myriad of options being thrown at them. The younger fathers who have never been without their smartphones don’t have patience for delayed answers. Work on your self-control and be careful with the words that come out of your mouth, especially in the heat of conflict. Give yourself time to cool down. Clean out your conflict filters and bias towards the other person. Think about creating solutions together in a neutral place like a pickup truck on the edge of a field, not Mom’s kitchen table.
3. Build trust by sharing good intentions. At one point in a heated conversation with a very frustrated young farm dad I asked his father, “Is it your intention to cause harm to your son and his family?” The answer was, “No, not at all, I am trying to help him be successful.” This was not the younger generation’s felt experience, but we had to clearly state intentions in order to start building more trust. The next conversation centred around the practical steps the father would take to build trust. “Dad, you have to keep me in the loop. I can’t be the last one to know what is going on with your new plans!”
4. Patience, which can also be translated as “long suffering.” Suffering in father-son, father-daughter relationships has been the focus of books like Healing the Father Wound by Dr. Norman Wright and The Father Factor by Stephen Poulter. Less than 20 per cent of fathers would be considered “compassionate mentors,” according to Poulter, but it is a great goal to have. When we get impatient we create accidents, mistakes, and fuel a lack of confidence. Instead of sputtering with disgust, how about a language shift? “By when Dad, can I expect that to be done?” Those two small words, “by when,” are very powerful for any generation to employ. You are managing expectations and not working from impatience or hostility.
5. Hope in a positive future outcome. This is the opposite of the fear of failure. Men and women who have put in 44 crops in good times and in bad are seasoned in the cycles of agriculture. They have wisdom and experience. Many are willing to forgo their own dreams and goals in order for the next generation to get a good kick-start to be successful. The Good Book says that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). How are you planting seeds of hope on your farm?
I believe we are all capable of growing our character to be good, good people.
Tell your dad in a very special way this year how much you appreciate him while you still can.