When I first typed out the title it was, “How to make your farming father really happy,” but that didn’t sit well because I believe that each of us as emotionally mature adults gets to wake up every morning and decide what our mood and responses will be. We get to choose to be happy in however we frame what is transpiring at our farm. I don’t think we “make” others happy.
Sad conversations are ringing in my ears as I write, gathering threads of coaching insights from the week and reflecting on how things could be different. “Elaine, against my better judgment I signed things over to my son, and the very next day he yelled at me to get lost!” These comments likely strike fear in your heart with thoughts like, “man, I hope that doesn’t happen to me!”
In June we celebrate Father’s Day, which is a great day for families with lots of deposits in their emotional bank accounts, and a dreaded day for fathers and adult children who are not speaking to each other while avoiding any thoughts of repairing the relationship. Don’t give up. Work to create the communication that will build relationship and understanding.
Here’s what I gleaned from speaking to fathers who are enjoying relationships with their farming sons and daughters, their successors.
I like it when:
1. They treat me with respect. Respect is a pretty loaded word. What does it mean to you? Is it being careful to choose your words before you speak your opinion? Is it looking each other in the eye with love and curiosity as you make decisions together? Is it being aware of your own needs and yet being able to see the issue from Dad’s perspective? If you want to be treated with respect, be respectful. Sounds like a common-sense practice, but I see many farm dads and heirs longing for more respect.
2. They include me in their conversations. We all like to feel that we count. “Not feeling like you count” is a deep sadness for some parents. When we see that the founder of the farm is in the conversation circle, we are opening up possibility, the chance to create an amazing new scenario together as a team, and not discount one another. Sometimes the conversations are heated with the passion, energy, and optimism of youth. I think that is great. I know that my almost-60 hubby is enjoying the energy of two young bucks working alongside him!
3. They take responsibility to get things done. Leading a farm is a myriad of decision-making all day long. When the next generation is aware of what work needs to be done, anticipates the tasks, and is self-directed with confidence to do the priority job, Dad is very happy. He sees that his work style and sense of how to strategically get things done is rubbing off resulting in a positive workflow. When the successor stays overtime, or makes sure that all the important work is complete before heading home to attend to family needs, everyone is affirmed for a great work ethic while respecting the needs of the family. One dad I know is very happy his daughters do the spraying and the books.
4. They ask me for advice, even when they don’t have a need for it. I recall having tea with an elderly retired farmer whose joy was to watch the farm activities out his kitchen window. He said, “Elaine, I sure wish the boys would just let me know when they are buying a new tractor. I still have an opinion, even though I know they will make the right choice.” It feels good to be consulted for sage advice and wisdom. As boomers we value age and experience, so we appreciate when the next generation asks for our input. If you are a cocky, arrogant, self-centred successor, I suspect your transition conversations with your parents are not going very well. Asking others for their wisdom, whether it be from your parents, relatives or successful neighbours is a sign of emotional intelligence.
5. They have ideas of how to make things better, and have done the research. A day on our farm without Internet is a difficult day. The next generation relies on texting peers, tweeting, and Googling to discover ways to make their farm experience better. Sometimes this means spending the parents’ cash, sometimes not. What tools and tweaks of process would make life on your farm more pleasant and productive? What is stopping you from embracing new ideas of doing things? Remember, “Different is not wrong, it is just different.”
6. They take pride in what they are doing. I will be eternally grateful for my in-laws who in the 1960s planted, watered and weeded a 10-acre shelterbelt around our yard. They could have skimped on the number of trees, or planted ugly varieties, but their legacy shelters us, and gives us energy to work as we have a beautiful hedgerow. Sometimes folks settle for “good enough” which mirrors an attitude of carelessness, and actually ends up creating more work in the end. Consider the times when you don’t bend over to pick up the white papers that escaped from the burn barrel, and then the lawn mower person chews up the paper into bits which scatter quickly all over your formerly lovely green lawn. Laziness or a careless attitude don’t generate happy feelings.
7. They listen to what I need and ask me how I am feeling. Some nights older farmers don’t sleep well, so it helps to know that Dad needs a little extra grace on the days that his nights were too short. Energy wanes, and bodies get sore. Be kind to others as you never know what battles they are facing. Be open to serving each other with love and respect. Be aware of how your dad likes to be affirmed, with words, gifts, time with you or acts of service.
Blessings to you and your family on Father’s Day.