There's a guy I know - with adult children of his own - who's upset about his childhood. The guy is still a little angry that his own father didn't spend more time with him when he was growing up. The guy's dad wasn't off sitting on a barroom stool or practicing his putting at the golf course; he was working side jobs to earn extra money for his family. The dad was determined to be "a good provider" for his wife and children, a goal shared by many husbands/fathers of his generation.
But times have changed. Society has changed. Fathers are expected to spend more time with their children, to be a bigger part of their kids' daily lives. There are a number of reasons for that; the biggest, I suppose, is the growing number of women with careers outside the home. Mom has less time to spend with the kids, so dad need to spend more.
Regular readers of this column (the number has reached as high as five or six) know the drill. I write about sound economic principles, the importance of ag exports, the need to better understand non-farmers, the lamentable shortage of basic civility and the joys (and occasional frustrations) of Upper Midwest agriculture.
So I'm not branching out now to tell people how to raise their children and run their families. I'll leave that to the zealots on the political left and right.
I'm simply making a point that's obvious to anyone familiar with area agriculture: Spending more time with their growing children can be complicated for farmers. Farming and ranching are not 9-to-5, Monday-through-Friday jobs. Properly balancing the volatile demands of production ag against the wants and need of family members can be difficult at best, virtually impossible at worst.
Does a farmer shut down the planter to attend his child's school play? Does he shut down the combine to go to his daughter's volleyball game or his son's football game? Sometimes he will, sometimes he won't. The answer depends, among other things, on the weather outlook, travel time and how much the event means to the child.
The dilemma has grown in rural areas because of school consolidation and co-oping. A home game that once was no more than 10 miles away now may be 50 or 60 miles away. An away game, once 20 or 30 miles from home, now may be 100 to 200 miles away.
I once visited with a busy farm couple whose children are increasingly involved in school activities, often many miles from home. The wife/mother said the kids understand that sometimes their dad needs to farm and can't attend their events. The husband/father (who was lovingly and skillfully holding their youngest child, an infant son) said he does his best but can't make it to everything, especially during planting and harvest.
Past, present, future
Historians say that society often moves in a pendulum. It swings in one direction and finally stops, then moves back in the other direction. An example: Public drunkenness was a huge problem in America after the Civil War. That led to the temperance movement and ultimately to Prohibition. But Prohibition didn't work and was repealed.
It's said that the concept of "good providers" was fostered by the Great Depression and then World War II. A generation of American fathers came to believe that providing for the financial needs of their family was paramount, even when it meant spending less time with their children.
Now, a new generation of American fathers believes otherwise.
I have no idea what society will look like in, say, 30 years, or what role future generation of fathers will play in their children's lives. Nor do I have any interest in speculating.
This much I'm sure of:
Every farm family is different, and no two will ever have quite the same response to balancing the needs of their farm and the needs of their family. And so every farm family must decide for itself how best to address that dilemma.
To all farm families - fathers, mothers and children: keep fighting the good fight. You may not win all the battles, but I'm confident most of you are winning the war.