COLUMN - "The Curse of the Farm Dad"

By Jed Christensen – September 2, 2020

While watching the Box Elder Jr. Livestock steer show last Thursday, the judge made a comment during one of the rounds that went something like, “I would like everyone to notice something special this round. If you look, we have all young ladies in this ring showing their steers.”

And it was true.

In the oval ring filled with sawdust, a judge, a couple assistants and the occasional nervous splat of steer poop, were about 10 young women ages 9-17 all gripping the show halters of their 1,300 plus pound steers.

I looked at these young ladies and, though my vision is bad without glasses, I could tell they all had one thing in common. These ladies were all the daughters of farm dads.

What is a farm dad?

In Box Elder County it is any father who owns a farm, runs a ranch, owns sheep, pigs, horses, drives a semi, owns a trucking company, is a mechanic, milks cows, loves cows, hates cows, loves livestock, hates livestock, wants livestock, wonders why they still own livestock, or in the broadest terms, has more work to do in a day than hours to do it. This describes about 90% of dads in Box Elder County.

The judge continued having these girls, some weighing only 60 pounds, walk and position their steers when the whiny ringing of some national news headline about feminism rattled through my brain. I thought, “Where are all the feminists now? Why aren’t they here to see this?”

It seems all I hear is that women need to be treated equal to men and given equal opportunities.

Have any of these feminists been to a steer show? Have they seen these tiny girls wrestle these almost 3/4-ton beasts? Have any of these feminists been under the same roof as a farm dad? If they had they might change their tune.

Ask any farm girl about growing up with a farm dad and they’ll likely tell you their dad didn’t know they were a girl until they hit kindergarten. Up until that point he was buying them toy tractors, cap guns and toy bows and arrows in anticipation for when they could bag their first buck on the opening day of deer hunt. But the problem with farm dads is when they find out their boys are actually girls, nothing changes.

Work has to be done and the children need to help do it. That’s farm dad life. That is the curse of the farm dad.

So all of these girls at the age of 4 and 5 gave up on the idea of playing princess and instead learned to haul hay, feed pigs, check water, start syphon tubes, bottle feed calves and do anything else that needed to be done. That’s farm life.

Feminism and equal opportunity do not cross the mind of a farm dad. No, I take that back, equal opportunity does cross the mind of a farm dad, if you talk back or don’t work you are eligible for the equal opportunity of the leather belt and it makes no distinction between male or female.

Okay, that’s a little harsh for this generation. Most farm dad hearts have softened a bit and they don’t whip their kids with a belt, but they did the previous generation. Just ask any farm dad’s daughter who is now in her 50’s or 60’s. They will ALL have a story about getting whipped with a belt, a bent piece of bailing wire, or a switch, and we ain’t talking Nintendo.

But there has been improvement. Farm dads of the previous generation didn’t recognize their boys were actually girls until about the age of 15 or 16. Only when boys from the neighborhood started coming around to take their boy Charlie on a date did they pause from their work and take notice.

The farm dad of previous generations would look down at the pip squeak of a neighbor boy standing nervously on the porch. He would give the boy his sternest farm dad glare and wonder why the boy wasn’t out working, there was still good daylight burning. After the boy mustered the courage to ask a question the farm dad would answer, “What the hell is wrong with you? Why do you want to take my boy Charlie out on a date?” “Not Charlie your boy, sir. Charlie your daughter.”

“What? I have a daughter?” The farm dad would recoil in confusion. “Impossible!”

“Yes, sir. I’ve been talking to her frequently for a couple months now. I promise. Charlie is a girl.”

“But he’s been driving the tractor and milking the cows since he was seven. Just last week we put a new tin roof on the barn.” “Yes, sir. She told me about that. Said she cut her hand and you told her to wrap it with a strip of flour sack cloth and to toughen up and keep working.”

“Hmm…” The farm dad would then sit back and scratch his chin as he thought about all the signs he possibly missed in the past sixteen years and came to the conclusion that Charlie was, in fact, a girl. With a shrug of the shoulders he answered, “Well, just have her home by 9:30 p.m. That’s when our water turn for the corn starts.”

That’s the farm dad problem. Too much work to do and not enough time to do it. The farm dad solution? Children equal free labor. Farm dads don’t have time to worry if a child can or can’t do something because of gender. They have X amount of work to be done and Y amount of children to do it and they only understand one algebraic equation: X = Y.

The farm dad X = Y equation has nothing to do with chromosomes. It has to do with being the next child in line that reaches working age. Farm dads recognize that children, like livestock, are tender for a time, but with proper feeding and care they will soon be expected to produce. Which for a farm dad comes about the time a child is out of diapers.

Being a child of a farm dad may sound like a bad thing, all labor and no love, but in heaven the line to get a farm dad is surprisingly long. If you could interview any of the girls in the ring and ask about their dad, they would probably tell you about all of the wonderful things he has done for them.

“Oh yeah, I love my dad. He taught me so many wonderful things like how to hunt, fish, drive a four wheeler, weld, back a trailer, drive a swather, change the tires on my car, castrate a baby calf, bite the nuts off a sheep…”

At which point, you would ask, “Wait, you wanted to learn all of these skills?”

And the girl would continue, “A lot of them, but some of them I had to learn because dad was yelling at me to get to work.” “And you don’t resent him for that?” “No,” they will answer. “There was a lot of work to do and I was kind of being lazy so dad yelled at me.”

You might then ask, “At what age did your dad realize you were a girl?”

This question will get varied responses like, “He still doesn’t know, seven, two, when I refused to cut my hair, I think he knows but I’m not sure and I’m too afraid to tell him.”

Or you might get the occasional, “Actually when I was born my mom wouldn’t let my dad hold me until he acknowledged that I was a girl.”

But none of these girls will see this as detrimental to their life. Remember, they wanted a farm dad bad enough they were willing to stand in that long line in heaven to get one. (The lines for politician dads and news anchor dads had no waiting at all.)

In heaven these girls could see their young farm dads working as farm children for their farm dads and they realized that maybe nobody ever thought to ask a farm dad how he is feeling, what he would do if he didn’t have a farm, or what’s weighing down the edges of his eyebrows.

These girls saw that farm dads need help. Every day there is more work to do than hours to do it and there’s nobody around to make that go away. So, they all jumped at the chance to get a farm dad of their own. They worked their way into his heart even if it meant trading Barbie pink for John Deere green.

And now being raised under the guidance and love of their farm dads they learn every skill but helplessness. That’s not part of the equation, but it is part of the curse.