When I was very small, my dad fashioned an office for me. It was in a side room of our block barn, which served as a dairy once upon a time. Long ago, someone had knocked out several blocks to make a window to the west. Dad took a homemade plywood chute from the silo, turned it on its side, set it under the window and voila: desk. He set a small lawn chair in front of it for me. I gathered up my pencils and 'portant papers (i.e., my hoarded junk mail), and I was in business.
The nature of my business was never clear but never mind: I had an office and my dad made it for me.
(I also had staff in my younger brother, but he was unpaid, unwilling and most likely mistreated. Sheryl Sandberg would say I had leadership skills but really, I was just bossy.)
Fast-forward to today, where I sit writing this column at another desk my dad gave me. My window looks to the east at cattle and fields of corn. The desk is from the Amish instead of the silo. And I'm reminded of a blip in my high school years where I toyed with becoming an embryologist and my dad declared I absolutely was not going to spend the rest of my life with my arm up a cow's rear end. (Or something to that effect).
It's hard to measure a father's impact. And yet, easy to recognize I didn't become an embryologist.
Instead, I learned to value hard work. To love farming. To grow things. To use cattle to teach my kids about life. To coil an extension cord or hose properly. To enjoy a popsicle on a hot day. To figure out what I could do and use that skill.
I look at my own kids and the dreams I have for them, to find that thing they've been created to do. To maybe work in agriculture. Or maybe not. My heart sings when my girl says she wants to go to the University of Illinois and major in ag communications and live at 4-H House, but I'm confident that's only because she's 12 and still thinks I know things. This, too, will change, at least for a time.
I've wondered though, how do you even begin to measure a father's impact on his farm family, particularly when his sons or daughters have come back to the farm? The decisions he's made and the path he's laid – either good or bad – echo for generations.
Years ago, Mike Wilson asked the readers of Prairie Farmer what sort of legacy they were leaving for their children. Would their kids know of the farm life that their dad complained bitterly about – the prices, the weather, the breakdowns? The endless complaints? Because who wants to go into that business?
Or would they know of an industry that demanded hardship but returned a life of enjoyment and fulfillment?
Agriculture is uniquely familial. Virtually every farm business is a family farm business, with multiple generations working side by side. Take a moment this Father's Day and think about the legacy you're passing down, and the legacy that was handed to you.
Because while we may not know our impact today, we can be certain our shadows are long and profound. What does yours look like?