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Irons in the fire: Teach a child in the way he should go

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 12 July 2017

I tend to get a little sentimental at times. Sentimentality is not an altogether bad trait, but it sometimes gets in the way of practicality and things like wise business choices. No doubt, sentimentality has cost me more than a few dollars over the years.

It’s the reason I keep the old, stoved-up horse in the little pasture behind the house for two or three years past his ability to do anything besides eat hay better invested in something which might possibly bring some sort of return on the investment.

Sentimentality can also be blamed for the $350 vet bill to sew up the leg of the dog who’s more often in the way than in the right place or for my reasoning behind running the old brockle-faced cow for just one more year despite her calving two months late. Frankly stated, sentimentality probably should have no place at the table when it comes to making a business decision.

Sentimentality, though, is not without its rewards. I like to think on occasion it has made life more bearable, if not pleasant, for those who have to be in my company. It makes me more tolerant of others’ mistakes and them more tolerant of mine.

Few things can have as salutary an effect on an unfortunate situation as a dose of positive sentimentality, injected at the proper moment. I was reminded of this reality on Father’s Day, when my recently married son sent me a text with a link to a video of George Strait’s song “Forever and Ever, Amen.”

Of all of our five kids, this lad is the one who perhaps most tested the limits of his parents’ patience and house rules, to say nothing of the confines of common sense. It’s not that he ever really went completely out of control, bat-dung crazy, but he may have chosen to experience the warm embrace of a morning-after tequila sunrise hangover for himself rather than trust the wisdom of good sense and the advice of his parents.

The sting of cruel experience and the prayers of his mother helped him wise up in relatively short order. He’s now the husband of a dear girl who, like the wives of many of us, is much better than what he deserves.

King George’s song about the duties and devotions of fatherhood is one of a handful of tunes on my list of favorites that can turn me a little bit soft. Another of my favorites is Miranda Lambert’s home-inspired ditty, “The House that Built Me.”

For me, I’ve found the effect is not so much my longing for my childhood home but, rather, it’s what I hope my kids feel about their growing-up experiences – experiences that too often may have included cussing and a few harsh words about something as insignificant as facing your horse the wrong way and letting the black heifer slip by or leaving the water running in the leppy pen all night.

Not long ago, I was lucky enough to visit some old friends of mine who, a couple of decades ago, yanked up their roots and moved from their mountain valley home in the West to that cow heaven known as the Nebraska Sandhills. I hadn’t seen them for over 25 years, so I had never met any of the youngest generation.

I met four stout, ranch-raised boys, ages 12 to 19, whom I could easily tell had a healthy respect for their dad and grandmother, as well as an affinity and love for their way of life.

The house that built those boys could have been in the mountains of Utah, the high desert of eastern Oregon, the high plains of the Texas Panhandle or the Nebraska Sandhills. The size of the house or the climate and lay of the land were not the most important factors in their raising. The lifestyle and work ethic instilled in them by those entrusted with their care is what ultimately will lead them to appreciate “the house that built them.”

My house is a less-than-impressive structure. It’s small and it’s cheaply built. Too often, it appears to be “a little on the trashy side.” When my grown kids come home, there’s never enough room. But when I need help branding or moving cows to the high country, they come home anyway.

Maybe they remember the saddle bag lunches of soggy sandwiches, the thrill of seeing the first new calf in the spring or that good gray steer that won his class at the fair just a little more than the cussing or the scoldings they endured. I can only hope a little sentimentality will continue to stick.  end mark

Paul Marchant
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