Some who faithfully read my articles no doubt believe that I live vicariously through my kids. That’s not exactly accurate, but I do readily admit that I’m only 100% confident in a few things, and among them is the existence of God, and that I love my kids more than I ever could express.
My family just returned from our annual trek to the state fair. There wasn’t anything particularly notable about this year’s fair experience, but it involved some really long days for the kids. They were justifiably tired, and I was really dragging, too.
When we got home, however, nothing had to be said. The animals were unloaded, fed and taken care. Following that, we all made a beeline for the house, but one boy didn’t make it in, and I went back out looking for him.
I found him sitting on a hay bale with his border collie nestled between his legs; I wasn’t terribly sure which one was happier to see the other. Standing there off to the side was borderline spying, but it was one of those rare times that I get a glimpse of the man my son is becoming.
It was obvious to me that these two are truly best friends. School hasn’t been a great environment for this young man. Even in an ag-oriented community like ours, there aren’t that many kids who really share his interests, passions or beliefs. But he’s found his identity with the kids he shows with, judges with, and spends time with at the shows. But his greatest friend and greatest interests are his dog and his horse.
That combination of a dog, a horse, cows and a ranch have taught him most of the good lessons he’s learned about life. And it’s those relationships that will shape his future, whether or not he decides to make ranching his life.
He’s learned about loyalty and faithfulness from his dog, and the importance of having a good attitude and the respect that a willingness to serve creates. From his horse, he’s learned patience, the principles of give and take, and the value of subtlety, thinking through things and trying different avenues to get a message across. He’s learned that persuasion and motivation are valuable traits, and that brute force is highly ineffective especially when it comes to controlling a 1,200-lb. animal.
He’s learned that success is usually the result of a lot of hard work and practice, and he’s discovered that making the difficult look easy is not just art but the ultimate lesson of life. Most importantly, his horse has taught him that being part of a team, while a lot harder than being an individual, also is the path to getting something significant done.
From the ranch, he’s learned that failure is only a failure if one doesn’t learn from it, and that life is a never ending journey with many ups and downs. The bottom line is that if you focus just on the end result instead of enjoying the journey, you miss out on most of the good it has to offer.
He’s learned there are laws of the universe, consequences for not obeying them, and rewards for doing so. He’s learned the concept of delayed gratification and the law of the harvest from living on the ranch. These concepts that will serve him well no matter the direction his journey takes him.
He’s learned that results matter, but so do intentions, and how you conduct yourself in pursuit of your goals. The ranch has taught him work ethic and economics, but also that there are many rewards in life that have very little to do with money – like a smile, the sight of a newborn calf, or green grass.
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It’s more difficult to say what he’s learned from cows per se, but building, breeding and maintaining a set of cows in a sustainable and profitable way teaches most of the lessons that one needs to know. Living 20 miles from town also precludes our kids from having the luxury of spending all their time with friends, they kind of have to work and play alongside their parents and siblings.
I have a good friend who is raising some awful good kids in the city, but I know how hard he’s had to work to teach them those lessons, and to help them grow spiritually. I know the pressures of the outside world are real and constant, and I like the shelter that living a rural lifestyle provides. But I also realize what kids are exposed to on a daily basis at school, from the media, and our culture in general.
I get a great sense of relief watching my boy ride out with his dog and horse to check cows, because I know when he crests the hill and sees the green grass, the new calves, and the setting sun that he has very little doubt about the existence of God and His plan. I don’t know what direction he might ride in the future, but I know those rides will prepare him well for whatever may come.
I probably have made more parenting mistakes than my city friend, but I consider myself lucky because the dog, horse, ranch and cows are doing their best to make up for them.
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