One of the greatest aspects about living on a ranch is working side by side with your family. And occasionally, one of the worst aspects about ranching is working side by side with your family.
It’s hard to explain. As a dad, I have a sense of pride when my three kids and wife are helping work cattle. The kids have turned into pretty good hands; but even so, we have a tendency at times to not treat each other like we should in these circumstances. I don’t expect an employee to read my mind, but I think my family should. When an employee lets a cow go back, we laugh; but when it is one of the kids, I give this exasperated look and chomp my nicotine gum in such a way that everyone knows I’m disgusted.
And it’s just not me. The kids will talk to each other in a way that they would never dream of talking to someone else. The whole thing can go from bliss to misery in just a few brief moments.
I’ve been the one to throw a wet blanket on the party more than once. Yet, a few moments ago, the tables turned and I got called in after the deterioration had occurred. They were moving a large group of cows and a few got into the neighbor’s corn field. By the time all the cows were back where they belonged, a few cornstalks and a lot of feelings had been trampled. Having the perspective of not being involved in the whole fray, I could tell the damage was minimal and all the cows were in their place. It all should have been a good laugh at the dinner table that night; instead, there were three people who were angry at each other. In a rare bout of common sense, I held my tongue and didn’t offer my typical words of wisdom; words that would have gone over like a lead balloon.
Working with cattle and equipment almost assures that everything doesn’t go as planned. The damage, though, usually tends to be minimal and the setback not that severe. I should have gathered everyone around, told them how much I appreciated their help, and took the crew in for a cold drink, a hot lunch and a heart-felt prayer. I even thought about taking the kids down to the Quonset and schooling them in a game of table tennis. But since I’m still a long way away from being a great boss or dad, we just went back to work.
Getting to work with your kids is a gift. I think it is why the primary goal for so many of us in ranching is to grow the operation to the point where it can allow the kids to come back. I won’t promise, the next time something goes awry, that I won’t give my patented disgusted look, speak harshly or make a snide comment. But I will try to laugh and smile more the next time we are working together.
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