Sometimes it’s hard to be honest about the things we love.
I’ve written often in this column about my fond memories of life as a member of a farming family. The farm gave me plenty of great stories and warm feelings. They’re easy to talk about, and I’m eager to share them.
However, if I’m being honest, the farm gave me a fair number of bad memories, too.
I learned early that Mom and Dad argued about money a lot. Before I was old enough to go to preschool, I knew that money was tight and that white envelopes in the mail sometimes brought shouting behind closed doors.
I also learned that late nights in the field often resulted in the same thing.
My mom wasn’t a farm girl — she was raised in Birmingham, Ala. Though she understood Dad’s need to work round-the-clock at certain times of year, she never could resign herself to living much of her life without her husband at home until very late in the evening.
As I grew older, I found out that Dad wasn’t having much fun in the fields on those late nights, either. Bad weather, escaped livestock, stuck tractors, equipment breakdowns, skinned knuckles, bodies covered in dust and grease, and sheer physical exhaustion all take their toll. When you add in family tension and financial pressures, you’ve got a recipe for any number of disasters.
In my family’s case, eventually the wedge between my parents grew too large, and they divorced. In other families we know, events can become even more tragic — lives are lost and hearts are broken.
Farms can be hard on people in the best of times. In a year like this one, they can be downright brutal. Between spring floods, late planting, a wet fall, low beef and grain prices, and early snows, people in farm country are under a lot of stress.
I don’t have a silver bullet answer to that. There are farm stress hotlines and mental health professionals that can offer some help. Churches can also provide a vital support network.
You already know this, of course. It still doesn’t make it any easier to ask for help. Farmers and ranchers are used to solving their own problems. Being vulnerable enough to reach out for help is a tall order for most of them.
My grandfather once became so depressed about his farm struggles that he couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks. My grandmother finally dragged him out of bed, forced him into the car, and drove him to the doctor to get help.
And it did help. The farm made it through the rough patch and so did he — thanks to the love of a wife who forced him to ask for help.
Though I am by no means an expert, I think handling that kind of stress requires keeping your loved ones close and drawing upon their strength and the strength of your feelings for them.
There’s a line in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” that sticks with me: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel.”
Every burden I have to bear is made lighter by the strength, love and wisdom of my wife, my children, my father, my siblings, and even my best friends.
If the farm or ranch is piling on the stress this year, let everyone inside your hoops of steel know what you’re going through.
And let them help.