I hate to brag, but I’m a “natural” in the field of parenting.
This is largely due to my upbringing on a small and diversified livestock farm. I learned early on that there are certain things that all young stock need regardless of their species. These include a warm bed, access to ample supplies of food and water, and adequate ventilation to mitigate the icky aromas produced by creatures whose bathroom habits are – let’s face it – thoroughly disgusting.
My livestock husbandry experience served me well when my wife and I became parents. I didn’t have to go through a “training wheels” phase of fatherhood; I went straight to the “Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra” stage.
For instance, one spring day when our two sons were preschoolers, my wife announced that she needed to go on a grocery hunting expedition. She asked if I could watch the boys while she was gone, using a tone which implied that she wasn’t sure if I could be trusted with this task. As a veteran baby-raiser, I found this somewhat insulting.
After my wife left I decided to enjoy a televised baseball game while our sons played nearby. When I awoke, the house was quiet. Too quiet. This is always worrying when you have two young boys.
The house was peaceful because the boys were no longer inside. Following a short search, I discovered that they were frolicking in a driveway mud puddle.
This invoked pleasant memories of when I was a kid and our sows gave birth to their spring litters of piglets. The wooden fences that constrained our 400-pound sows would let ten-pound baby pigs zip right through. It was common to find our piglets rooting around in mud puddles.
Baby pigs are not the same as human kids, obviously. I was concerned about bacterial contamination, but then it occurred to me that a few extra microbes likely wouldn’t have any negative environmental impact on the mud.
When she returned from her grocery mission, my wife voiced her displeasure regarding our boys’ muddiness. Recalling what Dad had said when our piglets wallowed, I explained, “They must have craved something in the mud. It’s a totally natural behavior.”
She replied that my parenting skills were unnatural. It wasn’t clear whether she meant unnaturally bad or unnaturally good. I think it was the latter.
Some years afterward, I was doing chores when I heard a clamor high in a tree. The ruckus wasn’t caused by squirrels but by our two sons. They were building a tree house with old boards requisitioned from our lumber pile and nails “borrowed” from our farm shop.
Their structure was impressive – and not in a good way. It appeared that the boys had learned their construction techniques from Wile E. Coyote.
I was about to yell at them and recite that timeworn parental trope about breaking their fool necks. But then I recalled that we had built wooden huts for our calves when I was a kid and how happy the baby bovines were to have their own abodes. Even so, I felt obliged to speak up.
“No, no, boy!” I hollered up the tree, “You’re doing it all wrong! You can’t use that ratty baling twine to hold the floor together! And don’t use that rotten bough as a main support beam.”
Before I knew it, I had climbed up into the boys’ rickety aerie and was demonstrating the proper method for dangling from a branch with one hand while pounding nails with the other. My wife heard the altitudinous commotion and came out of the house and yelled at us about breaking our fool necks. She was right, of course. We each should have been wearing an OSHA-approved five-point safety harness.
One day when the boys were home from school, I strolled into the house and was summarily shot in the haunch by a Nerf arrow. The effrontery! Those pups needed to learn to respect the top dog.
“Gimme that crossbow!” I exclaimed as I snatched the weapon from my would-be assassin’s hands. “I’ll teach you to bushwhack your old man!”
I nailed my assailant with a Nerf arrow as he dove for cover behind the couch. From around a corner there came a barrage of Nerf arrows from the other boy. I was hit several times but none of my wounds were serious so I kept on fighting. Nerf projectiles ricocheted throughout the house. The only casualty was a decorative plate that had never served any useful purpose.
A door suddenly flew open. “What are you doing?” demanded my wife.
The boys and I exchanged a knowing look. “Fire!” I barked as we all took aim.
If you’d like to contact Jerry Nelson to do some public speaking, or just to register your comments, you can email him at email@example.com. His book, “Dear County Agent Guy,” is available at Workman.com and at booksellers everywhere.