Even when I didn’t want him to be.
My father was there for me.
He believed I’d go a long way and gave me a used suitcase to help me go.
Like everyone, he knew things. As a lad, I thought he knew everything. He knew our farm as well as the back of his permanently tanned hand. He was patient. He taught me how to whistle and set the points on a car. He listened endlessly as I struggled to perfect the Ha-ha-ha-Haha, ha-ha-ha-HAha call of Woody Woodpecker.
When I think of my father, it’s odd what comes to mind. His favorite meal might have been creamed asparagus on toast. Our plants were either the Mary or Martha Washington variety. We added well-rotted manure to the plants each year. That’s rolling out the red carpet for the plants. We harvested spears 6-8 inches long until June 30, unlike some of those barbarians who went until the Fourth of July. We snapped the spears off at the soil surface. Some folks cut the spears with a sharp knife, but we worried that action might damage adjacent spears not yet emerged. The neighbors used salt to control weeds in their asparagus plantings. Salt wasn’t effective in controlling weeds, especially grasses. High levels of salt in soil could damage asparagus. Hand pulling is the best way to control weeds in an asparagus planting. When I learned to like asparagus, it was a major milestone in my life.
Father wasn’t particularly religious, but he was spiritual. Mother handled the religious end of the family. He’d rather work 80 hours a week for himself than work 40 hours a week for someone else. He was a dairy farmer not a doctor, but he believed in “first, do no harm” attributed to the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates — not a part of the “Hippocratic Oath,” but from “Of the Epidemics.”
Dad came from a family big enough that leftovers were merely rumors. He liked the neck and gizzard from the chicken because he didn’t have to fight with a sibling over those.
He taught me helpful things. Can’t never did anything. A good start isn’t enough. He enrolled me in the “Put things back where they belong Club.” Dad unknowingly followed Baltasar Gracian’s advice, “It is better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about them afterwards.” He and Davy Crockett told me to be sure I’m right before going ahead. I doubt he’d ever heard of Epictetus, but he believed what Epictetus said, “It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” Because of that, the letters to the editor weren’t the favorite part of his beloved newspaper.
When Mother talked him into buying a TV, he told the sales clerk he was a farmer, so he needed a set that worked only when it was raining. He had a sense of humor. He’d tell another family member, “Get a hammer. There’s a fly on Allen’s head.” I think he was kidding.
Dad was a proud Iowan, born in Fraser. Not many people can say that. It has a population of 102 and they might have counted someone twice. More than 85% of Iowa was covered by tallgrass prairie at the time of settlement by Europeans in the early 19th century. Less than 0.1% remains. The prairie grass can be 6 feet tall with roots 15 feet deep. My father was that tall with roots even deeper, but he bought a farm in Minnesota.
He ate cheese on his apple pie. I preferred whipped cream or ice cream. He liked Zane Grey. I liked John Steinbeck. I was a Cardinals fan. He was a long-suffering Cubs devotee. The Cubs tormented Dad every year. They rewarded his loyalty by waiting until he’d died before winning even so much as a division title. It might have been a sad coincidence.
My parents farmed between Corwith and Wesley in Iowa. I took them there to see their old place. It was a cornfield. You can go home again, but it might not be there.
Dad pulled an old Barlow jackknife with a broken blade from his pocket and said, “One day, all of this will be yours.” The Batt fortune wrapped in a pocketknife. I’m happy to have it.
Phone conversations with my father were short: “Hello. The car won’t start. The weather hates farmers. Don’t forget to change the oil in your car. Here’s your mother.”
His lessons were often short, too, “Don’t do that.”