My father turns 74 this fall. Slowly winding down seem the days of tending to his gentleman's farm without the aid of labor, paid or otherwise.
His home in the Shenandoah Valley is idyllic; views framed by mountains and pasture are left only for the calling of his 40-year crusade to debunk junk science, explain the origin of global warming and preach the necessity of embracing high-yield farming.
He has been unable to fulfill the physical duties that seem instinctive; rising before dawn to feed the animals, splitting and stacking firewood from felled trees, mending a mile of fence which encloses his 100+ acres, and riding horses.
He spends long days analyzing data, models and research in order to provide the perspective needed to keep accurate his New York Times’ bestseller and keep informed his followers with his syndicated weekly column, a quarterly newsletter, and frequent international jaunts to lecture and educate.
Of course, he couldn't accomplish any of this without the enthusiastic assistance and unbridled encouragement of his wife, who he was blessed to have been given a second chance on marriage some 30 years ago.
My dad grew up just outside of East Lansing, MI, on a dairy farm where hard work and stubbornness abound, as does a high threshold for pain. As a ‘tween, I vividly remember him dragging his broken foot, hammer in hand, nails in mouth, oblivious to the pain for several weeks, finally going to the doctor to set a cast, but not until the wraparound deck was completed.
Growing up on a farm guarantees a handshake strong as a vice grip and acknowledgment of life's dark side which is seldom seen by others. Unwanted litters are routinely drowned at birth. Gimped horses are put down with a gunshot to the head. Would be pets are slaughtered for food and fortune.
My paternal grandfather was a wrestler, a farmer and an agricultural extension officer with Michigan State University. My grandmother was a strict teacher and, by all accounts, an even stricter mother. They contributed to my father's rare display of emotion. If he has experienced it, dad has never shown to be nervous.
Later this month, he will be put under and catheterized as University of Virginia doctors perform surgery to correct a heart arrhythmia. The heart condition has left him tired and gasping for air during his routine tasks like splitting a cord of wood and stacking it aside his beloved outdoor furnace.
Unlike previous surgeries of which he had no intention of announcing to his family, he is talking aloud about this one. Is it possible that he is nervous? Am I witnessing a rare demonstration of emotional evocation? Is the man, who hobbled around on one leg for weeks before admitting he had a broken foot, finally allowing others to comfort him?
In any event, it is nice to know that he is in capable hands. I suspect that he will fully recover. He will be back to mending fence and splitting logs. No longer will he struggle to enjoy tending to what must be a fond reminder of growing up on a dairy farm. Months from now, we will not even remember his surgery. Life as he knows it will be as it was. All the fuss will be forgotten.
Except for my memory of that one time when dad appeared vulnerable and allowed me a chance to tell him that I love him and wish him Godspeed......