In the city, little kids play with trucks and cars. Little farm boys, though, play ‘farm’ and have a wide collection of machinery to turn that into reality: Barns, sheds, tractors of various sizes and brands and endless farm implements. Today, one of my clients, Melissa (who is from Iowa) was talking about her son having a scary ‘combine’ dream and it reminded me of all of my own ‘playing farm’ days.
I didn’t play farm nearly as much as my little brother and his best friend Tom did but my brother Paul and I were the first users of the big barn my Dad made for us. I think we only had one tractor and I don’t really remember any other implements except for a perhaps a couple trucks. But we made do because, after all, we had a barn. A barn that my Dad made for us.
I think Fathers of my Dad’s generation were more constrained by society and conventions than these days. Affection came as a pat on the back rather than a hug, a ‘you’re a good boy’ rather than an ‘I love you’ and doing something for your children was more typical than doing something with your children. Furthermore, I think my Dad was (and maybe is) somewhat mystified by this son so different than he expected and different than most other sons. What do you do with a boy who wants to read more than play sports (not that we were a big sports family), sing to the horses more than play with others or dance to ‘Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head’ on the backyard swing set rather than play kickball. Yet, all in all, I think he did just fine with me, ultimately. And – he built us the barn (along with a swing set and the largest neighborhood slide among other things).
I had completely forgotten about the Barn until today. It was the standard ‘hip roof’ barn that you imagine when you think of a barn. It was painted a red and had shakes on the roof that really made it look like a roof. It had a haymow (the second floor of a barn, basically) but it was open along the long side of the barn so you could get stuff in. Like Haybales. That he made. And it was big – about 2 1/2 feet long and 1 1/2 feet tall (I think).
I’m pretty sure that he made the hay bales for us or at the very least, helped us to make them. They were made out of particle board and pretty close to the right proportions. The genius though was that they had a nail nailed into the top of them. What for? So that you could use a magnet hooked to a string that ran through the window in the haymow to hoist the bales up where they could be stacked ‘for the winter’. It was cool. Watching the magnet lift those bales up was like creating magic. At least for me it was. Maybe it was less magical for my older and wiser brother but for me it really was magical.
That barn remained part of our family for all of our growing up years. I know my little brother used that barn for many, many years and for all I know, one of the grandchildren may still be using it. Solid, well-designed, simple – just like a real barn. I don’t even know when we got the barn; it was just there ready for when we were.
And so on this Father’s Day, I think about the things that Fathers are and the things they are (or were) not. And I am old enough to realize that every son in every generation has had those dreams for what they wished their father was. But I was lucky enough to have a father: a father who didn’t abuse us, a father who provided well for us, a father who did say ‘you’re a good boy’ rather than nothing, a father who taught us how to do all kinds of things like building and welding and fixing and creating and thinking and figuring out how to do something when you don’t have a clue. A Father who builds his sons a barn.