My dad always told me that you have to love your children enough to let them go. And that’s where we start this short story.
I was lying in the back of my mom’s Ford Excursion (remember those stupid things?) at about 4am after being kicked out of the house for being a smart ass- one of my worst (among several others) faults as a child. Fuming! Many words I can’t type were flying through mind regarding what I thought about my parents, Dad specifically. Think angsty teen meets a 6’3″ (don’t worry, I’m 6’5″ now. It’s fine.) 150 pound soaking wet scarecrow….actually, picture that for a moment. And keep that mental picture. But yea, I was in the car because ‘where the hell was I going to go?’ I grew up on a farm in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. My closest neighbor was my grandma who was over a mile away.
Being the first to break the barrier of excommunication, my mom came out to the car and said, “Your dad said ‘Come inside now and get some rest. If you want to be a part of this family, you’ll have to work for it.'” So, of course, after sitting outside in the car for 3 hours, DURING FEBRUARY (without any blankets), I was very excited to come inside, not that I’d show it. I came inside, went upstairs and tucked myself in to get some shut-eye, hoping that was it. I wouldn’t be so lucky…
My alarm that morning, as it was most mornings, was a blunt “Jamey, get up” that was loud enough to wake my brother Benjie (who was fortunate enough to get to stay in bed due to my misfortune) and me, but quiet enough not to wake my mom. And so the day from hell started.
I got downstairs, and my dad told me to “Get something to eat, ’cause you’re doing to need it.” Not listening to my dad hadn’t worked out to well for me in the past (nor would it in the future), so I gobbled down some cereal (a bad choice I soon found out), and a couple of granola bars – you know, the ones with all the crumbs. We then got in the truck and headed to the farm and barns where his office was, but took a slight detour to my grandfather’s shop. His shop legitimately had every tool in it. He built it with his own hands, and, a couple of years later, he and I would spend an entire month during the dead of summer making an add-on so he could house his new woodworking equipment in the summer and the ferns, with their red heat lamps, in the winter. It was a perfect square wood building, built with heart pine, and a tin roof with a tasteful amount of rust. The quintessential farm shed. Inside, it had almost every tool imaginable perfectly aligned with nails that’d been driven into a 1″ x 6″ that had been hung between the studs. Sanders, hammers, trimmers, sprayers, saws, extension cords, rakes, hoes, shears, pliers, screwdrivers and old tools I don’t even know the names of. This is the shed that every handyman would dream of having. But we weren’t looking for any of those tools. See, my dad had his eye out for one of the most hated hand tools of all time, the post hole diggers. And to my dismay, he grabbed not one, but both pairs from their allotted space and walked back to the truck without saying a word.
We drove past the rest of the barns and then through the equipment lineup where you keep all the big equipment during its offseason. We passed all the tractors, combines and other farm trucks. We continued into the middle of the farm and passed by the dog kennels I had cleaned every day for several years. My father also ran one of the first Orvis Endorsed wing shooting lodges (now called Rio Piedra), and this is where we housed all of the dogs. Like 60 of them. Yea, a lot of dog poop to wash out and bowls to fill.
Finally, after going through the big oak bottom in the middle of our homestead, my dad pulls up to an unmanaged piece of land where we had some young pine trees planted and said: “Get out.” He followed suit and grabbed one post hole digger, and I grabbed the other. I should stop at this point and tell you what a post hole digger is. If you don’t know, google it. It’s basically a medieval contraption that has two spades attached to two long handles with a lynchpin in the middle. To use them, you put your hands together to open the spade, raise it straight up in front of you and slam it down in the ground. You then pull your hands apart, trapping the dirt between the two spades and pick it up and drop the dirt beside your hole. You repeat this process taking out edges and getting deeper until you have your desired depth and diameter. We walked to an area that was partially covered with grass and pine straw, and dad thrust his set into the dirt. He looked at me and said, “Do you want to be a part of this family?” I said, “Of course I do.”
“Well, then you’re going to have to do as I say and show your mom and me the utmost respect.”
I said “I understand that.”
Dad then replied in a stone cold manner “Ok, well then you’re going to have to move some dirt. Get those post hole diggers and dig holes 3 feet deep and 1 foot apart until I tell you to stop.” He then walked off, got in the truck and drove off. That was it. I started thinking to myself… a lot of bad things. I was pissed at myself, pissed at him, pissed at everything. I was in a rage! Like one of those blinding, crying, only when you’re 13 fits of rage. I thought I was going to explode. But, it was just me, two sets of post hole diggers (in case one broke) and a lot of dirt to be moved.
SO I DUG! Like hell. Luckily, I knew that the handle shape changed from square to round right at about 2.5 feet which gives you a good depth finder for the distance. It was cold as hell that morning and so it kind of felt nice to get moving; for a short time anyway. After about 4 or 5 holes, I began to calm and think to myself. I knew that this was an opportunity for me to learn and grow and harden myself. My whole life my dad had allowed me to slip by without being held to the same standard as my brother. I grew up in a family that was traditional southern raised. Yes ma’am, no sir, please and thank you. Be seen and not heard. Speak only when spoken to. You know the drill. But my dad always went easy on me, and I knew this was an opportunity to grow up and shed those childish ways. I had quit at a lot of stuff up to that point in my life. At the end of the day, I knew all of this was my fault. I created this, and now I’d have to answer for it.
After digging for what MUST have been 3.5 years (I didn’t have a watch, and no one had phones then) my dad came by, and I was at about hole 50. It had been almost an hour and a half. He stopped the truck and got out with something in each hand. In one hand, he had a Gatorade, which I slugged immediately. In the other hand, as a complete demoralizer, he had a tape measure. A freaking TAPE MEASURE! I was instantly enraged again as he went around from hole to hole measuring the depth. “This one’s too shallow. You wasted a lot energy on this one. Are you even paying attention; what is this?” And so on he went. I was back to square one.
I didn’t say anything to him and didn’t wait for him to finish before resuming slamming the spades in the ground, rocking them back and forth to loosen the ground, spreading my hands and picking up the dirt. REPEAT. REPEAT. REPEAT. On and on and on. Anger, being the great motivator that it is, I probably looked like a possessed scarecrow. Remember that image? Or more like a half-starved, gangly teen on a disillusioned gold rush.
I finally stopped after what’d been probably 30-40 more holes and took a deep breath. I was calm again. I was zeroed out. AND I WAS EXHAUSTED. As anyone who’s ever handled a garden tool knows, my hands were blistering like crazy. My arms, back, neck and entire body were twitching with each heartbeat. My stomach was churning butter at this point. I was beaten. I had been defeated. I was ready to quit, again. And so I did. I sat down in the shade and relaxed.
Then, all the recent negative moments of the past started to creep in, and I started dissecting them one at a time. All the times I was a smart ass, didn’t do homework, didn’t wake up on time, lied, etc. started to flash through my mind and I then realized that all of them were my fault. A lack of self-discipline was the cause of ALL of my problems and a fire was lit. I can distinctly remember my mind flipping from a victim mentality and going into fight mode. I got back up, grabbed the PHDs and WENT TO WORK. I think I nearly busted out about 10 more holes when my dad showed up. [I think he was watching me from somewhere, waiting for that moment.] My hands were bleeding, my traps were in knots, arms burning, snot and sweat flying everywhere, but I didn’t stop. He blew the horn (I was about 150 feet away from the road at this point), but I didn’t stop. He yelled my name. I didn’t stop. He finally got out of the truck and walked out to me and grabbed me.
I turned to him, tears in my eyes, on the verge of exploding and he just hugged me…AND HERE COME THE WATERWORKS. It was like all of those teenage emotions exploded at one time. I completely lost it. Once all of that settled down, he looked along the row of holes shaking his head in a silent nod of approval. He turned to me and paused, pensive; thinking about what to say. I guess he decided that maybe I had put on a little bit of a show so he said: “cover them back up and meet me at the office.” WHAT?! COME….ON! I just cracked a half smile, shook my head and started covering them back up. HE DIDN’T EVEN GIVE ME A RIDE!
I had to walk about half a mile back to the farm with the PHD’s thrown across my shoulder. Dad then sat me down and asked me to explain to him why he had done what he did. He wanted me to know how much he loved me, but that I had to play by his rules if I lived under his roof. I did. We then went to “the store” (our local country store) and ate a massive breakfast. People were staring at my hands like something was wrong with me, but I didn’t mind. I wore the bleed blisters as a badge of honor, and I had never felt so close to my dad before.
Sometimes, when we get in our own way, we simply have to get to work and move some dirt.