Monday, April 15, 2013

Loss and reflection

The Farmer’s father died last week. The funeral is behind us, the last of the leftovers have been eaten, casserole dishes and cake plates washed and returned to neighbors. It’s an awkward time, when we all try to act like nothing happened, like there has been no devastating loss, like life is "back to normal."

Only it isn’t. It has changed and change is often painful.

The Farmer-In-Law had cancer. In many ways, his death was a blessing. He fought the disease for years but there was not going to be a cure with a happy ever after ending. His family (his wife of 55 years, the Farmer, another son and two daughters) were steadfastly by his side until the end. When it became clear the chemo treatments weren’t doing anything but making him sicker and weaker and even more unhappy, he spent his last few days in hospice care and slipped quietly from this world.

While the Farmer-In-Law and I were not BFFs, I feel the pain of his loss reflected in the Farmer and his family. They lost their dad, their husband, their lifetime business partner and mentor.

The Farmer-In-Law and I did not see eye to eye on a lot of  things. He was delighted to find his third-generation farm kid son was going to marry a third-generation farm kid girl. That delight soured shortly after our wedding, when it became apparent I had no intention of following the “get married, get pregnant, stay at home, raise babies, go to church and wait on your man” tradition. We existed in a perpetual state of agreeing to disagree.

And he didn’t like my dogs.


I can tolerate a lot of things but if you don’t like my dogs, we’re probably not going to have a warm and fuzzy relationship. Not only did he not like my dogs, the Farmer-In-Law was a poster child for everything you can do wrong around dogs. A lifetime cattleman, he had NO dog sense whatsoever. I was always amazed that someone who worked around capricious 1,300 pound steers and unpredictable mama cows for his entire life could be so clueless about how to act around dogs.

This was a problem since the Farmer, his brother and the Farmer-In-Law worked our family farm together. The Farmer-In-Law was around our place a lot.

He was okay with my shelties. Sort of. In a stubborn “if I ignore them they’ll go away” sort of approach. It worked. The shelties ignored him right back as only shelties can.

Then I got Jamie. As far as the Farmer-In-Law was concerned, Jamie was going to bite him, it was just a matter of time. Jamie looked like a German Shepherd. Everyone knows German Shepherds are mean and they bite. Therefore, Jamie was mean and would bite. It was an unfortunate truth that a nearby neighbor DID have a German Shepherd (poorly socialized, with major fear issues) and it DID bite the Farmer-In-Law. More than once. So Jamie suffered by guilt by association.

When Phoenix came along, he looked even MORE like a German Shepherd, therefore chances were even higher that Phoenix would bite him.

I tried.

Honestly to God, I tried.

The Farmer-In-Law resisted every effort I made to show him how friendly my dogs are. I really think Phoenix’s feelings were hurt when his waggy-tail, squinty-eye approaches were rebuffed, often with angry yelling and waving arms and stomping feet. That will turn away cattle. It does not turn away malinois. I tried telling the Farmer-In-Law he WAS going to get bit if he came onto our property and acted aggressively toward the dogs. I tried telling him the dogs saw that as threatening behavior, that if he stood still and talked to them quietly, they would be his friend.

“Those dogs bite,” was all he had to say.

There was no changing his damn fool stubborn mindset. I learned to pick my battles and when to walk away. If he was around the place, I simply kept the dogs away from him. Jamie will be 14 this summer. Phoenix is 6. Neither of them ever bit the Farmer-In-Law, in spite of being given many chances over the years. Ironically, the Farmer’s mom LIKES my dogs. She tells me they are beautiful and “awfully big” and “kind of wild.” But she pets them and laughs at them and is appropriately amazed by the things they can do.

Life goes on. Spring planting season is just around the corner. I know the Farmer will miss his dad desperately as he heads to the field. Even after retiring (euphemism for “still works 12 hours a day but now gets a Social Security check, too) the Farmer-In-Law was an active part of our farm. Over the last few years, as the cancer started to take its toll, I’ve inherited some of his jobs. THAT is a column in itself.


  1. So sorry for you family's loss. If you are like me and your family doesnt really come to your house, you dont have to worry about anyone liking your dogs. LOL

  2. Sorry for the loss of your father-in-law. It's a difficult time and very hard to try to act like nothing has happened when you watch your husband mourn the loss of a parent.

  3. Sorry to hear about FIL but now he can supervise (as all old farmers do) all that is going on below and will probably be yelling at you for doing his jobs wrong! :)

  4. I'm sorry about your loss. It is interesting how people perceive dogs, and especially odd that a farmer would look at a herding protection dog so fearfully (for lack of a better word). I mean, shepherds, german, belgian, aussie, or otherwise, are meant to, um, ward off the evil-doers of farmers, be they crop or livestock farmers, right? That said, I'm always amazed at how some dog owners misinterpret Loki's dog language. So I no longer take it for granted that just because someone owns a dog, that they will "get" an intense dog. People who've owned retreivers who come to my house claiming they had dogs and love dogs, are suddenly out of their element. One guy came over with a bag of cheese to make friends. "Ok, i thought, at least he's thinking and trying" because I prefer food come from me not strangers. Basically, when new visitors come I feed treats at the door for good behavior. but ok, I'll let it go. As it was, he already fed the dogs through the fence line w/o asking me while Loki barked at him, therefor reinforcing his barking. thank you. I let it go and when he comes in, he holds the cheese bag in front of him, at his belly button And they sit squarely in front of him looking at the cheese bag he's holding in front of their noses. so he turns to his left, so his right shoulder faces them. the dogs follow and sit in front of him, waiting patiently. he turns again, clearly afraid. Cheese bag follows in front of his belly and the dogs follow AGAIN. And at this point the cracker is getting a little freaked out with the weird behavior and starts to grumble a bit. I mean so would I, if I were being teased like that! He's confused and asks why they keep following him when he turns! So i ask him why he's turning. "You're not supposed to look a dog in the eye." OHHHHH... so holding a bag of cheese in front of you at their nose level while they sit beautifully and attentive patiently waiting for you to offer it, only you turn and take it away just so you won't accidentally for 1 second look in their eyes? As if the dogs are even going to look in his eyes when they're staring at the cheese? WTF? Sigh. I swear the things people who claim they "get dogs" do. So i'm all, um, that's not acting normal so my protection dog is going to not only grumble but perceive you as a lunatic and make some noise about it. Act normal and just give them the cheese in front of you. duh! I know my dog. He ACKNOWLEDGES when people are not right. whether they are mentally disturbed, handicapped or REAL threats, he will alert, either by looking to me to acknowledges its ok and he can hold off his alert, or barking if I don't. And frankly I would not have acknowledged this odd behavior as normal. thank you very much. :) Hope this little story let you know, you are not alone. Very sorry again for your loss. And I'm glad the Mom is taken with the pups. I know I would be! :)

  5. I am so sorry for the Farmer's loss, and yours too
    sometimes the folks we have difficult relationships with have much bigger pieces of our heart than we realize - tho i sense you already realize your loss too

    very glad your "mean dogs" never bit him

    peace to the family

    i hate cancer