Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Growing Up--Work, Scars, Play, and Joy

I recently found out what was happening during those years when I grew up on a farm—I was developing “scar tissue for the soul.”

In his new book (The Vanishing American Adult) about the rewards that come from hard work and farm values, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska says that youngsters should “embrace work pain” and learn how to persevere. Ah yes—scooping corn in dusty grain bins and milking a cantankerous cow on frosty November mornings. I don’t recall having an urge to embrace anything, but I see Sasse’s point: It was good to grow up on a farm—work included.

The Senator thinks we need to help our youngsters develop resiliency. He and his wife have shipped their three children off to farms for a spell so they can rise early and “get dirt under their fingernails.” As Mom still points out, “When you kids tumbled back into the house for lunch, you had a coat of dust, cockleburs, and dog fur on you.” And even though Dad wasn’t the boot camp type, he made sure we didn’t sleep in. He always called out the same command: “Time to get up, boys.” It sounds benign, but it somehow had a Darth Vader undertow to it.

We Applaud Stitches

Sasse thinks young people are too sheltered—difficult tasks build character. As he wrote, “We applaud and celebrate stitches at our house.” Ouch. Some painful memories. Any farm kid can tell you that wrestling with animals, machinery, and three-foot-tall bull thistles can leave a mark. But the most danger came when we three brothers joined our cousins down the road for a team effort. Weeding soybean fields? Somebody was bound to toss a dirt clod at you just to keep you focused. Picking up rocks in the field west of the house? We should have
worn helmets. Stacking hay in the barn? Who wouldn’t want to play king-on-the-hill when a 50-pound bale can be used as a weapon?

Actually, I do have a set of “Sasse stitches” from yesteryear. On a cold winter day at the age of three, I fell out of a stationary pickup truck in the feedlot. Face first onto a frozen cow pie—and three stitches under my chin. Manure happens.

Work, Scars, Play, and Joy

Sasse worries that our society has created a Neverland atmosphere where kids can linger too long in the Peter Pan mode. We were more like the Lost Boys in our day—working, playing, and floating through adolescence. The digital age has changed things, and fewer kids grow up on farms--but independence, perseverance, and hard work are certainly worthy goals. The setting could be a pasture in Iowa or a city park in Baltimore—a bit of scar tissue might be fine, but let’s hope that children have a chance to experience some joy for their souls, too, as they make their way into adulthood.

by dan gogerty (top pic from and bottom from

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