Dads and dairy: A blueprint

6/21/2014 7:00 AM

June is a really special time of year, and I love it. Children anxiously await the last day of school and begin to anticipate time away on vacation. Corn is planted, hay is cut, milk is celebrated and fathers are recognized with their own special day.

I’ve thought a lot about the role fathers play in society and the role they play in the dairy industry. A closely concealed ambition of mine, for those later-in-life years, is to interview some men on fathers, fatherhood and being a dad, and to compile this collection of short stories. Few things stir more emotion in men than talking about these two subjects and few things impact more than family and societal dynamics.

Two summers ago I had an opportunity to give a presentation on this topic of fatherhood. The talk was titled “A Blueprint for Fatherhood” and was much more a collection of accounts of dads from history than an expose based on personal expertise. I consider myself fortunate to be able to speak to this topic from the vantage of having had a guiding father who taught me many things and being blessed with wonderful children. However, I do not consider myself even close to being an expert on advising on this thing called being a dad.

The historical accounts included in my presentation were insights from fathers ranging from Jim Valvano, the famous basketball coach who said, “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person: he believed in me,” to the biblical account of Joshua being chided to be “strong and courageous and successful wherever you go.” Both reflect great words, motivating to any child.

Ten points were identified in this talk as being blueprint points. For purposes of this column, I will speak to four and why each one is especially important to dads raising children on dairy farms.

1. Dads display courage. Building a dairy farm business in a volatile marketplace involves risk taking and requires courage to face those risks. Weather-related risks, along with commodity prices swings in milk, feed and other inputs, result in a high stress environment. Courage to face fears, adapt to the ever-changing marketplace, leverage outside expertise and keep going amidst uncertainties requires courage. Involving both family and non-family members in routine planning and decision making can be a good way to gather information and test ideas and assumptions. Doing this provides new ideas and additional input. The family and the business often benefit as a result.

2. Dads involve their children. Managing a dairy farm requires long hours and long days. As a result, time with family is often neglected. While there is no single formula that is right for every farm, structuring the business in a way to accommodate a balance of work and family time goes a long way toward maintaining long-term interest from the next generation, and the rewards of working together multiply from there.

3. Dads model compassion and forgiveness. Few things are more challenging than running a family business, which is what all dairy farms are. Being both a dad and a boss isn’t always easy, and balancing the two can challenge relationships along the way. The famous General Electric boss, Jack Welch, demanded business be done “the Welch Way” or else. My observation has been that those fathers who model compassion and forgiveness while maintaining courage to lead are far more successful at building a successful family dairy enterprise.

4. Dads communicate their values. The bedrock of all families are those unique values that define “who we are, what we do and why we do it.” When families work together, these often go unspoken and un- attended to. Conversely, I have observed fathers who are open to initiating these discussions, have a short list for each of these three points, and develop a baseline from which to make important decisions. This results in reduced stress and supports open communication centered on values personal to the family as future business plans are considered.

As your family celebrates fathers this month, remember fathers need encouragement. At the Center for Dairy Excellence, we’d like to offer our encouragement to those dads building family businesses in dairy. May your strength be renewed and may your walk be weariless. I’d be happy to send you the full list of “Blueprint” points. Simply contact me at jfrey<\@> or call 717-346-0849.

Editor’s note: John Frey is the executive director of the Center for Dairy Excellence.

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