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Irons in the fire: A ranch family’s math

Paul Marchant Published on 24 June 2015

In the space of five days last month, I aged nearly 30 years. At least, it seemed that way. My youngest daughter married her Marine on a Saturday, and on the following Thursday, my youngest son graduated from high school. Before anybody reads this, he’ll be in basic training with the Army in South Carolina.

By my calculations, that makes me … old. The thing is, though, I don’t feel any older than the parents whose first kid just finished kindergarten. Math is supposed to be absolute. But I think, when it comes to families, especially those raised out in the hinterlands, there’s a different kind of reckoning.

I did some quick figuring in my head, and I came up with some interesting numbers. Through five kids and about 25 years, I’ve put up some numbers that should be worth a mention in some hall of fame somewhere.

I’ve watched my kids play in about 395 junior high and high school basketball games and 75 football games. I’ve seen just shy of 100 cross country races and endured about that many track and field events in the unforgiving southern Idaho spring weather.

I’ve stuck it out past midnight on dozens of spring nights waiting for the last calf to be roped in slack at a high school rodeo. I’ve been in the roping box pushing a steer or helping to calm a nervous calf horse or equally nervous kid about 340 times.

I stayed awake for about 52 piano recital performances and endured 15 grade school carnivals. I held back the tears at five sixth-grade Veteran’s Day programs and laughed at that many year-end senior plays.

We’ve raised a homecoming queen, a homecoming king and a valedictorian, but were no more proud of the 20-point, 15-rebound game than we were of the broken-hearted son who offered to be the team manager when he was cut from the junior varsity basketball team.

Through 20 years of county fairs and junior livestock shows, we halter-broke over 60 steers and nearly that many heifers. We held only two or three purple ribbons, and we know what it’s like to keep showing whether you’re at the top of the line, in the middle or way down at the lonely bottom.

sports and activites

I’ve hugged my sons at center court when we made it to state and cried with them as a dad and coach in the locker room when we lost the last high school games they’d ever play. I was elated when my daughters qualified for the state cross-country and track meets as freshmen.

But, I was never more overwhelmed as a parent than when I carried my injured daughter off of the track in the middle of the race at the state-qualifying meet, her junior year, because she had to at least try to finish.

I’ve fought about homework and roping practice and midnight curfews. I’ve confiscated keys and cell phones and threatened to put my foot through the TV if the horses weren’t fed in the next 10 minutes.

I’ve put shoes on horses an hour after dark, with a kid holding a flashlight, just so everyone could have a shod horse for a rodeo or gather the next morning. And I haven’t always done it cheerfully.

As often as not, I tend to act like the south end of a northbound Appaloosa, but I’m a sentimental one. As I stood in the middle of the church gym floor with my youngest daughter for a father-daughter dance at her wedding reception, I could do little more than just stand there and cry like a baby when she hugged me and the song “I Loved Her First” started to play.

I don’t suppose I’m too different from the father of any daughter. I think the good Lord planned it that way. It’s a shame that it takes the infrequent milestones or the rare moments of tragedy or joy before we comprehend our good fortune.

If you’ve got cows, kids and horses, you’re among a select and lucky minority. You’re in a place where the math is a little bit different. The ledger the banker sees may not always be in your favor, but what you get from the lifestyle does more than enough to balance the books.  end mark

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