Saturday, August 02, 2008

The sins of the fathers

A family tradition

Dad often finds it irksome that people don't have straightforward solutions to all the problems of the world. It's particularly nettlesome, you see, because he does, and one can endure only so much ignorance on everyone else's part. I know all this, of course, because my father tells me. Never one to hide his light under a bushel basket, Dad scatters his pearls before unappreciative swine. And I say, “Oink!”

My siblings and I have sat at Dad's feet—figuratively, anyway—for many years. Despite ourselves, we have absorbed many of his favorite didactic parables. He recently repeated a story about the good old days when he and his father were partners in the family dairy farm. The moral of the story was that Dad had keener perceptions and wiser responses than anyone else. This is, in fact, the usual moral, whatever the story.

“Your avô had a real hang-up about culling the herd,” recalled Dad, using the Portuguese word for grandfather. “We'd tell him it was time to retire a cow from the milk barn and take her to the cattle auction, but he'd always resist. I'd point out that she wasn't earning her keep, wasn't pulling her weight, but he never wanted to hear that.”

Our grandfather, you see, had a theory.

“As long as a cow was contributing a little milk every day, your avô would just say that every little bit helped. A few drops and he was happy. As far as he was concerned, that was enough. I guess he didn't like to think in terms of return on investment.”

Dad was probably right, and not simply about the impact of low-producing cows on the dairy's bottom line. It was likely that Avô had found it difficult to be a hard-nosed businessman when it came to cows he had raised from the time they were newborn calves. “Every little bit.” Yes, that sounded like the grandfather I remembered. And Dad could not shift a father who was set in his ways.

A completely unrelated epilogue

California is going through another drought season. It happens every few years and is likely to occur more frequently under the double whammy of population growth and global warming. My family is a farm family and its land lies in the state's Central Valley, a geographical region that would be a desert in the absence of California's extensive network of canals and irrigation ditches.

Competing interests are always brawling over the available water resources. The state's water agencies are wondering if fish in the San Joaquin Delta will go extinct unless more water is diverted in that direction. Agricultural interests, of course, are up in arms in fear that endangered smelt in the Delta will reduce their access to irrigation water.

Dad is quite naturally on the side of the farmers. But even more than that, he has a solution.

“We know we need more water, but environmentalists are stopping us from getting it. Fish are not as important as people. Every river in California should have a dam on it.”

Every river, Dad?”

“Yes, every single one. If we want to have plenty of water, we have to stop it from running downstream and into the ocean.”

“Uh, Dad, they've actually demolished a few dams in recent years because they were no longer economically feasible or environmentally acceptable.”

“That's ridiculous! Every little bit of water helps!”

And I cannot shift a father who is set in his ways.


unapologetic said...

Given the other direction I saw this going, you should be happy about the epilogue. Your avô had a sense of family about his herd. He loved each one, and he cared for it.

Your father, on the other hand, was ruthless about them. If an asset -- a cow, in this case -- wasn't performing up to standards then it had to go out. History and personal attachment didn't even come into it at all, let alone act as mitigating factors.

So, in the fullness of time, who was raised from birth by your father? And who would his calculating behavior be willing to sell down the river the moment he stopped yielding dividends? Personally, I think that person should be relieved to find out that your father sees something in other terms than monetary payouts.

Zeno said...

Now look what you've gone and done, Unapologetic. You've frightened me! (I'm going to be more paranoid than usual on the next trip home.)

Sili said...

I like you avô. We never liked having to cull off cows either - particularly not those that were almost pets. But we did it nonetheless - for the meat. I read recently that apparently a rather large proportion of Danish farmers do have 'pet' cows which they keep around despite it being unprofitable. We're all softies in the end.

I'm reminded of the story of Hercule Poirot and the case of the poisoned cherry chocolates. Only you didn't interrupt your father with the word "milk" at the end of his harangue.