Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reflecting on fatherhood June 16, 2017

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My husband and I with our three children, taken last Christmas. Rare are the times now when we are all together given the son lives in greater Boston and one daughter lives nearly six hours distant. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

“HAS YOUR DAD ever thanked you for saving his life?” I asked my husband. I doubted my father-in-law had, yet I had to ask.

“No,” Randy answered.

“You know, if this would have happened today, you would be in the news, considered a hero.” Randy agreed.

Fifty years ago this coming October 21, the then 11-year-old central Minnesota farm boy shut off the power take-off to the corn chopper that trapped his father’s arm. With the power off, Randy then raced across the field to a neighboring farm for help. His actions saved his dad’s life.

Why do I share this story just days before Father’s Day? It is an extreme example of how relationships between fathers and their children have changed. In the 1960s, the time frame in which this accident occurred, the rural men I knew worked long hard hours on the farm. By the time they exited the barn or field, they were too exhausted to interact much with their kids. They worked tirelessly to provide for families that often included a half dozen or more children. Rare were the two-kid families.

It was, too, the norm of the times for men to be distant, uninvolved and unemotional. I remember how I craved any time with my dad that didn’t involve farm work. Taking lunch to him and my Uncle Mike in the field provided some one-on-one contact. So did the few minutes I could grab to show Dad my latest sewing project. And I loved the Sunday afternoon drives our family took to look at crops.

The generation that followed—my generation—started an evolution of change. We were more opinionated, challenging of past stereotypes and undaunted by the past. Farm boys like my husband left the farm for jobs in town. And so the subtle changes in father-child relationships began.

 

A photo of our daughters in 1988.

 

When my husband became a dad 31 years ago, he forged relationships with his two daughters and son early one. Among my fondest memories is that of Randy sprawled on the living room carpet reading the Sunday comics to his children. He also read books and played infinite games of Monopoly with our son. One sweet photo shows him painting his daughter’s toe nails.

 

Watching our son graduate from Tufts University School of Engineering with a bachelor of science degree in computer science. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Our kids have always known they can count on their dad—to stick on a band-aid, cheer them on at a spelling bee, fix their cars, move them into and out of countless dorm rooms and apartments…

Randy has always been there—through the second daughter’s fitting of a back brace to treat her scoliosis, through the son’s being struck by a car, through the school programs in stuffy auditoriums, through the tears and joys and anguish.

 

My favorite photo of my husband holding our then 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

 

I am grateful for the strength my husband exhibits as a father and now a grandfather. Already 50 years ago, on that central Minnesota cornfield, he showed incredible strength by saving his dad’s life. Like his father before him, Randy is often quiet and unemotional. But I see at his core the love he holds for his family. And that is what matters most.

TELL ME: How do you think fatherhood has evolved? What makes a father? Or share a memory.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling