January 24, 2016

A fog storm settled in around us as we worked the rail fence. We started setting posts in the last moments of autumn hoping to beat the winter cold. We didn’t make it. The cold barreled in and uncritical chores became critical and the remaining post and railing took a seat. Those chores ended just in time for winter days who freeze nose hairs as you step out of the house.

Cattle are a curious bunch. So there we were trying to lag rails to the few posts we’d set weeks ago, with steers breathing out great buffs of fog as we worked, each settling a foot above our heads. Before you knew it, it was hard to see Belinda at the end of a sixteen-foot board. You think it an exaggeration? Well, perhaps a bit. Just the same…

I could hear Belinda’s dad scoffing at us as we worked. “Four below zero? Well, let me tell you. I was returning home from school one day when mamma stopped and picked me up. ‘Buddy,’ she said, ‘Don’t you know it is 43 below!! You’ll freeze before you ever get home.’ Four below, …hmpff.” My figures numbed inside unlined leather gloves.

My response was non-verbal, Dad has been gone for nearly three years now, “Yeah, well Bud, that’s what you Swedes and Norwegians get for choosing North Dakota when you arrived in this landscape. Some of us had the good sense to head straight to warm land, like, say, south Texas and California.” The trouble with having in your head conversations is you start countering your own arguments and it is no longer Bud but myself saying, “Oh Yeah, then why the hell are you here at the end of a board in below freezing weather? Damn!” I continued bickering with Bud and myself until the last lag screw is twisted in. We packed up the tools and took them to the shed. Then headed up to the house, the woodstove, a cup of coffee, and verbal conversation—I’m sure I will pick up the conversation with Bud another day.

Father-in-laws can be a pain in the ass. More so, if the relationship deepens and identity transforms from father-in-law to daddy. Being a father-in-law myself, I give this father-in-law pain in the ass thing a fair amount of thought.

Today, Andy is the one figuring out how to live into this father-in-law relationship. I figure pain in the ass father-in-laws are nothing new. They’ve been around ever sense someone came up with the idea of marriage. Andy, I think, has it worse than I did. I mean, can you imagine marrying into a relationship with a father-in-law-pastor? Talk about a pain in the ass.

I head down that road because, after all, look what happened to Moses after he got himself a father-in-law-priest.

Let’s face it, Moses had no idea of what he was getting into when he married Zipporah. Here is an urbanite, who likes his life in the city just fine; who gets himself involved a series of unfortunate events, and who then finds himself in the country. I figure he thought of these folk in this rural landscape as country pumpkins (not in the good sense), but there was no turning around. Then comes along this pretty young woman, Zipporah, to water her daddy’s herd and the next thing he knows is he is married with a father-in-law-herder-priest. It’s bad enough this city boy finds himself herding goats, but he’s got to listen to a priest go on and on every night! Talk about having your world rocked. Imagine, Moses’ has to live into conversations about land, plants, water, sheep, and goats—something he would never imagine growing up—but also has to deal with theological conversations—and a rural theology to boot!

Which is why I think of Andy’s father-in-law pain in the ass experience is much different from my own. I imagine, like Jethro, I do not cut the slack I should in conversations of landscape theology or justice. I am sure I am too opinionated on issues of Creation, goats, grass, cows, and soil, and a little too ready to express it.

What I like to think though, is Andy wouldn’t have it any different than I or Moses would. For the most part, pain in the ass father-in-laws at least mean well. The good part, when relationship is done well, the “in-law” goes away, and all there is left is sons and fathers. The best part though, at the end of a cow-breath-fog day, you get to set on the couch, enjoy the heat of a woodstove, have a cup of warm coffee in hand, and sit beside their daughter.

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