The summer I turned sixteen, my father banished me to a remote farm.
Mother was away that summer upgrading her teaching certificate. Dad was left with four boys and work to manage.
Having just acquired my driver’s license, and being a teen, I wanted to be with my friends. I proved to be more bothersome than helpful.
Dad decided I needed to work and he knew exactly where to send me.
The farm was isolated, thirty miles north of nowhere. The owner, a distant relative, eked out an existence on marginal land with his much younger wife and four children ranging in age from six to early teens.
The children were starving for any kind of company. So, I worked the light, peat soil with an old, lugged-wheeled tractor by day, and entertained three girls and a boy in the evening.
The house did not have electricity or running water. The light soil, the lugged wheels, and the wind contrived to make me black except for the whites in my eyes and the protection of my clothing. Attempting to keep myself clean was done in a basin with a limited water supply. But, seeds threatened to grow in my thick, soil-matted hair. The nearby river provided cleansing, a physical baptism, on Saturday nights.
I remember that summer as a collection of personal hardships.
Just when I was ready to bond with friends, I was sent into isolation.
When my appearance was of utmost importance, lack of running water for a shower or bath rendered me dirty.
My father had told the owner, “He needs to learn how to work. You needn't pay him anything.” The owner did pay me two dollars a day.
Looking back on that experience decades later, my attention was less focused on my hardship than on the circumstances of my father and my employer.
Fawley was caught between the request of my father to find meaningful work for me, and the knowledge he could not afford to pay an extra hand. Money for his family was his priority. A wife who worked to provide the best for her family with limited amenities could easily resent money being given to a farmhand sent there by an upset father. Plus, my presence was an extra mouth to feed, and more laundry for her.
My father, forty-four years old that summer, had four boys aged six to sixteen to manage and the pressures to provide monetarily for the family. I can imagine that his wife deciding to return to teaching to enhance the family income might also have been disconcerting.
It was not only I who was experiencing a wilderness moment.
Mark’s gospel describes Jesus’ sudden understanding of divine purpose at his baptism as earth-shaking and frightening. Mark says, Jesus was “driven into the wilderness” a kind of banishment. There he was tempted to put himself first, to think himself better than others, and to cast God aside. It was a struggle. Angels came to minister to him.
As I looked back on my sixteenth summer, I recognized my selfishness, my lack of seeing Dad’s needs were greater and more important than mine. I realized that Fawley and Dorothy, struggling as they were, made room and work available to accommodate a friend.
It’s no easy role to be a kind and loving father, to be concerned for wife, children and the requests or needs of others, to walk previously untread paths. Like Jesus’s wilderness experience we need angels to guide and minister to us.
It’s Father’s Day.