An old farmer sat in a hospital waiting room. It was late afternoon and the doctors were running behind schedule. The room was largely empty, and the sun through the west window made the early February day seem a little brighter.

After a little longer, there was only one other person still in the waiting room. It was a young man, probably 30 years younger than the farmer. His hand was bandaged as if he’d been hurt in some sort of accident. Perhaps he was here for a follow-up appointment.

With no one else to talk to, and having already examined the flu-contaminated magazines, the farmer decided to talk to the young man. The farmer asked how he was doing. Without looking up, the young man mumbled something about being OK.

After another minute of silence, the old farmer made a comment about the weather. Again, the young man mumbled something back and seemed intent on examining the floor tiles. It was only after another minute or so that the young man eventually turned his head up to see who was talking to him.

The young man had the look of death etched into his countenance. He was clearly troubled and under a lot of stress. The old farmer had seen this look before many times during the ’80s. It was the look of a young farmer caught in a financial downturn, a look of profound discouragement and helplessness.

The old farmer quietly stood up and walked over to where the young man sat. He picked the chair right next to him and settled in.

The old farmer told the young farmer he had been down the same road before. He told him it is a lonely and difficult path that no one would want to walk. Seeing that the younger farmer had already started down the painful path, the old farmer decided to give him some advice. He spoke of five things to remember.

First, sometimes in life things happen and you have no control over them. It may be related to the state of the economy, the year you were born, the weather or a dozen other factors which you can only watch from a distance. Blaming yourself for these things is a waste of time and emotional energy.

Second, accept the fact that you made some mistakes. Everyone does. It’s easy to look back and see the things you should have done differently. Life does not give you the luxury of looking back and making changes. You must do the best with what you have. If farming was easy, everyone would do it. You should grow from your mistakes and not spend endless time wallowing around reliving the past.

Third, unless you’re dealing with family who love you, everyone expects to get paid. Your banker and the feed dealer are all in business like you. They expect to be paid just like you. Be as honest and forthright as you can with them. They do not need to know everything about your financial situation. But if you cannot pay them in full, they need to have some expectation of what you can do.

Fourth, your spouse needs to be a part of what’s going on. Her support and cooperation work both ways. The burden you’re carrying is meant to be shared as a couple. Often the most valuable resource we have access to is the encouragement of our spouse. We should not push them aside to protect them from reality. While you might think you’re protecting your family from these things, you are actually betraying their trust by not honestly discussing where you’re at and what may happen.

Fifth, it’s entirely possible you will go broke. You will not be the first nor the last person to do this. The United States has an economic system which encourages people to start their own businesses. Some businesses succeed because of management and work skills. Other people with similar skills do not succeed. Sometimes it is their own fault.

If you fail, we have a system where you can start over again. You will not be placed in a debtors’ prison or be required to spend the rest of your life in bondage to those you owe. This system is not painless and should not be used lightly.

When he was done speaking, the old farmer patiently waited to see what the young farmer would say. After several minutes of only hearing the clock tick on the wall, the young man started crying.

He told the old farmer he was at his end. He could see no escape from his problems and believed he had failed as a farmer, husband and father. He felt it would’ve been better if he had never tried.

He told him he could not see a path forward and often thought it would be better if he was dead.

The young man put his head in his hands and wept as the old farmer rubbed his back. After a few minutes, the young man took a deep breath and composed himself. He turned and looked at the old farmer. The old farmer looked him in the eye and said, “I can help.”

You may cross paths with someone in the next few months whose situation is like the young farmer. They need your help. Your experiences, perspective and wisdom can be a great benefit to them. Every young farmer needs a good mentor and you are uniquely qualified to help them.


Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at plans@bobdunaway.com.