I can tell you the full story without fear of divulging secrets because this same story could be told on so many farms.

Junkin andy
Andy "Caygeon" Junkin helps stubborn farmers work better together.  After you "fix the stubborn",...

Bob, the family patriarch, called me the Saturday before Christmas, exhausted. His family and farm were quickly falling apart. The family was passive-aggressive by nature. For a long time, they ignored some fundamental problems and decided to walk on eggshells rather than address each other’s concerns. Now, superficial problems pop up and a big blow-up ensues every time. The last blow-up was what broke the camel’s back, and Bob decided to give me a call. Bob’s kids weren’t talking to him nor each other, and to further add to the stress, business and financial problems had developed. The future of both the dairy and the family was in question.

From what I could see, a big part of the issue was the fact that everyone was stubborn with each other. After talking with the father, it was obvious that everyone talked, but nobody listened to each other, and as a result, they were pulling the farm in different directions. My niche is that I help stubborn farm families work better together, and this is why Bob called me.

The father had mentioned my name to his youngest son, Matt, but the son completely rejected the idea of bringing in a mediator to solve their problems. The son thought he knew all the problems, and the solutions for that matter, but after talking things through, I could see he was right about a lot of things except for what the root issue was.

A year ago, things really fell apart when Matt bought a house with a girlfriend and moved in together. The family were staunch Catholics, and it was strictly against the family’s values. This decision came as a shock to the whole family, as did his decision to not go to weekly mass with his family anymore.


I asked the father to tell me more about this girl, and he could hardly tell me anything beyond the fact that she was a schoolteacher. The couple had been dating for five years, and she had been to a few family events. Bob couldn’t tell me any more about this girl than the gossipy old lady down the road.

Matt had a full-time career off the farm that paid well, and he had also been putting in full-time hours on the farm too. When things became difficult between him and his family, there was a real question if he was going to quit farming altogether. I could see his passion for farming had been all but sucked out of him. Bob could not understand why this son of his would even consider such a move. After an hour of coaching over the phone, he came to a different realization:

  • The family rejected Matt’s girlfriend within five minutes of meeting her because she was a city girl. The family didn’t take any time to try to understand why he loved her.
  • The family didn’t respect their son’s or their brother’s right to make different life decisions than they would make.
  • Matt’s girlfriend was questioning her boyfriend’s decision to work two jobs. She didn’t feel like she was part of the farm, and the farm had become like a mistress in their relationship. The farm robbed the young couple of both time and money that they could be better spending together. If the only conversation she had with her in-laws was over a prenuptial agreement and she didn’t feel welcome on the farm, why would she care about the business being successful?

What bothered Bob the most was that they had already done succession planning, and he was now just the glorified hired man. Nobody would listen to him anymore because no one had to. He couldn’t force a family meeting.

Bob was three things: a devout Christian, a proud dairy farmer and a father who loved his family dearly. Nothing else mattered. He was disappointed in his son for not following in his footsteps, for considering quitting a farming dream and for not going to church anymore.

On the family farm, there is the way you’d like things to go and there is the way things are.

As a Christian, Bob had to recognize that life is all about the free choice to make decisions for yourself and to only lead by example. We can’t force our family to make the same decisions as we do. You can only control your time and words, setting the example. You must accept at some point in your life that your kids have to make decisions on their own. Bob couldn’t control his son’s decisions, but he could control his own.

That started with Bob setting the example. Part of Bob’s faith was to try to encourage his kids to walk with the Lord. But the Bible also spoke about loving unconditionally and forgiveness.

The family needed to accept that their sibling made different life decisions and wasn’t always going to do the same thing as they’d like him to do. The family needed to break the logjam, forgive and move on.

After discussing the situation further, Bob swallowed his pride and put his family first by making the first step toward reconciliation within the family. He wrote this letter to his son’s girlfriend:


I recently realized that I’m stubborn, and I only see things from my perspective.

I am now starting to realize how this has negatively impacted our family. Matt is his own man, and it’s wrong for me to expect him to make decisions like I would make decisions. Matt has to live his own life as he sees fit, and I have to recognize that sometimes we are going to have our differences of opinions about certain matters. I recently spoke to Andy Junkin, and he helped me better understand how I wasn’t fair to you. I’m sorry about this, and I’d like to make things right with you.

You aren’t the girl I pictured my son marrying. However, in many ways you are truly an answer to my prayers, and my one-sightedness caused me to not understand that. I am really happy that you make Matt happy.

Our family has a lot of interpersonal and business issues. I don’t know if these issues can be resolved, and many things are outside of my control. However, what is in my control is my time. I’ve just realized that because I felt I was so busy, I didn’t take the time to get to know you and how wrong that was.

I would really like to get to know you one-on-one better this coming year. Perhaps both you and I could try to make a New Year’s resolution to try to see why Matt loves both of us and learn to love each other.

Here are 12 gift certificates to Uncle Phil’s Diner. I’d love to go out with you for breakfast one-on-one sometime next year, and hopefully we can go on a date every month … maybe have the whole family join us by next Christmas. Give me a call anytime if you have a few moments to spare.

Merry Christmas,


You might have a different belief system than Bob, but for many of you, you struggle with similar challenges on your farm.

This is the question every farmer needs to ask when things don’t go as they think they should: Do you want to be right, or do you want things to be right?