For the past 34 years, my dad has milked every day, twice a day, without missing a milking. That’s 24,836 milkings, give or take a leap year. The last milking he missed was in 1982 when he had surgery on his cheek after a softball injury. Meanwhile, he and Mom raised a tobacco crop each year, grew their own hay, raised three kids and sent each of us to college.
So no, we never once took an overnight family vacation. But my parents more than made up for it with all the little things they did for us and with us. Dad would always throw the ball with me while he was grilling on summer evenings. And he’d help me with my homework in the milking parlor while he milked.
Mom taught me how to drive in our old farm truck—the same truck they used to bring me home from the hospital after I was born. And each night Mom made a home-cooked meal, then we waited until Daddy was done milking and we all ate together.
My brothers and I played school sports. Mom fed the calves early and she’d drive to all of our home and away games. Dad could not make it to the faraway games, but he kept the phone close and came to all of our home games. He would alter his milking time to catch as many tournament games as he could.
One year I played in the Class A state softball tournament in Louisville, about 50 minutes from home. Because of rain delays, we played five games that Saturday. After a game ended at 4 p.m., Dad told me he was leaving to milk. I gave him a hug and said goodbye, thinking that I would see him in the morning; we were scheduled to play another game at 11 p.m.
About 10, I was sitting with my team when I looked up and saw my daddy. He had gone home, fed the calves, milked and come back for the last game. Afterward, the team and I went to a hotel. My parents got home at 2 a.m.
Daddy awoke at 5 to start milking. Mom got up soon after to feed, and they both walked into the park for my game at 8 a.m. We ended up getting fourth place, in case you were wondering.
One of the happiest moments in my life came on my graduation day from Western Kentucky University, about three hours from home. Dad was determined to make it to the 9:30 a.m ceremony, so he got up at 3 to milk the cows. When I walked into the ceremony and saw both my parents sitting there with the rest of my family waving at me, tears came to my eyes.
Out of everything my parents have done, the most important is to teach me two things: One, keep your family close no matter how crazy they make you. And two, do what you love and work hard at it. My dad couldn’t get up every morning to milk cows if he didn’t love it. That’s 24,836 and counting. Keep it up, Dad.