The View From A Slightly Twisted Angle

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Bulls and Chickens

on May 8, 2012

Once I was chatting with a friend whose son was younger than mine. She mentioned that since her son was aprroaching his teen years she noticed  he and her husband seemed to be butting heads more often. “Yep.” I replied. “It’s like having two bulls in your corral.”

Anyone who has been around farming knows this: if you only have a small space and a small herd, you only really need one bull. One guy in charge. The boss. Ruler of the corral. You get the picture. You get too many bulls in a confined space and there are  bound to be  problems. Raising boys is no different. Families are small herds kept in small spaces.  The old bull has to maintain his control of the corral. The young  bull has to learn how to be an older bull without getting himself gouged to death in the process. The mother of the young bull (I will stop short here of calling myself a cow) has to learn how to handle her clashing bulls. Sound like the setting for a rodeo?  It is!

In the animal kingdom most mothers protect their young. Human mothers are no different. (Mess with my kids and see what happens!)  The conundrum in this scenario is that many times the oncoming threat to your cute little bull is the big hunky bull you married. You love them both.  You just want them to get along.  It isn’t going to happen all the time so you might as well learn how to negotiaite the cow patties in the pasture.  It helps when you figure out  a few things .

1  -Bull-clashing is sometimes a good thing. It’s part of how male animals learn.  Several years ago “60 Minutes” ran a story about young male elephants (switching mammals for a moment, but hang with me) who were acting agressivly in South Africa.  As game rangers studied the problem they figured out that there was a lack of older bull elephants in the area: they were dealing with elephants who had had no older male role model to teach them how to act.  Sometimes young bulls do need a swat to the head. The trick is to learn when to distract the old bull (“But think of all the things he COULD be doing.”) when to warn the young bull he’s going to put a target on his forhead (“Son, do you think it would be good to have the lawn mowed before Dad gets home?”) and when to let them run head on.  Luckily in my corral the bulls are both natured more like “Ferdinand” than “El Diablo” so we didn’t have too many full on head clashes.  Our young bull respected the old bull enough to usually know when to back down.  (Probably because he understands the the old bull owns the corral and pays for all the feed and water.)  Most of the tension between my bulls came when the young one didn’t take proper care of  things or shirked a responsibility. 

2 – The old bull really does want the young bull to succeed.  When our son played football in high school the old bull, the grandpa bulls and the uncle bulls would sit in the stands and analize everything that the young bull needed to fix.  The females of the herd would say, “Oh he’s fine!” and get annoyed with the bulls. What I realized later is that they weren’t being critical, just passionate about him being a better football player.  They wanted him to succeed at something he loved to do.  They wanted him to earn a permanent starting spot. In the spring of his senior year our young bull expressed a desire to enter the high school powerlifting tournament for our state.   One problem: the weightlifting coach who had mentored him had moved away.  Papa Bull stepped in. We registered him, took him down to the tournament and my husband acted as his coach (albiet untrained coach) the entire day.  Squatting Bull won the state championship in the heaveyweight division that day and I’ve never seen Papa Bull prouder. 

3 – The old bull was once young  so he totally understands the young bull.  Many times my son could fool me, but never the old bull.  (“Uh huh. Try again.”)  He also knows when he needs to back the mother off.  If I’d question the young bull about any subject too long or too deeply the old bull would interject, “Dear! Would you leave the poor kid alone!?” When our son was a senior I was lobbying for the state college located a half hour away.  He prefered the one located 6 hours away.  Was he crazy?? That was a little too far from my corral.  Once again the old bull stepped in and reminded me that he was old enough to make his own choices and we’d raised him to be independant.   (Have I mentioned that I really hate it when the old bull is right?)

Since our young bull has gone to college the rodeo atmosphere of our house has abaited, but the old bull still gets annoyed.  Now, it  just makes the him mutter.  Last weekend my husband was getting dressed for a funeral. He pulled out a dress shirt and noticed a spot. (How the laundress missed that I’m not sure.)  The last person to wear the shirt was the young bull when he borrowed it for church a weekend he was home for a visit.  Changed shirts and pulled out the matching tie.  Another spot.  Hmmm…probably got left on the truck floor for weeks when he borrowed it for football two years ago.  Mutter…mutter…mutter. We did finally find something unspotted and appropriate. (Mental note: go buy the old bull some new dress clothes.)  A couple weeks before that the old bull was upstairs preparing to paint the young bull’s former room.  He came down the stairs, spackle in hand, “Did the boy have a bb gun up there??”  Mutter..mutter….mutter.  A few weeks before that the young bull was home from college for a break and decided to replace his brakes himself.   After he went back to school, however, the old bull came home from his work week to find his work bench in disarray.  Mutter…mutter…mutter.  Then he found a few tools missing.  The muttering got louder. If the young bull has a brain left in his head he’ll bring that wrench home with him next time.  Polished clean.

Not long ago I walked into our bedroom after a rather heated exchange with our two teenage daughters.  I don’t remember what we were even talking about. I just remember the conversation had a lot of eye-rolling involved. My husband smiled at me and said, “You know how you had too many bulls in your corral?  I think I have too many hens in my coop.”  (I suppose I should be grateful that he avoided a bovine analogy.) He thinks he’s funny.  He can laugh all he wants now.  We have a 10 year old calf left in the corral.  Of course he isn’t interested in charging the old bull quite yet.  He is much too busy on stirring up the younger hens.

We call him the family chickenhawk.

  My two bulls after the State Powerlifting Tournament.


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