Real Masculinity, According To Me


“The hands of a brick layer, the mind of a scientist,  the heart of a poet.” 

Epitaph of  Saumel J Kirkwood  former Governor of Iowa, and what I’m thinking of carving on my tombstone ;-) DM

kirkwood-hammer certificae

I’m probably going to step on a few toes with this one, but you know what,  I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

I had the  privilege of teaching  8 young men in a construction program 2009-2010.   All the time in the back of my mind I was thinking, teachers have the opportunity to plant seeds in their student’s lives that can last a lifetime.

When I was a young man, there were very few healthy masculine role models as I recall.  The majority of men were either stoic males who suppressed their  emotion, or jocks whose sole purpose in life was to “get some”, great qualities to have in a future husband don’t you think?

I believe a real man can be tough and know how to stand his ground, but who also know how to admit when he’s wrong. (humble)  Real men  are in touch with their feelings, regardless of what anybody else may be telling you.

Since my years in High School,  I’ve been married for 35 years  to the  same woman, (and we still like each other). We’ve raised 4 children now in their mid 20’s to early 30’s, and  have  a healthy  relationship with each of them.

In addition to  teaching, I’m a general contractor.

I am a people person, and have known and worked alongside  dozens of men (and women) in the construction industry with every personality type you could imagine. In all these years, the one I had the most friction with was a  former bible college graduate twerp with a mouth.

I love pouring cement, stick framing a roof, riding motorcycles, writing poetry, baking my grandma’s rye bread from scratch, shooting a semi automatic rifle,  working in our  apple orchard, stacking bales in the haymow, butchering chickens, and bringing my wife coffee in bed.

I love working with the biker/just got out of jail types.

I love to look them in the eye and mess with their minds.

Six years ago, I spent the day with Johnny.  He was helping a friend of mine remodel a building.  Johnny was on work release, muscular, in his mid 30’s.  I came with my sawzall,  chop saw and diamond blade.  My job was to cut a doorway into the side of the masonry building 2 stories in the air.

I looked Johnny in the eye and said,   ‘”I’m afraid of heights.”  (because I am) :-)

He looked @ me and sarcastically said, “Man, what kind of carpenter are you,  afraid of height?”

About 1/3 of the way into the process, there was an accident. Johnny, accidentally stabbed me with my sawzall.

New blade, with pigeon dung on it. Blade slid  into my forearm like a steak knife.   Two hours later, after a trip to the emergency room, we were back.  My forearm, with 7 stitches  was all wrap up.  I couldn’t leave because I had brought  the tools and know how.  I watched Johnny struggle for 5 minutes  with my chop saw. It was driving me nuts.

Finally, I said, “Let me have it.”

I grabbed the saw with both hands and went back to work.  Two hours later, we were done.

Johnny, looked @ me when I finished with the saw  and said, “Man, you are one bad @#s .”

Music to my ears.


I originally wrote this in 2009 on my personal blog.  Got a comment this morning  and decided to repost it on the farm blog.  DM


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Living Simply, what that looks like for me

Read a blog post tonight that asked the question:

What does living simply mean to me?

I have written on this topic before.    A guest recently told me things were too quiet on the farm.  I wanted to say that was not an accident.

The pace of  my life  (now) and what I involve  myself with is very intentional.

That has not always been the case…..

I want to take you back to the Winter of 1987-1988.  We were living in Northern New Jersey, 1000 miles from home. I’d gone back to school to take some classes in marriage and family counseling.  Three kids in tow.  I was also working a full-time job, involved 2 nights a week in youth outreach and another evening devoted to a couples small group.  Weekends were no better.  They were packed with meetings, outreach, and service projects.

And then….

things started to unravel at home.

Here is a picture I had taped to the wall in front of my desk. It was to remind me that I can be busy…going nowhere fast:

Hamster wheel

It was a painful, watershed season in my life.  The pressures were intense.

I was confused and angry.

(I’ve had  harder times since but that is for another day/ another story).  ;-)

Years later,  one of our kids was diagnosed with panic attacks.  We came across the book, The Anxiety Cure that addressed many of the root causes that had gotten me so far off course in those early years.

Here is an excerpt from the book: Continue reading

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Dealing with a compulsive talker

compulsive talker

I glanced out our kitchen window a week ago Saturday and froze.  A van with two people in the front.

For a second, I wondered if it were  Jehovah’s Witnesses making a call , then I recognized who was in the van.

A friend was playing taxi for someone I refuse to get sucked into a conversation with at this point in my life.  Friend wanted me to come out to just say “Hi.”

At the risk of you thinking less of me I’ll tell you what happened next…

I was in the middle of doing an estimate and refused to comply.  Told my wife I was not going outside.

Wife went out.  That was her choice. ;-)

I’ve made that mistake three times.

The first time was understandable.

The second and third times, I had given him the benefit of doubt, thinking maybe I had misjudged him.

Not any more.

He talks non-stop about anything and everything.  Mindless flittering from one topic to the next.  If  you let him, he will suck the life force right out of you.

I’m joking, but not really.

(It was at least 40 minutes later before the wife was back)

As I thought about that recent encounter, I spent several minutes last night looking for  tips on how to handle a compulsive talker in a nice way. There is not a lot of good information.


I did come across this  article by Charles Shahar

Here’s a portion of it:

      “A comfortable conversation has a certain flow. Both parties are focused on each other. There is an active give-and-take. This dynamic exchange brings pleasure to the participants. They are energized by the experience. When they leave, they will seem livelier than before the conversation. They may look back at the encounter with fondness, and will respond favorably to the other person when they meet them again.

A conversation with a compulsively talkative person has a different flow. All of the attention is aimed in one direction: you are doing the listening, they are doing the talking. They seem to have an infinite capacity for spouting forth words. You will find that you are getting tired, your body is sagging, you feel restless, or you feel tightness in the pit of your stomach. They are draining your energy. You are doling out tons of attention, you are working hard for them, and they are reveling in the limelight. This is what they live for. are conversing with a human leech…. When the conversation is over you will feel depleted, spent. They took your juice. It may take hours to recover it….

Compulsive talking is an indication that you are dealing with a neurotically needy person. The reason they speak obsessively is to hold your attention. They are desperate to this end, and fear that if they stop talking, you will lose interest and leave. They rely on your sense of courtesy, on your desire not to appear offensive by interrupting or cutting them off. In fact, they will take advantage of someone who lets them continue unabated.

Needy people will tell you all about their problems. They will spare no details. They don’t care whether you are interested or not. In fact, they are completely insensitive to your feelings or desires. The important thing for them is the juice– your attention. It is like a drug for them.

They are addicted to your attention. ….. When you start to cut off the juice, they get anxious….

A device needy people use to get attention is to tell long-winded stories. These are a perfect foil because people have to listen for their duration. The needy person will embellish his story, use long-winding sentences, go off on tangents, and focus on details — all with the aim of trapping the attention of his audience. The stories themselves are often boring and indulgent….”


So dear reader, do you have any tips?

My default response has been  to avoid these situations as much as possible now.

The inner poverty that fuels that sort of behavior is not a simple fix.

I can’t for the life of me imagine Jesus sitting there listening to someone ramble on and on, but to come right out and  address it, seems so tacky and unkind.


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Walking the fine line between advice and criticism

I stopped by  mom and dad’s a week ago for a cup of coffee and to catch up on life.   One of the things I appreciate about those times is how mom and I can (and do) talk about any and everything.  Both of us free to share our hearts with each other and then come away feeling validated in the process.

I am a blessed man to have parents who both understand boundaries.

Mom pulled out a recent column from the Iowa Farmer Today

Reading the article did give me pause in terms of some recent conversations with one of my own children.

Here it is in its entirety:


Daniel Adams was good. In fact he was very good.

He started out feeding cattle and raising crops. Over time, his operation had grown and changed.

He now had almost 2,000 acres.

Dan had four hog buildings where he finished his own pigs and also had a 200-head cow/calf operation.

Dan, or “Lucky” as he was called by his neighbors, had three sons. The oldest son followed in Dan’s footsteps and was part of the operation. He rented his own land but shared equipment with his dad. His second son also farmed but was independent from his father.

His third son was never interested in the farming operation. He went to medical school and now was a family practice doctor in their area.

Dan was very focused in all that he did. His crops not only looked good, but so did his fence rows and waterways. The building sites he rented were always neatly mowed and cared for.

Dan was also an excellent marketer. He followed the news and was aware of the trends. When things were going up, Dan was selling. When things were going down, Dan was out of the market. Dan also seemed to know the best time to buy land.

Dan’s oldest and youngest sons were both very successful. They seemed to be carbon copies of Dan. The second son was a different story.

He struggled to get things done on time. He was always backwards in his marketing. After the market fell, he still had grain bins full of corn. His son seemed like a nice enough guy.

Dan gave great thought to his second son. He decided he would help him out. Dan had always been reluctant to give too much advice, but now the time seemed right.

He had put together a plan in his own mind. When he saw something wrong with what the second son was doing, he would simply tell him.

The first opportunity to put his plan into action occurred the very next day. It was late in the spring and Dan had just finished planting. He stopped at the second son’s house and told him he was late. He needed to pick up the pace and finish planting his beans. He left the farmstead feeling like he had done his son a great favor.

A few days later, as he drove around inspecting his fields he saw that the second son had weeds coming up in the corn. So he drove to the second son’s house and told him he needed to get out there and spray.

Later that same day, he felt this would be a good time to be marketing corn. He stopped at the son’s house and told him he should be selling part of this corn for November delivery.

And so it continued. Dan would see something or know something and then he would stop at his son’s house and tell him what he needed to do.

For the first few months, the plan seemed to go very well. The second son seemed to appreciate Dan’s advice and counsel.

As the summer and early fall passed by, Dan continued to find opportunities to tell his son what to do. Sometimes he stopped and sometimes he called. In an effort to become more efficient, he even started texting his son three or four times a week with helpful hints and sometimes outright commands.

Strangely, the second son seemed less excited to have his father drive into the yard. By harvest, the son seemed reluctant to talk to Dan.

Perhaps his son did not understand how Dan was trying to help him. He decided to pick up the pace of advice and counsel.

He decided at least once a day he would stop at his son’s house and review with him areas in which he needed to improve.

At this point, Dan’s son seemed almost belligerent and offended. Dan was confused. All he wanted to do was help his son.

He reviewed his advice in his mind. Was it not correct? The answer was yes.

Everything he told his son was true. If his son would simply follow his advice he would do better. He decided to continue his advice giving and perhaps add explanations pointing out the errors.

By Christmas time, things had grown worse.

Dan’s son wanted nothing to do with him. He seemed to be rude to his dad. Dan was discouraged and had no idea why his son was so unhappy with him.

While Dan was extremely capable, knowledgeable and a moneymaker he did not understand how to deal with people. Giving advice, whether it be to family members or strangers, can be very tricky.

THERE IS a fine line between being perceived as helpful and being perceived as critical. People seldom respond positively to criticism.

Dan’s blind spot was that he knew what he was saying was true and correct. And so it was.

Dan’s advice was received as criticism by his son.

In the beginning, the son was not threatened by what his father was doing. Over the weeks and months his son perceived his father thought he was a poor manager, unable to make correct decisions or perhaps lazy.

The more the advice and perceived criticism came from Dan the more resistant his son became.

After several months of this treatment along with several sit-down meetings explaining the error of his ways, his son had had enough. We call this death by 1,000 cuts. Each additional piece of advice is just another small wound.

What might Dan have done differently?

He might have been better off to never begin the practice of giving advice and criticism. His son would have simply suffered the consequences and perhaps grown from the experience.

Is there a way to give advice that is not offensive? Yes.

Throughout history, many famous and smart men have had to learn this lesson the hard way.

In his younger years, Abraham Lincoln was extremely critical. He wrote articles pointing out the faults of others.

ONE PERSON was so offended that Lincoln found himself in a sword duel. It was only the efforts of their friends which stopped the duel.

Benjamin Franklin suffered from the very same problem. Both of these great men eventually learned the lesson.

Simply being smart and knowing what to do does not always get the desired results. No one likes to be criticized and/or attacked.

Making subtle suggestions that are carefully crafted to each situation can help achieve the desired goal.

One of Dan’s neighbors tactfully pointed out the problem with Dan’s advice-giving attitude.

Dan then decided on a new course of action. He would no longer give recommendations to his son.

As time went by, his son’s attitude toward him improved. Dan waited to be asked for his opinion before he volunteered it.

Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson and Jim Vermazen can be reached at 563-927-4554, 563-920-3748 or 563-920-6908 or e-mail them at


Quick “hello”  to a couple of new readers to the blog.  Feel free to leave a comment anytime!  Most of us bloggers love getting  feedback.  ;-)  DM

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Notes on our current efforts to downsize – Part 1- the heating system

It dawned on me for the first time this morning I have become a bonafide “DIY”

(“Do it yourself-er”)

I love to learn, think outside of the box and figure things out.

The more areas of life I am conversant in, the easier it is to branch into new fields.

My strong suits are carpentry, masonry, roofing, metal buildings, and wood working in general.  I know a little about electric and plumbing.  I’m about to learn a whole lot more. ;-)

Earlier this Spring, we made the decision to  downsize.

Plan A :  We have decided to stay put. Shut off the 2nd floor of our 2 story farm-house, and install a new 95% energy-efficient  forced air heating system. Last winter the cost to heat our house was over $3000 with our 25-year-old hot water heat boiler.   Wife came up with the out of the box idea….what if we just  heated the first floor?  I plugged in the numbers on an on-line furnace calculator, and sure enough, we could get our heating bill down to less than $900 annually if we only had to heat 1024 sq ft. (vs $3000)

I have been talking to one of my people, a certified electrical, plumbing and heating contractor since April. (He is the maintenance  foreman at a large facility).  I told him what I was wanting to do.   He said the cost of materials (would run about $1200 total. (That is a new high-efficiency furnace and related duct work/ with no central air conditioning)

Once we upgrade, we should realize a $2000 a year savings in LP gas alone.  Originally, my contact was also going to also help me install the system, but due to time constraints at work now he can’t get away.

 Go to Plan B : Get a quote from the local heating contractors I work with on a regular basis and hire it done.  The first estimate I got was for $6000 to $6500.

I have no qualms about paying people for what they know and do.  I would never ever dicker/ barter with another tradesman.  I don’t like it when people do that to me, and I refuse to do it to someone else.  Building new homes for the past 30 years, I also have a sense of how long it takes to install a new furnace, and the thought of paying someone $4000 above actual expenses has given me pause.

I have  3 contractors who have taken my phone number and promised to “get back to me” when they have a moment to look @ the job, but as one of them said to me yesterday….”You are talking about a lot of work.  that is going to be pretty expensive.”

After that last phone conversation, I was starting to get a little stressed…

There is a spiritual truth I live by, and have leaned on it over and over again as an adult.  It goes like this:

“Trust the Lord, with all your heart. Do NOT rely on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he WILL direct your path.”

DM’s translation:  Freely admit I don’t know what to do. Do NOT trust in my own gifts, strengths, connections, schemes, etc. Rather, acknowledge and ask for divine leading each step of the way, and yes he (God) will go before me, open (and shut)  doors, and make a clear path.



Enter plan C:

Two nights ago, I talked with a former high school classmate who I would definitely describe as a DIY.  When it came time to wire the addition to his house, he took the required classes @ the local community college so he could wire his own place. I called him to see if he had any experience installing  furnaces. “Yes I do, he said.  Count me in”  :-)

” The biggest hurtle  you will have,  is having someone properly size the furnace and design the layout for the duct work.” 

I called my original contact, and he said, he would talk to “his people” and get that information for me.

I plan to hire our LP gas provider  to run the  gas lines once the furnace is completely assembled.

I am excited.

Here’s a quote from Wikipedia under “Do It Yourself” that puts things into perspective and why I feel like I am swimming upstream and  incompetent in certain areas:

     Our educational system, in its entirety, does nothing to give us any kind of material competence. In other words, we don’t learn how to cook, how to make clothes, how to build houses, how to make love, or to do any of the absolutely fundamental things of life. The whole education that we get for our children in school is entirely in terms of abstractions. It trains you to be an insurance salesman or a bureaucrat, or some kind of cerebral character.


What are some of your strong suits (and, or interests) you could mentor someone in?  (Don’t be modest)



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Who can you trust?

“After the storm, I walked down the road toward Terry’s.  There were three  high power lines snapped. When I got to Terry’s, you could not see the house.  I started hollering and Terry answered back, so I knew he was still alive.”

Portion of a conversation I had this week with one of Terry’s neighbors, talking about the damage done by the tornado last month.


This past Monday, our crew got to work putting Terry’s house back together.  There were tarps covering 5  sections of his roof.  I’d given him an estimate to repair the roof the week before, so I had a game plan in my head when I got to the job on Monday.  I’ve  been framing houses since 1985.  My personal preference is  stick framing a roof from scratch (vs pre-built trusses.) I supposed  it’s a  combination of applied math,  understanding load bearing, and doing something not everyone knows  how to do.

I really do love my job ;-)

So when I commented to Terry Monday morning, I was looking forward to tearing into his roof he rolled his eyes and said, “you rascal” (or something like that.)

I love the challenge of taking something that has been broken and putting it back together.   This project was on a time and material basis, only because you really don’t know until you start opening up a collapsed roof, what will need to be done to repair it, and since I’m not Santa Claus, and not really interested in giving away my time, I gave him a good faith “guesstimates” on how long, and how much I thought it would take to repair the damages, with the understanding, I was really working  by the hour.

My “guesstimate came in at just under $25,000.00 for the house.  Possible major  damages to the roof inter-structure,then re shingling the 2800 square foot roof, once the internal damage was repaired.  I figured it would take the four of us the better part of 2 weeks to get the house back to  normal.  He also had a horse barn to repair, my estimate for that was around $4,800 (labor and materials)

Day 1 went great.  We were able to repair two areas of damage.

Day 2 also went great, but I came home exhausted.  At 3 PM I still had a 14 ft by 20 foot gaping hole in the roof. (we normally stop about 3:30 or 4)  It was close to 7 PM before we had the roof closed up and able to shed water.

Day 3 we finished all the repairs and started shingling.

Day 4 we finished shingling the roof.

Day 5 finished repairs on the horse barn, and some misc. repairs and clean up in the kitchen ceiling.

skipping, skipping, skipping….

We finished the horse barn and all but some soffit work by Friday afternoon, putting us a week ahead of schedule.  Remember, I am doing the project on a time and material basis.  If you trust your contractor, that is the only way to go in my opinion….

By the end of the week, the horse barn repairs came in at just under $1900, and the house repairs (labor and material) were $11,750.

Original guesstimate :$29,800.00

actual expenses :$13,650.00

realized savings : $16,150.00

Recent picture of my current crew:


Now someone might be  tempted to call me a fool for working by the hour, or not taking Terry (or the insurance company) to the cleaners just a little.

Here’s my take on it:

My business continues to grow and prosper, I am having the best season on record.

I sleep like a baby most nights, a combination of physical exhaustion and a clear conscience, I suppose.

I picked up another repeat customer this month.  He recommended us to his banker for some work on the banker’s mom’s house this  week.

Lots to be thankful for.

Thanks for reading along.

PS.  I have been known to do “working vacations” so if at some point you are looking for some help on a construction project, don’t hesitate to ask.  You never know.  ;-)  DM


Do you have service people in your life you trust? (mechanic, plumber, electrician, carpenter, lawyer, insurance agent, banker, etc)  Tell me more.



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Running from the law

Got a thank you note from Dawn and the girls  yesterday.

They are back home.

They’d been living with us since early April.

Not one, but five single females.

Now that is a lot of Estrogen.

I haven’t mentioned this latest turn of events because they were in legal trouble.  Now that they’ve been given the green light to return home,   I can tell you a little more.

I was approached by Chris in early April, and asked if we could provide “temporarily ” housing for  some of his friends.  They’d gotten themselves into legal trouble and it looked like it might be a few months before all of their paperwork could be sorted out.  I had mixed feelings, only because I love my peace and quiet and the last thing I wanted was more drama.   We were told all we needed to provide was a place to stay, food and any other expenses would be taken care of. Our place was  the perfect place to  lay low. Surrounded by corn and bean fields as far as the eye can see.  Makes sense to me.

I finally conceded, and all of us settled into a new routine.  As it turned out,  we all got along just fine.

Dawn was the red-head.  She was my favorite.  She made it a point to say “hi” every time  I saw her.  The other four never really let down their guard.

I get that.

Here’s a picture of their thank you note:

thank you note

Here’s a group picture of them just before they left:

going home3

Dawn and girls heading home.

The town they were from passed a back yard chicken ordinance last week making it legal for them to return home. They’d been given 72 hours to get out of town this past April and living with us ever since.

Here’s Tom Petty’s: Don’t Want To Live Like A Refuge.  Fitting song for a happy ending.


Tell me about a time, you or someone you knew had a run in with the law.  I want to know details! ;-) DM





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