A “Harvest Son” Honors Dad

The brittle snap of wood and the blunt wail of twisting metal. The grinding roar of a diesel engine as it jolts to a stop. A blinding cloud of dust is whipped up as I crash the cane cutter into one of my grape vines. The steel blade shreds the trunk and tears into the metal stake. The cutter bends on impact, the crumpled metal wrapping around the remains of a vine and stake. The hydraulic motor squeals and I immediately jam the clutch. The motor dies.

At the shed, Dad greets the broken implement and his farmer son. He doesn’t need to ask what happened. He grabs a crescent wrench and begins to unbolt the tangled mess. He pauses, studying how best to remove the bent metal. I can see his old glassy eyes dart back and forth as he plans how to fix the cutter. I try to help, but instead slip into the role of the son watching his father fix things that break.

—David Mas Masumoto, Harvest Son: Planting Roots in American Soil (W.W. Norton, 1998)

* * *

“I didn’t grow up in a storytelling family,” says farmer-turned-author David Mas Masumoto. “Rural families—especially Japanese American ones—tend to be quiet and reserved. And as I began writing, my Dad didn’t pay all that much attention.”

“I think he’s read maybe five books in his life,” the author jokes. “And two of them were mine.”

So it may seem ironic that a frequent topic of Masumoto’s writing—which has garnered lavish praise from literary critics for its virtuoso use of language—is his distinctly nonverbal father.

Affectionately, but always with a sense of great respect for the elder farmer’s dignity and wisdom, Masumoto often writes about the many ways his father has inspired him.

From fixing things that break, to teaching us things that matter, fathers show us that lives lived in devotion to others are the ones that reap the most bountiful harvests.

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