September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"You can talk to him about a lot of weird stuff - weird girl stuff - that most girls couldn't talk to their dads about," Teri Rausch, 19, said of her father.
This Father's Day, Teri and her five sisters - Ann (21), Crystal (18), Brenda (15), Erin (12) and Niki (10) - plan to spend some quality time with their unique father. But while they celebrate his paternal attributes, they will also celebrate the second role he has taken on, filling in the gap of their mother who passed away three years ago.
Tom and Deb Rausch were married in 1988. Together, the two dairy farmed near Randall, Minn., and raised six daughters. When Deb became a victim of cancer in September of 2006, Tom took on the dual role of mother and father to the girls while continuing to manage the 60-cow, 240-acre dairy farm.
"We've gotten a lot closer since then," Ann said of the relationship between her sisters and their father since their mother passed on.
Although Tom said they have always been a tight-knit family, he agreed.
"[Our relationship] is really strong. They have respect for me and I respect them," he said. "We have our little disagreements, but we've learned to not take life too seriously."
Through the good and the bad, life goes on
"I miss her love," Niki said on what she missed most about her mother.
"And having her around to talk to," Teri, said.
"And the cookies she used to bake," Ann added, as all the girls laughed.
To the sisters, the loss of Deb was not only a loss of their mother, but also loss of a confidant and friend; to Tom, it was the loss of a wife, friend and partner in life. While the Rausches said they had about one year to prepare, when Deb was in and out of the hospital, nothing could fully prepare them for life after her passing. But with running a dairy farm and raising a family, life must go on.
"[Day-to-day life] really hasn't changed a lot," Tom said. "We are farming all the time."
As could be expected, some adjustments within the family had to be made.
"He had to figure out who did what [as far as housework and chores went]," Ann said.
"He also had to fill in the gaps for what [Mom] used to do," Teri said.
However, the transition went fairly smoothly, with everyone jumping in to help where needed.
"Everybody is assigned [different jobs]. Everybody does their part," Tom said of how he and the girls have continued managing the farm and life in general. "Everyone has an understanding, and that's what makes it work."
The outpouring of support from family, neighbors and friends is one thing that helped the Rausches continue on with life. Although Tom and the girls all said they are very close to each other and can talk about almost anything, Tom did admit there are just some things in life that guys cannot talk to their daughters about. For these things, the girls turn to their older women friends - teachers, relatives and neighbors who have taken them under their wings.
"The girls will get advice from their older friends," Tom said. "It's kind of a neat thing ... the women have taken them under their wings. It's not a pity thing, they are just good people."
"There has been so much support. We didn't ask for it, but they give it," he said.
However, Tom said for him the thing that has helped the most in getting through the difficult time after Deb passed on has been living on a dairy farm.
"I don't think I could have raised the kids - especially the younger ones - after it happened if I hadn't been dairy farming," he said. "Because I am farming, I can be there for them when they need me."
Growing up and living on a dairy farm has also helped the girls.
"Growing up on a farm teaches you a lot about life," Ann said. "People that live on a dairy farm especially learn the life and death thing, the stages of life."
It has also taught them the value of hard work and responsibility.
"You learn how to work for things," Brenda said.
Learning from life's experiences
"You can't read a book on how to raise kids. You learn from experiences in life and things just work out," Tom said of raising his daughters on his own over the past three years. "I love them all although they are all different ... Over time you have to let them go their separate ways; you can't run their lives."
Although most of them are still actively involved on the dairy farm, as the girls get older, letting them go their separate ways is just what Tom is doing.
Since graduating from high school last year, Ann has come back to work full-time on the farm with her father. With a wedding planned for next summer, Ann said she is unsure whether or not she will eventually take over the farm. Teri is currently spending the least amount of time at her family's farm out of all the sisters. As a junior at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Teri is majoring in cell and molecular biology and minoring in chemistry and Spanish with plans on becoming a nurse.
Crystal just recently graduated from Browerville High School and plans on attending Alexandria Technical College next year for a degree in law enforcement. Although Brenda, a sophomore in high school, Erin, an eighth-grader, and Niki, a fifth-grader, do not yet know what they would like to do in the future, they all stay busy with extracurricular activities such as band, FFA and 4-H. Brenda is also currently serving as a junior dairy ambassador for Todd County.
Through all of the past and upcoming changes and challenges in life, faith and trust have brought the Rausch family closer together.
"You have to have trust in the Lord and everything will fall into place," Tom said.
With Father's Day just around the corner, the Rausch sisters look forward to a day of laughter and fun spent with the unique man they call "Dad."
"Deb was a great mother to them," Tom said, thinking back to his wife of 18 years.
And his daughters would all agree that he is a great father.