"I'm the oldest of four girls."

"Yes, that means I don't have any brothers."

It's amazing how many times over the past two decades I've needed to repeat that statement. And most of the time the next line I heard went something like, "Oh, too bad for your dad."

"Oh, no, he's okay with not having any boys. We've asked."

And, truly, we had. After years of seeing the sympathetic way people seemed to look at my dad - like being a dairy farmer and having only daughters was a professional handicap, like a family isn't complete unless you have a son - us girls, as my sisters and I called ourselves, asked Dad one time if he was disappointed that he didn't have a son.

He said he wasn't. He said he might have been, if us girls had been born in a time when activities and opportunities for young people were determined by the type of undergarments they wore, instead of their qualifications. I don't believe he said that just to placate.

Then, as our responsibilities on the farm grew, we added, "We are his boys," to those conversations. And, in some ways, we were.

We may not have inherited the tinkering sense my father inherited from his father, but we could turn wrenches, drive tractors and milk cows as well as any of the boys we knew.

The best part of growing up on a daughters-only dairy farm, though, was the quality time we spent with Dad and the lessons we learned. I still hear his one-liners in my head when I'm out working on a project, negotiating with my son, or picking up groceries.

We'd be out making fence - and, man, did it seem like we made a lot of fence - or pounding rivets in sickle sections, and Dad would tell us, "Hit it like you've got a pair." It was more permission to really give it a whack than instruction to hit it harder, and the only reference he ever made to us not being boys.

"Don't force it," was even more valuable advice, and, as I've learned through parenting and farming myself, applies to far more than ratchet wrenches and stubborn nuts.

"Always pick up ketchup and toilet paper," was another one of Dad's axioms. He did his share of the grocery shopping for our family of six and came home with ketchup and toilet paper every time, regardless of how much we already had on hand. He said those were the two staples we could never be without. Ketchup, because just about anything that came out of the kitchen could be made edible with a little sauce, and, toilet paper, because, well, there's really no explanation needed for that one.

My favorite line to hear was, "Make it so, Number One." I was always dreaming up ways to do things better on the farm and suggesting them to Dad. Nine times out of ten, this was his response. (Most of my ideas were relatively harmless.) He never criticized or belittled the idea. The authorization made me feel like my opinion mattered, like I was part of the management team on our farm. It was a huge boost to my self-confidence. What I also learned when Dad said, "Go ahead," though, was that not every idea is as easy to execute in reality as it is in the mind.

But the most important thing us girls heard growing up - more so than any of Dad's one-liners - was, "I love you." I'm not sure he heard it very much growing up, because the closest thing I ever heard my grandpa say, just once, was, "Yeah, me, too." We all knew Grandpa loved us, but it was never said. Maybe that's why Dad made it the closing line of all our conversations and the last thing we heard before going to bed every night.

Now when people start to look sympathetic and begin to mutter something about how unfortunate it must be for my dad to not have a son, I respond with, "Hey, now, whaddya mean?"

It doesn't take a son (or daughter, for that matter) to make a family complete. All it takes is the greatest one-liner of all time: "I love you."

Happy belated Father's Day to all you dads out there. Remember to tell your children you love them.

Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 50 cows near Melrose, Minnesota with help from their two-year-old son, Dan and their newborn daughter, Monika. When she's not parenting and farming, she's writing for the Dairy Star. She can be reached at gsfrericks@meltel.net.