"Life in Half a Cabin"


Originally posted in 2004.

UPDATE: 2012

In the eight years since I first visited Richard Fahey and wrote about his "Catholic Homesteading Movement," several people have contacted me to tell me that he was and is an abusive father and husband.  

You can read some of this in the comments below. At first, I hesitated, suggesting that perhaps he was harsh, strict, etc., but not actually abusive.

But in further private emails, more than one of his children were emphatic. He was abusive.

Since then, Richard Fahey's daughters have started a blog, chronicling his abuse.

I believe them. I believe them because, on both my visits, his wife and children were excessively solemn, shy, nervous, and silent. Enough to make you uncomfortable.

A reporter was there, and after politely asking him several questions, asked, "What do your children think of all this?" Mr. Fahey wouldn't let them say a word. He said they were not "prepared" to answer that.

Is this enough to convict you of child abuse? No. But it is consistent with what an abusive family can look like when forced to deal with "outsiders." It worried me even at the time.  

So if more than one of his children have since come forward to explain, in great detail, that he was abusive, I believe them. And it makes me very angry.

As I read through the daughters' short, tragic articles, other details ring true. In a post on sexual abuse, she claims, among other things, that there was no sexual privacy, even for using the bathroom. And this was true on both my visits. Somehow, Mr. Fahey could not be bothered to make an outhouse. The guest bathroom was a toilet in the clearing in the woods.  

As I mention in a comment below, for awhile I hesitated to repeat accusations of child abuse against someone who doesn't use the Internet and can't defend himself. However, it's clear from the daughters' blog that he is now aware that his online reputation needs defending. If anyone has a link to a statement he has posted online, contact me, and I'll be glad to post it. But it won't hold much weight with me unless it is corroborated by one or more of his adult children.

You might wonder why, in light of all this, I would leave my old, complimentary article up. Because child abusers excel at fooling adults. And until you've experienced the deception yourself, it is hard to believe that a real, live, child abuser could be so cordial and welcoming to your face. 

Read the daughters' blog, then come back here and read how "normal" a casual visitor could make the same place sound.

Also, I have (finally) added a comment at the end which Richard's daughter  Francesca sent me to post years ago. Instead, we emailed back and forth privately.  But I am finally ready to include it here.

Yes, there are witch hunters out there who are eager to call in Child Protective Services every time a tired baby cries in public. But I think there are a lot more of us who resist seeing what makes us uncomfortable. Meanwhile, children are helpless.

END UPDATE 2012

Last Monday, I visited the Catholic Homesteading Movement in Norwich, NY.  This Movement consists of a nice, large, Catholic family whose only umbilical cord to the outside world is their mailbox (which, someone mentioned, used to be a barrel, although I didn’t see it so I can’t be sure).  

No phones. No electricity. No DSL line. Not even the obligatory satellite dish that adorns many an otherwise rustic lawn/appliance graveyard in our rural byways.  

I was curious to find out how they live. I was disappointed. I didn’t find out how they live. I was only there for around four hours, which is less time than it took to get there. I learned more about guessing which backroads match the unlabelled squiggles in my atlas than I did about daily homesteading life. But I did learn a bit about the course topic: buying land. And (get ready, here it comes) I learned a little about myself.  

I would have been on time if it hadn’t snowed. The last quarter mile separating the Catholic Homesteading Movement from the rest of New York happened to be under a foot of snow and rather steeply uphill. Fortunately, there were two other people just starting the trek as I arrived. I’m glad they were there, because otherwise it would have been a bit lonely out there on the slope, surrounded by the extreme quiet of a bare wintry valley and ridges of grey hills  sternly surrounding me.  

But they were soon way ahead of me, and then it was lonely. It took about eight seconds for my side to start hurting, and as I painfully huffed my suburban self up the slope towards no visible goal and felt outside for the first time in months, I had an exquisite opportunity to ask myself just what the heck I was doing out here. What was I looking for? Here it was, nature, and I was cold, in pain, and running late. I couldn’t formulate what I wanted, but I began to realize it had better be worth it.  

Soon the road curved and I saw the little log cabin waiting for us.  It didn’t wait long. I passed a goat that was tethered to a post in the middle of a field. It was giving the traditional bleat that means you are officially in the country. Then the rustic cabin door opened and I was inside.  

Wow. As the title suggested, this was not your usual rustic homesteader cabin. At least, it wasn’t as far as I could tell, based on my limited acquaintance with the work of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This was probably the size of two bathrooms end to end, and it was smaller than some bathrooms I’ve seen. The roof peaked at a sharp angle, leaving room for a small loft on either side. The floor was of large slabs of stone embedded in concrete(?), the walls were white plaster, and a short, squat wood stove the size of a large toaster was just ugly enough to keep unwise suburbanites like myself from sitting on it. If there hadn’t been, say, nine people in the room, it would have been enchanting. It was still heavily intriguing. I shook hands with Mr. Fahey, smiled vacuously at everyone else, and let my eyes wander in delight at this crazy little house.  

I never mentioned I’d be writing anything while I was there, so I won’t say anything about the other folks who came, not even the reporter, who was doing a story on something (he never said what) and made all of us a similar promise. In fact, it occurs to me that, despite the free publicity, Mr. Fahey himself might not be thrilled if I summarized his course, so the rest of this blog will be brief and distinctly episodic.  

Two major points to pass on here. First, Fahey began the course with a reading from Numbers 12 (or 13), in which God tells the Israelites just what to look for as they scout out the Promised Land. I never thought of the Israelites as homesteaders, but you know what, what else would you call them? Army?  

Secondly, and slightly less profound (unless you can spin out a metaphor here), drainage matters. You’re probably thinking, “Oh sure, don’t put the library at the bottom of the 85 degree hill. I knew that.” WRONG. That’s runoff, where rain ends up thanks to the wonder of gravity.  

What drainage means is what the soil does with the rain before it runs off. If there’s too little soil, the soil doesn’t absorb the rain very well. After a downpour, you get those sloshy swamps that slurp up Sunday shoes, and then in a day or two the old swamp is bone dry. Neither of these conditions are good for crops, who aren’t thrilled with the shallow soil to begin with because there’s not much room for their roots to stretch, grow, and find self-actualization. Thus, if you have shallow soil that quickly ends in hardpan (a.k.a “brown concrete”, courtesy of relentless tractor use) or just plain old bedrock, then you have what farmers in their subjective way dub poor drainage. Or bad drainage, that’s fine too.  

What the wide-eyed homesteader should instead seek is good drainage, which if I remember aright means having at least 6 inches of good soil, if not much more. How can you tell if your soil has good drainage or bad drainage? Read the plants. Fahey took us around his snowy, windswept property, showing us the sparse tree growth and crooked branches that signalled poor drainage and the denser growth and straighter branches that showed good drainage. It was fascinating. What was just a background blur of trees abruptly had meaning.  

Read the plants. I never knew you could. Now I’m in kindergarten again, puzzling out my first ABC’s. As we took that walk, I was shown a world where every plant could tell me something, whether the soil was acid or base, fertile or infertile, shallow or deep. Haltingly, I sounded out a few simple words from the tapestry of the world.  

We walked through a forest of evergreen hemlocks, and I realized that I was actually in the silent, snowy forest of pines that frequently haunts my imagination. Then all at once the pines stopped, and the forest became bare deciduous trees. I shrugged and didn’t think to question it, but Fahey explained that something like that doesn’t just happen; there’s some major difference in the soil. Hardly an explanation, more a gesture in the direction of answer, but that little comment made me feel the world grow around me. The little bubble of coherence I in which I walk expanded past the whir of my own mind and the squawks of my fellow humans and touched the tips of the trees and the ground beneath my feet.  

After a lesson on winter tree identification by Fahey’s daughter, we adjourned to the half-cabin for fried bread nuggets, home-grown apples, and peppermint tea with the peppermint intact. I don’t know why it is I don’t believe people when they say something’s hot. My tongue was still a bit raw when I got home five hours later.  

I don’t yet know if I’ll be visiting again. They were friendly and their knowledge was obviously vast. But I sit and type this blog and think of all the people who could read it, and I think I’ll probably be the homesteader who hooks up his own windmill and tries to run a server off a discarded satellite dish. Technology is abused and marvelous.  

Still, the half-cabin rankles with me as a challenge. Just how far am I from the world God created and creates? How many layers of electricity and ease lie between me and the ability even to recognize His creatures, let alone feed myself? My wife’s reading a book on having root cellar, and the author mentions that since even deer teach their children how to survive winter, we shouldn’t do any less. It may be that the computer should be quaint to me, not the tree. I may have a long way to go to get there.  

On my way out the door, Fahey called, “Read the book of Exodus.” Why? Because everything the Israelites went through in the desert on their way to the Big Homestead was about to crash on me. I wonder if it’s true.

P.S. No, he didn’t call it the Big Homestead. That one’s all mine.

  1. guadalupe76 says:

    I’m one of Richard Fahey’s daughters. I find your blog very interesting. My dad is a crazy one. I was kicked out of there in 1994 when I was eighteen and not allowed back. Seven of my brothers and sisters have also left and are now living in freedom from his abuse. I wish visitors who go up to the homestead could know the real story about my father—how he mentally and physically terrorized us. He looks and sounds like a wise, smart, kind man, but he has a dark sinister side. I’m glad you only saw his good side. If you ever go up there, ask him what he thinks of his daughter Guadalupe Maria. Good luck and God bless your family!

    January 22nd, 2006 at 10:57 pm
  2. Bill Powell says:

    Bill here. When an acquaintance recently expressed surprise over Guadalupe’s post, it belatedly occured to me that Mr. Fahey is, of all people, singularly hampered in his ability to reply to this sort of comment online. I should have added a long time ago that I emailed Guadalupe before posting this comment, and in her reply she clarified her meaning a bit. I’m not on my own computer, so I don’t have her email by me; I don’t want to soften her accusations, but on the other hand “abuse” and “terrorize” are words that shouldn’t be left to our overactive tabloid imaginations, especially when the subject is a stern patriarch off in the countryside. No one was ritually tortured. You can laugh, but that was the first thing I thought. Thank you, television.

    I honestly don’t remember the exact details, nor am I sure she would want them online; I do remember that she described the sorts of parental faults you could find all too easily in any father (or mother) who errs on the side of discipline, authority, and his own extremely clear ideas. This isn’t a justification; these are bad things to do. But they are neither exotic nor peculiar to counterculturals. And it is vital to point this out, because people are often all too ready to believe the worst of those who are deliberately different.

    She also wrote that her siblings had reported that her father had improved somewhat in recent years.

    I’m glad she wrote in, because it is true that Mr. Fahey presents his way of life as a model for families. I didn’t see any such abuse on my two visits there, and he didn’t advocate such behavior in his courses; on the other hand, when you present yourself as a model, perhaps you need to air your own shortcomings a bit to preclude the potenial for scandal. Not that I get on here and confess all my sins either.

    Still, while I am consoled to think that this page doesn’t quite have the hit count of Project Gutenburg, I hope no one has been misled into false fancies of a crazed homesteader. That would be grossly unfair to both father and daughter.

    August 26th, 2007 at 11:07 pm
  3. Bill Powell says:

    Every once in awhile, I get a request for an address for the Catholic Homesteading Movement.  Here's the address that headed their 2007 Schedule:

    Catholic Homesteading Movement 21 Delaware Square Norwich, NY 13815

    If you send a  SASE, you can get all sorts of information. If you send them a note, please send my greetings. Thanks!

    2008 Jan 19, 16:12 Sat
  4. [comment removed]

  5. 2008 Feb 07
  6. Hi Anna Marie!

    I am glad you found Bill's website.  It is  nice to hear that you and your family are doing well.  This is Larry  Gilbert from Hopewell, Va.  We met when I attended the Homesteading  Week course in 2004.  (You may remember me as the man who left the course  early and didn't stay the whole week.  I discovered that I wasn't  as well prepared for the rustic camping experience as I thought I  was.  But I enjoyed the course otherwise.)  I can't believe that it's  been almost four years!  I remember talking with you.  There was  another sister there also, [name removed for privacy], I believe.  Correct me if I'm  wrong.  Also, brothers [names removed for privacy].  And your mother, of  course.  I really enjoyed the homestead.  It was very beautiful and  peaceful.  I fell in love with the Chenango area of New York when I first  came up there for the Introduction To Homesteading course in October of  2001.  Now that's really going back a few years!  It being autumn,  the trees were decked out in gorgeous fall colors, diamonds of light  reflected from the Chenango River, and a cool, crisp breeze flowed over the  rolling hills. . . but I digress.  Springtime is just as  beautiful.

    I'm sorry to hear that you kids had "Dad  Trouble."  I am 50 years old and my wife and I have raised two  daughters.  I know that it is easy to be too stern at times.  In  retrospect, I realize that I could have been more loving and less controlling,  myself, at times.  I like your Dad, but of course I only see him at his  best and for a short while, not on a day-to-day basis.  The children I  met at the homestead seemed happy and well-adjusted.  (I might  add: intelligent, articulate, and polite.)  Also, most seem to be  following the faith of their parents.  That's a good sign. I hope all turns  out well in the long run.

    My wife and I will being going back to the  homestead this April.  I will attend the Fruit Tree Grafting course,  while my wife attends the Spinning Workshop. We look forward  to seeing your family and the homestead once  again.  

    Blessings,

    Larry & Jackie Gilbert

    11 Mar 2008
  7.   I have attended several of the CHM classes and have done some side jobs    for them. I could tell when I met Richard, that he was a lot like my    parents. Very knowledgeable and generous at times; but could have a    tendency to be judgmental and a bit self-righteous. I learned with my    parents how relate without conflict and knew to try to just stick to the    topic at hand. There were only problems when I didn't do that. 

      I loved their cabin and didn't find it too small, there are areas of the    cabin that are off limit to visitors and I'm sure their home was big    enough for their family. One person I have met thought the tool shed was    their cabin and at first I thought you must have meant that too, but then    when you spoke of the floors I knew you were describing their beautiful    cabin. I sketched it out for my notes when I first saw it because I loved    their fireplace area so much. 

      I found Anna Marie and [child's name removed for privacy] to have the souls of an angel with their    mild demeanor, though I wasn't always sure if I was talking too much and    annoying them. So I tried to err on the quiet side. 

      I have always learned so much from them, that even though he has made me    cry a few times (though I don't know if he knows this, but he son saw), I    kept going back. The last time was a bit much though and he hurt my    feelings too badly for me to go back for a while, but I am pretty    sensitive. 

      We now only communicate via mail. We all have our faults and he has no    way to defend himself here. I applaud him for trying to teach what he    knows and open him self up to public criticism of their lifestyle.    Something I don't know if I could do. 

      Though I found some of their lifestyle to be unnecessarily harsh even for    a homesteader, that was the route they chose and who am I to judge. 

      I'm sure he was pretty harsh with his kids just like my Dad was, trying to    keep us safe from the world and it's ways. My Dad was trying to save our    lives and felt he was absolutely right, so he felt justified in his    harshness and judgment. Then one day everyone grows up and leaves, and    Dads get older. When that happens, sometimes they find out they didn't    know everything and have some growing up to do for themselves. 

      Jamie 

    23 Mar 2009
  8. My name is Gigi and my two daughters, Shanti and Chelsea, and I attended the week long homesteading workshop in 1992.  We enjoyed our time there and often talk about it.  We have always wondered how the family was doing and what life direction the Fahey children chose to take.  It was good to find your blog to get some insight on what they are doing now.  I think of them all often and wish them all the best in their lives.  May God bless them.

    29 Mar 2009  
  9.   Hi!! My name is Dick (Richard) List. I stayed at the farm in 1969   and I visited in 2006. I would enjoy communicating with anyone about   the farm. I think I have some insight, and I wish to learn more. I   like Richard Fahey, but I did find him harsh.

      www.richardlistcompany@gmail.com

      Thanks!!! 

  10. Dear Mr. Powell,  

     Hello, My name is Francesca and I was born into the family of  Richard and Anna Marie Fahey. I read your blog on going to the  Homestead, and my two sister's comments. I would like to add my own  personal comment to that. I'm 24 now, and I've been gone from home  since 2001.

      I lived on the Homestead for 17 years of my life and put up with the  abuse and neglect for all that time. From the time I can remember to  when I left home, life there was a living nightmare. We were verbally  abused and threatened every day, and often didn't have enough to eat.  My biological father (I call him that because he wasn't a true  "father" figure) wasn't man enough to go out and get food for us, but  rather tried to completely rely on the food we grew. Many times there  just wasn't enough to feed all of us. I remember eating corn meal and  molasses from the feed store, and we ate boiled soybeans and whole  corn. It was in no way a healthy or balanced diet, and none of us got  enough to eat. I can remember often not having shoes or wearing shoes  that were way too small for me. We weren't taken care of when we got  sick, and I never went to the dentist when I lived there.  

     I was terrified of my father (I still am, actually), and lived in  constant fear that he was going to harm me. I remember laying in bed  at night too afraid to go to sleep, because I was scared that he was  going to hurt me. I'm sorry, but having these feelings aren't just  "parental flaws," and real parents make sure their children have  enough to eat. They don't tell their children that they never wanted  to have any children, or that they hate them. I don't remember either  of my parents EVER telling any of us that they loved us. I don't  believe they ever did. There was no love in my household. It was all  about control, fear and breaking us down. I know I was severely  brainwashed. I couldn't think for myself. I couldn't express myself. I  was helpless. That was how we were raised. We weren't allowed to have  our own opinions or express our emotions. The only emotions I knew  were anger and hate.  

       I firmly believe that my father used this method of raising us  because he wanted us to think we could only "Homestead" and that we  couldn't do anything else in life successfully. He often told me,  personally, that I would never be successful NO matter what I did. He  doesn't care about anyone, but himself, and acts like he cares about  the family that sucks up to him and pretends to agree with him.  

       I know I'm my own person and refuse to be anything else. I left  when I was 17, because there was no way I could live under that  anymore. I was ready to die, and knew I would if I didn't get away  from the misery. Since then I have had little contact with him. He  hasn't bothered to keep in contact with me at all. I served in the  army for 3 years and did a year tour in Iraq. During that whole time,  he didn't write me once. He showed no concern what so ever!  

       With my sister, Maria, who wrote in, he disowned her because she  left home to become a nun. He called her rebellious, and picked at  every little thing that she did. He even went as far as to take her  off his literature on homesteading and said he had 11 children,  instead of the actual 12. He lied about her and made up stories about  her, so that he could make her sound bad to the family. This was when  I was 10. I didn't see her again until I was 18... 8 years later. This  hurt me so much... he tore apart of me away when he did that. Over the  6 years I've had to get to know my older sister all over again... time  changes people so much!  

       And NO, Richard Fahey has NOT changed!! Just this year, he made a  big fuss about my older brother who is becoming a priest. He is upset  that my brother is driving a car and not growing his own garden. He  told my brother that he is a disgrace to the priesthood. He told my  brother that he has "lost control" over the past few years and that  his we have been coming and going as we please. He said no one was  allowed to go home unless they abided by his rules and stayed for a  week at least. He said we have to let him know and ask him in advance  if we can come home. He went as far as to tell [brother's name removed for privacy] that if he came to  visit that he wasn't allowed to go to daily Mass, even though it is  required for him to do so.  

       I could go on and on about this. Yes, there is much more and some  much worse stuff, but I just wanted to give you an idea of how  horrible he really is. I am hurt and am still angry about what he did.  He abused God's gift of children to him. Children aren't slaves, or  something that doesn't have feelings. I don't know where he is coming  from, but it isn't right, and he probably should be in jail for  everything he did to us.  

       This is NOT a case of "bad parenting," but rather a case of no  parenting. He wasn't a father. I can't call him a father, because he  wasn't a real one. "Any Fool can make a baby, but it takes a man to  raise a child"--that is so true.  

       I love my brothers and sisters with all my heart and I'm grateful  for each and every one. I don't see anything wrong with homesteading.  What is wrong is the way my parents treated us and didn't give us the  emotional love that we all needed.  

       I would love if you would post this. I want everyone to know how  things really were. If you have any questions, I will be happy to  answer them. I want to the truth to get out there. Thank you so much  for sharing your story with us! Francesca Gruszie

  11. 27 Oct 2008 [posted 2012 Mar 19]