Houzz Call: How Did Your Dad Shape Your Idea of Home?

When I was a kid, my dad was always in the yard. He spent almost every weekend mowing, weeding, edging, pulling, cutting and trimming. This was in a suburb of Houston hot, humid and swarming with insects. The St. Augustine grass lawn was like a battlefield. My dad versus fire ants, mosquitoes, chiggers, and copperhead and cottonmouth snakes. At any given time, he wielded a chainsaw, a mower, a blower, an edger, a Weed Eater, a branch trimmer or a rusty machete, just like the one in the Friday the 13th movies. And I loved it.

Mom kept the house running day to day — cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, shopping, packing lunches, shuffling my siblings and me to school and various sports. The exterior and yard were my dad’s domain, and that was where my mother shooed us to on the weekends so she could have some peace while she got the house in order and watched her soap operas.

Over time my dad taught me to use his various — and dangerous — tools, slowly passing some of the lawn duties down to my brother and me. But not all of them. He enjoyed working in the yard too much to relinquish all the responsibilities.

One summer in my early teens, I tried starting a neighborhood lawn-mowing business to earn money and impress my father the way my brother had successfully done the previous summer. I wasn’t very good at it, though. And my dad often had to accompany me to make sure the job was done right and the customer was satisfied. But he never complained. I think he was just happy to be working in a yard, in the sunshine, gritty soil up to his elbows, a machine in his hands, a welcome departure from his office job as an accountant.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was getting a crash course from my dad and mom on what it takes to care for a home. It’s one of the most joyful things in life, but also one that requires constant patience, maintenance, upkeep, time and money. Even after you go through the long process of buying or building a home, and hiring pros to perform renovations or additions, there’s always going to be something that needs your love and attention. And that hard work can be an immense source of pleasure.

I don’t have a yard, but I do have a balcony where I spend a lot of Saturdays with my kids planting and repotting plants and trimming dead branches, hands deep in potting soil, away from the computer. And we spend most Sundays cooking, cleaning and doing laundry, those precious skills I learned from my mother.
Sometimes I wonder if these moments are burning an image of me into my kids’ memories, similar to the one I have of my father toiling away to get the yard in shape. Or maybe their conception of me will be completely different.

It’s a pointless exercise, of course. They’ll remember what they remember. But I take a lot of comfort in just being able to have them around to observe, ask their infinite questions and get their hands dirty, just like I was able to do with my dad. No doubt they are absorbing some knowledge about the importance, privilege and joy of maintaining a home.

Today, my dad is in his early 70s. He has a landscaper who comes by once a week to do the regular yard maintenance. And that’s good. He certainly earned it. But he’s always working on little projects — painting rooms, washing windows. I recently shared the Houzz photo shown here of a potting station with my mother, who excitedly showed it to my father. Now he is determined to create something similar for her in the backyard of their Southern California home.

My dad wants me to drive down this summer to help with some of the work. The kids too. That way they can be a part of the action. Who knows, maybe it’s the kind of “dad work” they’ll be thinking about, and emulating, decades from now.

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