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.
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 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.
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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