“Look at what he’s doing to your lawn!” my neighbor screams from his deck. My dad is busy fixing or building something. Maybe it’s the lattice fence that fell apart during the winter or the storm door that won’t close all the way. My dad works so much that when he has time off he spends it doing the things he wishes he could do around the house, but usually doesn’t have the time.
I’m marching up and down, moving left to right, and zigzagging around our property with the lawn mower. I’m in my teens and mowing the lawn for maybe the fourth or fifth time in my life. My dad taught me the necessary safety precautions – make sure you wear sneakers or closed toe shoes, have long pants on, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, and never, ever put your hands or feet near the blade when the lawn mower is on under any circumstances – and then let me go from there after I watched him for a couple of minutes and assured him I understood the basics.
“Looking good,” my dad says after a quick peek. “Keep going.”
My neighbor goes back inside, perplexed that my dad’s allowing me to continue doing whatever I’m doing to my family’s lawn. Later that day my neighbor’s wife tells my mom, “I can’t believe your husband allowed your son to cut your lawn,” she says. “My husband never let our boys touch our lawn.”
As a boy, it’s one of those things that you think about for a couple of minutes and then move on to something else – the girl you have a crush on, wondering why you became a Mets fan when there’s another team in New York that would’ve given you so much more to cheer for, or asking when dinner is since you’re growing and always hungry.
As a man, you take a step back and acknowledge how lucky you are to have a father who builds you up, instead of knocking you down, who teaches you the basics, but ultimately lets you discover and use a method or system that works best for you, and when you do fail, let’s you know that it’s a part of life and that success is right around the corner.
A father-son relationship is all about the intangibles and the types of experiences that can’t be quantified, but you know have made all the difference in your life. And that’s what makes it so difficult with trying to give back to your father, especially when he says, “I have everything I need” or “I don’t need anything else” when you ask about potential gifts for a birthday or holiday.
“Actually,” my dad will say. And I’ll start getting excited that I can give back to the man who has given me so much. “I can use some underwear.”
Is this guy for real? I want to give him the world and he wants tighty-whities. And then years later your family asks you what you want for Christmas and you say, “Underwear.” And it’s during that moment that you understand everything you haven’t understood for years. Life starts to make sense.
You’re on your way to becoming the man you man you’ve always wanted to become and know it’s all because of the man who paved the way for you.