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Grass and the Dad

lawn mowing _ grassThat’s okay, kids. Go ahead and laugh. I don’t mind. After all, it’s not every day you get to see your dad crawling across the wet lawn on his stomach, soaked and muddy, in full view of the neighbors.

Don’t think I’m relaxing. I’m not here to enjoy the first warm sun of early spring. And, no, I’m not interested in gazing up at the white, wispy clouds, either. Here, on this patch of land, with my face only inches from the ground, there is serious work to be done. I am a man on a mission. I am pulling up weeds by hand.

I know it sounds obsessive, maybe even crazy. But grabbing hold of a bristling tuft of chickweed and yanking it out by the roots is just the sort of thing dads will do to keep their lawns looking lush and thick and green.

And remember, kids, we do it all for you. We know how much you like to roll on the grass. We look forward to setting up the sprinkler for you to jump through. And there’s nothing like feeling the turf under your bare feet as you chase lightning bugs in the evenings once summer rolls around.

But who am I trying to fool? The truth is, we do it all for us. Because somewhere in the deep, hardwired ganglia of every dad’s brain lies a primal, age-old urge: Be one with the grass.

That’s right: We like to plant it. We like to nurse it. We like to measure it.
And yes, I’ll admit it: Once it grows to a tall and sturdy three-inch height, we even like to cut it.

Mom, for some reason, just doesn’t understand. “What is it with the grass?” she asks every year about this time as I join the legions of dads who are dethatching, deep-core aerating and filling small plastic bags with dirt to send off to the local cooperative-extension office for acid-analyzing soil tests. Well, I could try to explain it, but I know Mom would only suffer an acute and sudden onset of MEGO – or “my eyes glaze over.” Besides, this time of year, she only seems to care about hanging pretty flowerpots and planting blooming bushes to give the yard an instant color makeover, the amateur’s shortcut to some quick-and-easy fl ash.

Instead, Dad keeps his eye firmly on the foundation. Forget about giving form and shape to landscaped mulch beds or ivy-covered trellises or carefully tended rosebushes; those are all respectable ambitions for another day. But earth and seed and the long-delayed gratification that comes with germination? All this puts Dad in touch with his natural, ancient link to the earth, even if that amounts to only a bit more than a quarter-acre on a suburban street. You can trace the tradition back as far as you like. The sod of the high school football field. The lush greens and fairways of Augusta National. Even the toil and sweat of Pa Ingalls erecting his “Little House on the Prairie.” This is the land.And in his bones, every dad knows that a man must work the land God has given him.

As grass season approaches, Dad starts eyeing the calendar. But trust me: This isn’t the same calendar you keep on your wall. Right now, most kids are probably getting ready for spring break or the Easter Bunny. But Dad is getting ready to apply pre-emergent crab grass control to the lawn just as soon as the forsythia blooms. True, by May, you’re most likely looking forward to the last day of school. For his part, Dad is planning to lay down a second round of fertilizer (Carpetmaker 16-4-8, if you please). Now comes mid-summer, and all you care about is splashing in the pool every lazy afternoon. But Dad’s eyes narrow as he spies more broadleaf weeds – Buckhorn, Purslane, Henbit and others – trying to sneak back into the yard. You don’t want to know what happens to them.

As Labor Day nears, you’re probably stocking up on school supplies. By this time, though, Dad is weighing the pros and cons of turf-type tall fescue seed varieties with names like Shenandoah, Falcon II, Shadee and Titan. And the job of spreading the seed – or taking on the even more thrilling challenge known as “total lawn renovation” – can easily take Dad back to his grunting, monosyllabic roots. Ready to plant? Rake the loam to make sure seed meets soil. Then throw out some lime. Lay down salt hay if you like (helps keep birds off). Make sure to keep seed bed wet. Use your hose, but keep it light – set to mist. Now we wait.

And wait some more, until the tiny green sprouts begin to push their way up towards the sun. And as they do, we dads think of all the home-improvement skills that elude us, all the tasks around the house only halfway completed.No, I can’t replace the gas valve on the furnace or fix the chimney flashing to keep the roof from leaking. I don’t know how to get the hot-water side of the upstairs bathroom sink to stop dripping.I don’t have a clue about how to repair my car or restore my wood deck or unclog my garbage disposal.

But grass I know how to grow. And I don’t need anyone’s help to do it. That’s why you’ll find me stretched out here on the ground again next spring, eyeing the thatch, scratching the tilth and extolling the virtues of a good, soaking rain. So go ahead, kids. Laugh all you want. But remember this: There’s a 21-horsepower Toro lawnmower out in the shed, ready to be fired up for another season. Mark my words – and don’t forget to count the syllables:

One day, all this will be yours.

Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. He lives in Richmond’s West End with his wife, Laura, and their children, Lucy and Will. He writes for the DadZone every other month and shares theater reviews occasionally too.
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