Like many American fathers, mine always took a special pride in the appearance of his yard. Quite a few dads measure a large portion of their worth by the quality of their lawn. Because of my father, I could probably teach a brief course on the best way to care for your grass. That does not, however, mean that I would actually be capable of maintaining it. If yards were haircuts, my father’s yard is a healthy quaff styled by a true master, whereas mine would be more like the patchy remnants of alopecia hacked and mashed by a crystal meth addict. Needless to say, he holds the highest standards for yard work and my passage into manhood had a lot to do with that.
When I was thirteen, it had been debated if I was truly ready to learn to wield the power of the riding lawnmower. Up until that point, my chores included keeping the house free of trash, the garage free of dirt and the driveway free of leaves. Sometimes my father would have me dig a hole or whack weeds but mowing the lawn was out of the question, the closest I ever got was when he would have me edge the house with a pair of hand shears. Things changed when I turned thirteen, though. I was ready and everyone knew it. I prepared myself because by doing five sit-ups every morning and beating myself with reeds because I knew that summer would be the summer I became a man. Training was hard but I eventually had all the information and practice that I needed to mow the hell out of a lawn and, for a moment, my father was proud of me. I was shining in the sunlight of his love.
One afternoon, I noticed that the mower needed to be fueled but had difficulty locating any gasoline. I spent the better part of an hour running back and forth between the garage and shed hunting for any small red container with a few drops of fuel until I was exhausted. Then I remembered seeing several red canisters in the very back of the shed. Two were empty but one substantially different looking silver canister had plenty of fuel in it. I quickly dumped it into the gas tank and tried to start the engine. The mower started, ran for a second, made a bad smell, shuddered and then died. Having tried to restart it a dozen or so times, I gave up and went inside to consult my mother. When I replayed the events to her, she went into a panicked rage. I was informed that I had put kerosene into the mower and that my father was going to murder me when he got home. This was not first time I had been promised death upon the return of my father. When I was two, I once crammed several wads of electrical tape into a VCR and, at age ten, I had lit fireworks off in the house.
The relationship between a father and son contains a deep unexplainable love and a deeper even more unexplainable animosity. Dads spend their lives passing important information onto their sons while resisting the urge to crush their heads with their bare hands. It’s been this way since ancient times. For whatever reason, my father opted not to destroy me but he also did not trust me to touch anything of his that held any value for the remainder of that year. I did not have to mow the lawn once that summer and was free to loaf about with my friends, read and write all I wanted. All it cost me was my father’s respect forever.
I’m lucky to have even been able to share this with you this week. I’m reasonably certain that every animal between Detroit and Chicago has tried to place itself directly in front of traffic. I very nearly hit three deer on my motorcycle just last night. If you drive, be safe out there. If you don’t drive, well I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before animals wander into the cities and try to derail your train or poison themselves in your apartment.