The difference between an adolescent and a grown-ass man is — if you’ll pardon the gatekeeping — the difference between a guy mowing a lawn and a guy mowing his lawn. But, do we, America’s lawnmower men, actually, enjoy giving the Eremochloa ophiuroides a buzz cut? That depends on who you ask. Men seem to fall into two camps on the issue. Some adore mowing the lawn, equating it to drugs or meditation or some kind of quasi-sexual suburban release. Others… not so much. It’s something we do, but we have mixed feelings about it as a community.
Within the Fatherly offices (remember offices?) the schism feels Northern Irish in town. Violence hasn’t yet broken out between Patrick Coleman, parenting editor and lawn care aficionado, and Ryan Britt, news editor and a detester of the Cub Cadet, but it feels like it will. Naturally, we thought it best to create a forum for their animosity so we invited them to debate the issue. What follows is a transcript of what happened next. We’ll probably have to hand this over to HR as evidence.
Patrick Coleman: In the mowing-is-fun corner is Patrick Coleman. He’s a father of two boys, has a big beard, and is known around these parts as the Goodfather. He did not give himself that nickname, but he really leaned into it, which is a bit suspicious. He puts ice coffee in koozies — or at least we think that’s ice coffee.
Ryan Britt: In the I-hate-mowing-the-lawn corner is Ryan Britt. He’s the father of one girl, his beard fluctuates and he’s no stranger to the unpopular opinions. It’s also worth noting here that Ryan is an accomplished debater. We know that because he told us.
The TV star, drug trafficker, and (arguably) comedian Tim Allen once quipped that his mother thought “the only reason men are alive is for lawn care and vehicle maintenance.” If lawn care is at the very core of a man’s existence, is that good or bad? Should men love to mow? Should they hate it? And, ultimately, should they accept it?
Ryan: Patrick, I gotta say, I’m appalled that you have come out openly and said that you enjoy mowing your lawn. As a fellow father, I feel totally betrayed
Patrick: Ryan, I’m stunned by the fact that, as a father, you have eschewed a fundamentally fatherly task in maintaining your grounds.
Ryan: I haven’t eschewed anything. My lawn is mowed as we speak. I’m just offended and, to be honest, frightened that you are claiming to enjoy the task. To me, a father admitting he likes lawn work (much less believing it) makes him an alien lifeform. Yes, we all have to mow the lawn, but I think we all would rather be watching Dr. No on our iPhones while drinking a rum and coke, no?
Patrick: Your lawn might be mowed. But is there any soul in it? Is there any pride? Is there anything that connects you to what is essentially the public face of your home? That’s why I find enjoyment in the task. It’s more art form than a chore. It’s a way to mark myself and my family in my neighborhood.
Ryan: Okay, so you’re more of a Roger Moore guy. I see. You’re making a complex, layered joke about liking to do something that you actually hate. You’re implying that you enjoy hating chores just as much as I do, but you’re doing it through some kind of arch performance art piece which creates the “concept” of a father who believes in the “art” of mowing the lawn. Very clever, Coleman. Very clever. I see where you’re going with this. “The public face of the home.” Where did you come up with that? That’s really brilliant. I’ll have to remember that next time I take on this “role.” It’s quite ingenious, really. I applaud it.
Patrick: I’m afraid I’m being completely earnest, Ryan. It’s less Roger Moore and more Walt Whitman. Mowing the lawn is a task I enjoy because it’s a chore for which I have a system — one that is deeply personal and based more on hunches than objective truth, which makes the way I mow very personal. When I mow, I am using my muscles and my sweat to make order out of chaos. I delight in the brawny romp that is pushing the growling machine across my personal landscape. And when it is finished I have a deep sense of personal pride and reward. Surely there is a “chore” that makes you feel the same.
Ryan: The best kind of brawny romp, to me, is found in the locker room scenes in Top Gun. That’s a brawny romp.
To answer your question directly, no, I don’t enjoy chores. I have never liked chores. To me, yard work is a weird punishment for having a yard. It’s like if you won a race, and you get a medal, and then the people who gave you the medal said, “Okay, now you have to smelt some gold.” This is what I object to, I think being good at mowing the lawn is fine. I think that I just never want to discuss it. To me, it’s one notch above being good at plumbing. Necessary? Yes. Admirable? Certainly. Fun? Come on.
Patrick: Imma stick with poetry for a second, because I’m a romantic. What’s strange to me is that where you can see art in film and books you can’t see art in mowing a lawn. Making books and movies takes work. You work to express yourself or a larger idea and you’re happy to do it because it connects to some ineffable thing deep inside you. That’s what makes the work enjoyable even in times of tedium. My lawn is ongoing work. It is different from the other lawns. The pattern I mow into it and the way the grass grows is distinct from my neighbors. If we all hired a company all our lawns would look the same and some fundamental sense of art and goodness would be lost in my neighborhood.
Ryan: Okay, first of all, writing poetry and mowing the lawn are not mutually exclusive. Second, I’m sorry, but mowing our lawns is actually a weird construct we inherited from the 1950s. It’s a type of conformity. It’s all about fitting in with your neighbors. People didn’t mow their lawns until other people did. Okay, Boomer?
Finally, let me put it to you this way. I accept that you enjoy this. I accept it’s some kind of deranged Stockholm syndrome. You’ve fallen in love with your captor. You can’t help it. It’s sick, but I accept it. But, be honest with me on this. Imagine a magical genie appears to you. The genie says that you will NEVER have to mow your lawn or maintain your yard ever again. It will be done by magic. It will look perfect, and you won’t have to lift a finger. All he asks for in exchange is one of your nuts. I know what I would say. I would say, “Only one?”
Patrick: Sure, mowing a lawn as a discrete activity popped up about the time America’s first suburb, Levittown, New York excluded its first Jewish resident (whose ancestors got the last laugh anyway), but I reject that lineage. Mowing my lawn is conformist in as much as it’s something I do to make my landscaping inoffensive to my neighbors. Beyond that, everything about it is unique to me. I prefer to connect my lawn mowing back to the first nations who managed the wilderness for hunting and farming long before the Europeans ever arrived. Is that problematic? Hell yes. I’m a white man mowing a lawn on what was by all likelihood native land. But here we are. The work I put into my lawn shows through. It shows who I am as an individual keeper of this place. It is unique in my community but part of the rich, literal, landscape of my community. We’ve been cultivating and managing nature long before the suburbs. This is a very faint and distant echo of that deeply human urge.
Ryan: Okay, I’ll sweeten the deal. You don’t have to give up one of your nuts. The genie makes you a better deal. They say, “Same rules. Magically perfect lawn. You never have to mow your lawn again, but, you do have to watch How To Lose a Guy In Ten Days once a week, totally sober.” How about that?
Patrick: First of all, I do that anyway. McConaughey is a goddamn national treasure. Second of all, it’s not in the genie’s power to give me the perfect lawn because the perfect lawn is the lawn that I have created. You talk like a lawn is a discrete object. It’s not. It lives and changes. My mowing changes with it throughout the year. Let me tell you a quick story. I did my first mow on Memorial Day weekend, as is my tradition. That’s when the spring bees have made use of the dandelions and the insects have abandoned the leaf litter winter shelter. By that time the lawn is looking shaggy. I know it’s time to mow when I feel the slight, exquisite edge of tension as my neighbors walk by because the grass is getting long. Anyway, I get out the mower. Smell the tang of gas as I fill it. Pull start that fucker and feel it vibrate in my hands and then I make my slow walk. Starting the cut at a bias, from one corner to the other. Back and forth. The sound of the engine obliterating the world. Meditative. And when I’m done I sit on an Adirondack chair and look out on my mighty works.
You know what’s wild? The pattern from the last year shows up, like a ghost image. It’s beautiful. Can the genie give me that? That satisfaction and sensory feast? No.
Okay, I’m glad we can agree that McConaughey is great in How to Lose a Guy In Ten Days. I’d change the genie scenario to forcing you to watch Failure to Launch, but that seems gratuitous. What I’m puzzled by now is this. It’s 2020: Why are you using a mower that makes that much noise? You’re telling me you actually like that noise? I have an electric mower! And, I listen to music on my headphones while I’m mowing the lawn. Are you actually trying to recreate the 1960s or something? Do you cosplay as Don Draper or Michael Shannon from The Shape of Water after you do this? What kind of sensory feast is this? Did you slip into some kind of spacetime vortex? An electric mower is pretty cheap, man. I put that shit on my Lowe’s card.
Internal combustion is part of the deal for me.
That said, I could be persuaded to switch to electric. The art would still be there, even if the growl of the lawnmower wasn’t. There is joy in the final product. There is pride. But the process is what makes me happiest. It’s possible that I simply have a bizarre lawn fetish. But if it’s a fetish, then I’m all in.
Ryan: I guess that’s where we’ll never see eye-to-eye. I am glad you’ve admitted this is a fetish. On some level, I feel vindicated. I feel like I understand you better. You’re a hobbyist. A perverse hobbyist by your own admission, but a hobbyist none the less. You’ve sublimated something I loathe into something that feels like pleasure. It’s kinky. I don’t share that kink. But, I guess, I can respect it.
Patrick: On behalf of lawn fetishists everywhere, thank you for seeing us.
Ryan: You’ve been seen. Now, I’m going to get back to watching Dr. No on my iPhone
We’re calling this one a draw until we get a look at Lawn Daddy’s internet history. And, frankly, no one on staff wants to do that.