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Mowing the Lawn is My Favorite Dad Thing

My kid asks if he can help. He can't. Mowing is what I do and I love it.

LawnBoy; Fatherly Illustration

If I’m honest with myself, I waited too long to mow the grass. I executed the first mow of the season a full two weeks after my neighbors, who braved inclement April weather to get it done. That meant I could see the contrast: Their lawn neat and tidy as their lives; mine a tangled mess. I felt guilty every time I glimpsed it out the window or pulled into the driveway. But guilt didn’t inspire action. I stalled. I waited for spring to arrive in earnest.

Lawn care is often a product of peer pressure — not in a “keeping up with the Joneses” sense, but in a “doing the bare minimum to not offend the Joneses” sort of way. When my grass gets high, neighbors begin to joke with me in passing. They inquire, through smiles, if my mower, a two-year-old, red and silver, Honda walk-behind model with dual blades and Smart Drive, is broken. They ask about my affinity for dandelions. These are nice, forgiving people, but make no mistake, they want me to do something about the grass.

I tell them that there’s a method to my madness. I’m waiting, I say, for the grass to reach a specific height so I can use the top wheel-setting for the first mowing and then lower the mower-deck gradually over the summer, keeping my lawn greener, longer. This is bullshit. What I’m actually doing is waiting for the right moment, which is a very specific thing for a father.

I wait longer because I mow the lawn with purpose. I mow the lawn to make it a nice place to play and, in a more immediate sense, so that my son can watch me mow the lawn. On cold days, he won’t come and sit on the stoop and smell the cuttings and watch me with admiration. So I wait for the sun.

My eldest son seems to admire me most when I’m mowing. He loves the roar of the lawnmower and as I push it across the lawn I am as close as I can come to one of those burly cartoon construction workers he aspires to be like. When he was younger he would push a toy mower behind me while I walked with my head on a swivel, terrified he’d be hit by a rock kicked up by the blade, or make a sudden dash in front of the machine. He still asks if he can help, but he can’t just yet. He’s too young and, honestly, I like making him think it’s a complicated thing that only I can do.

To that end, I’ve complicated the process. I mow around my trees in a very specific way and I take tremendous care to develop a pretty crosshatch that remains visible for a whole work week unless it rains. I don’t let me wife mow. It’s dad’s thing. My son sees that and cheers me on as I work.

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His admiration is a hell of a lot more motivating than my neighbors’ affable disdain.

Also, I like it. Especially the first mow, which is something to be savored. As I walked out the door to mow for the first time this year, the air was still thick from morning thunderstorms, but the sun had come out to stand the grass on end. I had a cheap domestic beer and no reason to rush. My son was on stick duty, prowling the yard for offending kindling.

As I pulled  — once, then twice, then roar — he laughed and smiled.

It took three passes along the outside perimeter for me to create a track wide enough for me to turn the entire mower in. It’s an important part of my method. Then I started my diagonal passes. As I approached the street, a neighbor slowed in their car, smiled, and waved. My kid trotted behind me swinging each stick he plucked from the lawn like a sword.

Over the course of the summer, I will fall into the familiar rhythm and walk a familiar trail. Mowing becomes less self-conscious and more meditative over time. My son’s enthusiasm wanes slightly.

For all my complaints, this time I will spend pacing back and forth across my lawn for the next four months, is completely mine. There is nothing more I can do but walk behind the blades as my child grows up beside me, waiting to take his own turn behind the mower. It’s easy to forget what mowing means after a dark cold winter. It’s easy to remember on the first mow in the afternoon sun.

When finished with the first mow, I freed the handle from my grip and killed the motor, which died with a sputter. The neighborhood was suddenly quiet but for the bird song and my boy’s little voice asking questions. “When would we mow again?” Overdramatically, I wiped the sweat from my brow, cracked a beer, and pondered this question. I opted to avoid a definitive answer.

I mow the lawn when I need to mow the lawn. That has almost nothing to do with the grass.