undeaddad

explorations of mindful fatherhood


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Leaf-a-phobia

raked_leaves_pile_212753Standing on my lawn in a sea of red, yellow, and brown leaves last weekend, I couldn’t help but notice the alien green glow of my neighbors’ grass.  Their carpets of rolling green stretched on forever, unblemished by a single speck on non-green.

Sometime it seems as though the neighbors are deathly afraid of leaves.  Looking at their lawns, you’d be amazed we live in a community of trees, because come Fall, the leaves seem to magically disappear as soon as they hit the ground.  I’m gone when they disappear.  I believe that trucks of workers drive in during the weekdays and do their noisy covert work, cleaning away any vestiges of tree remains.  I’m trying to figure out if it’s intentional.  Do my neighbors really dislike the leaves and want to see them cleared regularly?  Or, is it simply a byproduct of their scheduled home maintenance?  In other words, do their regularly scheduled lawn-care plans mean that the leaves just disappear with everything else on a weekly basis, in a matter-of-face, un-examined way.

Regardless, there are no leaves.

Standing ankle deep in my own leaves this past weekend, I noticed the chill in the air, the empty trees, the barren flower beds.  I noticed the death all around. The death that comes every year.  The dryness and decay made me think of my own losses.  Hopes that have faded, or opportunities that have been lost.  But all this thought about death and loss didn’t necessary depress me.  I didn’t feel alone in the loss.  I didn’t feel as though the loses where solely attached to my fate. The world goes through a period of loss, death, and decay.  Because I was surrounded by the brown dryness of dead leaves, I felt like a part of something; part of a cycle.

I went about collecting leaves in order to cut my still-growing October grass, and had created a pile under my son’s tree-trapeze.  Given how many trees we have on our property, even the mid-October pile was a sight to behold, and my son’s eyes lit up with excitement.  He spent the next few hours swinging and jumping into the leaves, calling me over each time he invented a new trick.  He had me swing him, or remove his step-ladder, or video him taking his leaps.

The green grass under the leaves and my son’s gleeful play led me to think about the exuberant life that’s only capable of flourishing because of the cycle of death in the world.  Without the leaves losing their foliage, by son wouldn’t have his crunchy mattress to leap into.  Without the nutrients from the death and decay, the rest of the world couldn’t grow and find its vibrancy.

Perhaps I was waxing too poetic.  They’re just leaves.  But I couldn’t help but notice all these feelings that welled up, simply standing outside, doing a bit of yard work.  It made me think about the contrast between my yard and some others.  It made me think about the ways in which we organize our lives to keep the death out; to keep things pretty until the first flakes of snow white-out the landscape.  I think it’s hard tolerating death, disorder, chaos.  That’s what leaves represent.  They are the loss of all that was beautiful and vibrant over the summer.  Sure they’re pretty in all their colorful splendor when they’re still on the trees, or novel when they’re underfoot in a park or a nature preserve, but once they fall on our lawns, they sit there like dead bodies in our front yards.  And the process of collecting them is like cleaning up the mess and disorder of death, carting them off in bags or trucks, or burning them on great pyres.

But if we can’t sit with them, if we can’t tolerate them for this season, then we rob ourselves of those reminders.  We rob ourselves of the full cycle of life, and miss the opportunity to feel that we are not alone in our losses.  We rob ourselves of the opportunities to see the joy and life that comes from death.

We need to pile up those leaves while we can, and jump in with abandon.

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Shoveling My Own Goddamn Driveway

snow-shovelingSome of you may have noticed that parts of the East Coast are getting a bit of snow today, as a blizzard is forecast to hit the Northeast.  As much as 30″ of snow is expected and, unlike my neighbors, I’ve got my shovels ready.

I’ve mentioned before that my family inhabits the smallest house on the block, a tiny cape home overshadowed by the McMansions down the street.  It seems as though each of these mini-fortresses is served by an army of service industry people: house cleaners, landscapers, contractors, handy-men. They even have their groceries and dry cleaning delivered.  I have only seen one other person in a couple block radius mowing his or her own lawn in the summer, which I’m sure will launch another post come June.

The same is true for snow removal.  I always shovel out my own driveway.  I should say WE always do it, because my wife is always there with me, each of us starting at one end and meeting in the middle like a cold, suburban version of Lady and the Tramp.  Our son gets suited up and runs around making snow angels and occasionally pelting us with snowballs.  It’s hard work.  We sweat and get nasty.  But we also have fun, and finish up with a sense of pride and a cup of hot chocolate.

As I get older, I realize that a lot of my pride is tied up in domestic labor.  Whether it’s good or bad I can’t tell, but somehow it speaks to my sense of manhood.  I like being the one outside working on the house to make life better for the family.  I like the idea that my son is watching me work hard, break a sweat, and get a job done.  I remember watching my own dad do it.  He seemed to know how to do everything.  He did all the mundane stuff like lawn mowing, snow shoveling, and landscaping, but he also built swing sets, tree houses, and even two additions to our house!  I remember watching him and being in awe.  I didn’t understand how he came to know all he did about electrical, plumbing, and carpentry, but I wanted to be that knowledgeable one day.  I wanted to be able to do what he could do.

I think that’s why I’m so fixated on doing things around the house myself.  I want my son to see me out there working.  I want him to see that he can do things for himself one day.  That he can learn to take care of himself and his family.  I make attempts at joining him in that work, like when we built a tree house together with less that optimal results (see my previous post).  But I try anyways.  It might seem prideful, but there’s a part of me that wants my son to think I can do anything.

So, when I see other houses calling in the snow plows, I experience an odd mixture of pity and resentment.  Their kids don’t get to see their parents struggling to contend with the snow.  Don’t get to join in the fun and toil.  Don’t get to share in a well-deserved cup of hot chocolate.  There’s also a self-centered part of me that resents seeing the plows because I believe everyone should think the way that I do.  That they should all want to be outside doing things for their house on their own.  I’ve read posts by dads who praise hired help because it gives them more time with the kids.  I can respect that approach.  If I had back every hour spent cutting the lawn or shoveling snow, I might have used it to have more fun with my family.  And granted, my neighbors probably have a lot more time freed up to spend with their children.  That’s probably part of the resentment I feel as the flocks of snow plows or pick-ups head down my street.

But for me, I like doing it myself.  I like the sense of accomplishment, and I like the message it sends to my son. That each of us has a responsibility and a role in keeping the family going, in fixing what is broken, and in cleaning up our own messes.