Lately, I’ve been working on cleaning up my yard. If you’ve read this column for a while, you might remember that last January the G.P. (my Dad) dug vast trenches across my half acre back yard trying to ferret out a busted gas line. The pits are filled in, but there’s a pretty serious rubble problem – I’ve seen less rutted wheat fields. Also, since this is Corpus and the soil is evidently made of clay, salt and driveway cleaner, nothing except especially hardy bind weed seems to grow.
Some weeds needed whacking, so off I headed to my parents’ house, intent upon borrowing the devil device. Dad was loathe to hand it over because he and his next door neighbor were locked in The Great String Trimmer Battle of Passive Aggression.
“He doesn’t think I edge enough,” said the mortally offended G.P. “That bastard offered to let me use his trimmer. I’ve got four of the things.”
“What a jerk! Can I use ONE of them, though, Dad? The yard looks like I’m trying to create a habitat for wayward cheetahs.”
“I may be an old man,” he replied, “but I can still do that job a whole hell of a lot better than you can.”
The argument was unstoppable, but not because it was particularly good or logical. It’s very true that the G.P., with his approximately 300 years of both actual and genetically engineered farmer experience, is much better at weed whacking than I am. However, when I was a small child, he was infinitely better at walking than I was. I’m pretty sure it was still important for me to learn.
“I won’t get better if I don’t keep trying, Dad.”
He snorted and walked back into his office. He knew I couldn’t win. Like a house cat, the G.P. doesn’t enjoy playing with a dead mouse.
He came over and worked on my yard that afternoon. The weeds in the easement behind the fence are taller than I am, so he didn’t get too far. He mixed me up several gallons of Round-up and sent me off on a mission of murder. I crawled into the thicket and liberally basted everything I could reach and carpet bombed what I couldn’t.
A couple of days later, the Round-up hadn’t killed anything – some stuff may have actually gotten bigger. I went back over to Dad’s to address the problem and gather more tools. I’m building planters out of the boards that were left after the G.P. cut my large back deck in half (the gas line was evidently more difficult to find than Nemo), and I needed a circular saw and a drill. Dad was in a rough mood that morning. He had capitulated and edge trimmed his front yard – a brutal defeat.
“Dad,” I yelled, as Stadler and I barreled through his front door, “the stupid Round-up didn’t work. Should I make some Napalm?”
My family knows to take my threats of chemical deforestation very seriously. The G.P. practically ran out of his office and into the living room, probably expecting to see me holding a can of gas and some Styrofoam. Relieved at my apparent lack of flammable ingredients, Dad listened to my admittedly ambitious solution to my yard problems.
“I’m an OLD MAN, AB! I can’t be the family’s pack mule anymore!” he exploded, stormily retreating to his sanctum, barely sparing a backwards glance to make sure I wasn’t arming myself with old batteries.
“Okay, Dad,” I said, feeling awful about asking for more than he could give. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die for making my heroically indomitable father admit any sort of weakness. I slunk away home. This time I was beaten badly, even though I left with the tools I’d come for.
Twenty minutes later, I was outside scrubbing the remains of my deck, berating myself for being an ingrate. Then, I remembered that just 5 months ago my father spent weeks single-mindedly digging up my yard like a gopher loaded on high quality methamphetamine. “OH MY GOD,” I thought, “It’s a freakin’ gambit!” I laughed aloud, realizing that while my father may getting old, he’s still a far better card shark than I’ll ever be.
“The Old Man Card”
My father is hilariously sly — always, so it comes as no surprise that he’s figured out a way to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, without any argument from the rest of us. Excited, I posted my new theory on Facebook:
“’The Old Man Card’ is by far the most powerful in the familial deck. It trumps every other card, inflicts maximum damage, cannot ever be used by any other opponent, is only applicable to one turn, and returns to the wielder’s hand directly after each use. The only conceivable drawback is that you have to BE an old man to throw it – but only for the one turn.”
“Har, har, har,” the G.P. replied. “We may be shriveled shells of our former selves, but we still have the ‘Old Man Card.’”
I wasn’t buying it.
“…and that’s how you play the card, Methuselah. In an hour, you’ll be Thor again.”
Behind the poker face
My father is my favorite person, and bears responsibility (along with Star Wars and badgers) for my sense of humor. He earned his “Great Provider” nickname when he decided that our demise was imminent due to the Rev traveling to Washington, D.C. Off he went to the grocery store, reappearing in the kitchen 30 minutes later juggling 3 watermelons and two bursting sacks full of frozen bean and cheese burritos. “WE WILL SURVIVE!” he crowed, “…but it could get a little stinky.”
Dad isn’t perfect, but he has given me many wonderful gifts. He taught me about survival and self-sufficiency, and, in that way, he has saved my life many times over. He showed me how to swim, and taught me how words work and why thinking matters. But the greatest of my father’s gifts, as the apostle Paul so aptly noted, is love. He gave me not only his love as a father, but inspired my love for nature and music. When I was most hurt, he revealed that there is a great glow that is the sum and center of us, and he has never once let me forget. At Christmas dinner this year, my Dad stared out over the quiet sea and said, “I may be old, but I still experience moments of profound joy almost every day. That’s what makes everything so worth it.”
I hope he lives forever.