I wanted to do everything he did. One of my early memories is of a time when Dad was painting something at the old farmhouse we lived in. I wanted to paint too, with a brush. My grandmother gave me some crayons and told me I could ‘paint’ on some paper. I knew the difference. I wanted to paint like dad, with a brush and real paint.
I wanted to be like him. I wanted to do what he did.
Apparently, I was relentless about this desire to ‘be like dad’. And it came to a dramatic climax around the issue of cutting grass. Mom and Dad say that when I was 5 or so, I would cry because I wanted to cut grass like dad. I could hardly reach the handle of the push mower he used. But I wanted to cut the grass and I was serious!
So, Dad lowered the bar. Literally. My father used a propane torch to heat up the metal pipes that curved into the handle bar used to push the lawnmower. He adjusted the mower so I could cut grass. There are no pictures or video of my first trip across the yard with my customized Montgomery Ward 20” mower with the 3.5 HP Briggs and Stratton engine. But I’m sure my grin was wide and bright.
Thus, it began. I could cut grass like dad. I experienced the satisfaction of seeing the results of my work. Every trip around the yard made it look better and got me closer to a finished job. I learned to maintain the mower. I filled the tank and checked the oil. As it aged, and developed a mechanical ‘personality’, I learned the tricks to get it started and keep it running.
I felt responsible and important. I was doing work and making a contribution. I felt manly.
There are many stories about other yards, other mowers and other skills that I learned along the way. But let me flash forward about 30 years. It wasn’t a surprise that my sons each wanted to be like dad, which included cutting the grass. While I never literally ‘lowered the bar’ for my boys, many adjustments have been made for them. I often tell folks, “Well there’s a reason that it looks like elementary school kids cut my grass. And the reason is that elementary school kids cut my grass. They just happen to be my sons.”
And guess what, they had the same experience. It made them feel manly.
They started young (with appropriate supervision and safety instructions) but each of my sons has learned work ethic. Pride and satisfaction in a job well done. The value of proper maintenance and care of equipment. As they’ve worked for others, they’ve learned to interact with customers. They’ve even learned how to sell and purchase equipment. (Sadly, I don’t own a single piece of the lawn equipment in our shed. I guess I’ll have to buy it from them when the last one leaves home.)
I could go on here but I think you get the picture. When my dad lowered the bar for me, it provided an opportunity for me to climb the ladder of manhood. I’m thankful for this and have been excited to keep the tradition going with my sons.
Rich Babbit, a personal friend and member of the NW Board of Directors actually wrote a book about lessons learned while mowing grass and delivering papers. From Paperboy to Boomer: How Lessons Learned from Paper Routes and Lawn Mowing Have Shaped 10 Skill Sets of Today’s Leaders.