Manhood In Real Life

Dear Wesley,

My home town of Scottsdale, AZ is a lot of things: hot, well-manicured, riddled with suburban sprawl, and home to a bazillion golf courses. The carefully cultivated expanses of fairways and greens lined the washes and edged up against the skate parks I often found myself in. At some point, I began to realize that few of them held a candle to the level of horticultural achievement that was my Dad’s backyard. A tightly woven carpet of lush, green blades; the lawn was trimmed with precision, leveled to perfection, and maintained with unceasing consistency. 

The primary weapon in my father’s assault against unruly growth was the McClane 20 Inch 4 Horse Power Self-propelled 7 Blade Front Throw Reel Mower. His tutorial to me was sober and efficient. Throttle down, pull the cord, engage the blades, drop the wheel. I remember the startling sensation of power as I hurled the machine into motion for the first time. The way the chattering handlebars fought against my grip. The bits of clippings that stuck to my skin as the aroma of cut grass, sweat, and gasoline overpowered my perception. This was the nature of a job that needed doing. 

The movies get it wrong. Manhood isn’t passed on in the death bed, gasping whisper of proverbial one liners: “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Manhood is tangible, physical, and consistent. Manhood is ritual. 

I’m not talking about any of that greatest generation, machismo, “Dad who doesn’t say I love you” stuff. I love you. I will say that along with a hundred other things that I will not leave unsaid. My Dad taught me loads of lessons. Some of them stuck, others did not. All of them were important. Apart from any of it, there is a deeply embedded sense that was caught, not taught. The repeated experience out in the back created a centered feeling of confidence, responsibility, efficiency, excellence, and love that has come to define my concept of manhood, that is if rumbling motors, spinning metal, and scattered clippings can suffice for a definition. 

To this day, I drag my own McClane 20 Inch 4 Horse Power Self-propelled 7 Blade Front Throw Reel Mower out of the shed. I guide the machine up and down my lawn as it violently trembles in rhythm. I reach a nearly meditative state as I move through the motions of conscious automaticity and the uneven surface is tamed once again. Each time I’m reminded of something important that does not quite translate into words. 

What can you do with any of this? If your teenage years happen to be wrought with a degree rebellious judgment towards your old man, save yourself the chip on your shoulder. You will be different in the ways that are important to you. But in one way or another, you will be like me. Unfortunately, I expect that the specific experience is beyond my design, but somewhere along the line something will click. When it does, do not forget it. Someday you may need to pass it on as well. 



    1. Jane, I can see the very valid concern on water consumption. However, I find rocks to be extremely hard on tiny feet and knees. As a space to make memories, I’m finding our lawn to be an incredible investment. Probably less water than a pool which are also very popular around here.

  1. I envied my brother and Dad at the mower as a girl. Oddly, I ended up with the job when I married. Does that mean I’ve earned my manhood card? Loved your teenager aimed advice to without the chip on the shoulder. Hope that works.

    1. Kami,
      Great question! I suppose there could be some sort of honorary manishness certificate for women, but somehow I don’t know if that would have the same effect. Certainly womanhood must share many similar qualities, though I imagine there are a different set of rituals that help shape understanding and identity. We could talk all day long about misguided gender norms, embedded biological distinctions, and cultural impact related to who should mow the lawn. To keep it short I will say this, in the end I don’t believe it’s about the lawn mower at all. I appreciate the well wishes on my advice. I have no idea what will work, but I figure it can’t hurt to start trying now. Thanks for reading and for your comment.

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