Father’s Day 2018: Five Lessons Dad Taught Me About Life In the Garden

Me, my dad and my sister circa 1965

Dad was always up early when I was a child. On weekdays he went to the office, but on weekends the real work began. These were the days that dad devoted to yard work. My sister and I were a fundamental part of his crew.

Dad ran a tight ship and an orderly landscape was testament to our mighty team effort. As garden ‘personnel’, my sister and I raked, clipped, pulled weeds and hauled yard waste on a seasonal basis. We weren’t fans of the work, but we were big fans of dad’s, and the shared chores were a good way to spend outdoor time together.

It wasn’t until much later in life that we realized something more than gardening had been going on in the yard. While my sister and I toiled in the dirt, dad had been teaching us some valuable life lessons. Here are five things I learned from my dad in the garden that continue to infuse my life with purpose and meaning today.

Delay gratification

Until the work was done, there would be no rides to the pool, quick trips to Dunkin’ Donuts or play dates with friends. This was a hard lesson to learn since by Saturday morning most of our buddies were already hard at play. My sister and I gradually discovered, though, that delaying our playtime actually increased our enjoyment of it later. In finishing our yard chores first, we developed patience and strengthened our willpower. Over time, we grew to relish the psychic benefits of putting off fun until our tasks were accomplished.

Do quality work

One of my jobs was to crawl around the periphery of the house with garden shears to trim the stray grass left behind by the mower. About halfway around the exterior, I usually got tired and started cutting corners. My dad always noticed those areas where I had slacked off and though he never yelled, he seemed so disappointed. Many times I tearfully returned to the job. During the process, though, I gradually learned to do quality work and discovered that practicing quality was fulfilling and that it mattered to me.

Practice integrity

If you told dad you were going to do something, you did it. He expected no less. No excuses, prevarication or blaming poor work on your sister were valid substitutes for your word. Honesty was the rule and dad led by example, setting high standards in the yard. Dad taught us how to be respectful of each other and listened patiently to our endless strategies for reducing our workload. He also showed us that the key to good work was to finish the jobs that we started.

Push yourself

Dad had a riding lawn mower, but insisted on walking behind it to cut our 3-acre field. On the hottest of days, my mother would watch him incredulously from the kitchen window. My dad pushed himself to burn calories and probably to spend more time outdoors. Whatever the reason, his work ethic made it hard to refuse when he asked us to bag all the clippings.

Of course dad could have bagged the grass as he mowed, but that would have meant we missed out on the exercise. One year, as incentive, dad offered to pay us if we got all the clippings into 10 bags. We worked like demons all afternoon, devising efficient strategies for raking and fitting the most clippings in each black plastic sack. My sister was stamping on the tenth when it burst at the seams, but dad paid us anyway. We returned sweaty and tired to the house, and though dad disputes this version of the story, it’s still one of my favorite yard memories today.

Try not to complain

Dad showed us through example that even if the job got hard, or the weather uncomfortable, we should strive not to complain. Not only was it annoying, it made yard work unpleasant for everyone. He taught that seeing things in a more positive light was much better for all of us and improved our relationships.

Being young girls, my sister and I struggled the most with this concept. We tried hard to stop airing our yard work grievances, with incremental improvement over time as we aged. But, I’ll admit that it wasn’t until later on in life that I finally learned the true value of this lesson.

Thank you, dad, for all the lessons you taught us.  Happy Father’s Day. You are the best dad, ever.