Tending to What Matters

Posted on: July 1, 2014

My heart drops. The words coming out of my father’s mouth make sense, or rather, would make sense if they were coming from anyone else. But from him, they are blasphemy.

I glance over at him, digesting what he just said, trying to form a response and it hits me how much he has changed. Gone is the stoic, granite face I’ve always known, replaced by a gaunt, wrinkled old man.

“Xeriscape?” The word is sharp and prickly as it rolls off my tongue. I try to lace my voice with confusion, with disdain, anything to cover up the quiver that is trying to expose my fear. “You want to xeriscape the yard?”

We are sitting on his front step, sipping glasses of iced tea, watching as the heat rises off the street and blurs the distant Tucson skyline. I look around me at the well-coiffed grass. Lush and luxuriant and impossibly green, it is the type of lawn you only see on landscaping brochures. But there has been no photoshopping here; just hours of meticulous, painstaking labor.

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about it for awhile. Change is good. It keeps you young.”

He turns away from me because he is lying. Worse yet, he knows that I know he is lying--but this is what we do, this is how we communicate. We talk without talking, beating around the bush, or I guess in this case, the entire yard.

“And it’s better for the environment, too, uses a lot less water.”

This is utter bullshit; my father’s environmental ideology skews hard right. In his lifelong quest for the perfect yard, nothing was sacred, certainly not the ecosystem. Fertilizers, pesticides, ignoring city-mandated water rationing; whatever it took to have the best lawn in town, he did it, consequences to Mother Nature be damned.

I nod my head and pat him on the back.

“I gotta go, Dad. I’ve got to mow my own yard today, too. I’ll see you later, okay?”

“Alright, Jack.” He hesitates, like he wants to say something else. Instead, he shuffles into the air conditioned house. “See you later.”


My wife is in the kitchen unpacking groceries when I get home. I grab a beer from the six-pack she just pulled from the shopping bag. Bitter and lukewarm, it does nothing to soothe my jangled nerves.

“Hi honey, how are your parents?” she asks.

“Mom seems good. Dad’s given up on life.” I take another long drink from my beer.


“My dad wants to rip up his entire fucking yard and put in a bunch of fucking cacti.”

“And that means he has given up on life?”

“Don’t you realize how fucking crazy that is? He loves his lawn more than most people love their children.”

“Yeah, but now you have to help him take care of it. Maybe he doesn’t want to be a burden. He’s a proud man.”

“It’s not a problem. I don’t mind helping him.”

“Did you tell him that?”

“Well, no…” I drain the last of the tepid beer and reach for another. Before I can open it my wife takes it from my hand and replaces it with a cold one from the fridge.

“That’s what I figured.” She walks out of the kitchen. “Jesus, I wish you two would learn to talk about your feelings.”


The gravel parking lot of the farmstand/greenhouse is populated mostly with Subaru Foresters and Toyota Priuses. I back my Dodge Ram into one of the last parking spots and we survey the scene. The people milling about are certainly not the big-box home improvement store demographic that we are used to.

“I didn’t know there were so many shades of khaki,” my father says, as he takes in the crowd.

He’s right. The place is crawling with aging hippie/yuppies, all clad in Birkenstocks and draped in various shades of light brown, happily carrying succulents of differing shapes and sizes back to their fuel-efficient cars.

We sit in silence and I glance in the side mirror and notice, really notice, that my dad is not the only one who has aged. My hair has become more salt, less pepper, and the lines around my eyes have deepened. I guess you can fuck over Mother Nature, but you can’t beat Father Time .

“You know Dad, you don’t have to do this. I don’t mind helping you with your yard at all.”

“Yeah, but you’re a busy man. You’ve got your own life, and your own lawn.”

“Dad,” my voice wavers as I put my hand on his arm, “I love helping you. It… it gives me a chance to hang out with you.”

He stares out the side window and clears his throat.

When he turns back to look at me, his eyes are moist. He takes a deep breath and gives my hand a squeeze. “That heart attack scared me. It made me realize that I might not have much time left.”

“Dad, don’t say that.” I can’t bring myself to look at him.

“It’s true, and sometimes you just have to face the truth. I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but I got old, Jack. I’m seventy-eight years old.” The number sinks in and he lets out a sigh. “Man, seventy-eight. Do you know how old Pop was when he died?”

“He was in his sixties wasn’t he?” I can barely speak.

“Sixty-three. And my mom was seventy-one.”

“People are living a lot longer these days Dad, and you’re in better shape than a lot of men half your age.”

“Yeah, but good shape or not, once your ticker starts to go...” he puts his hand on his chest, I see fear in his eyes.

We sit in silence, watching the people come and go. I fixate on a young father, walking with two kids, one holding each hand, a look of pure bliss on his face.

“I’ve never really contemplated life without you,” I whisper, both to him and myself.

He takes another deep breath.

“Well, I’m not gone yet, am I? And I’m not giving up. I’ve still got some living to do. I want to take your mom to Hawaii, go camping with you and Sara and the kids, hell, I might even give skydiving a whirl.”

He looks over at me and smiles.

“But I’ll tell you one thing, and it’s the truth, I’m pretty fucking sick of mowing the lawn. Come on, let’s go look at some cacti.”

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
1:1000 The Design of this Blog is All rights reserved © Blog Milk Powered by Blogger