Monday, June 1, 2009

Little Bubba

With the return of warm weather comes the chore of mowing my yard. I'm not overly concerned about how my yard looks. As long as the grass stays cut and the bushes are trimmed enough to keep the HOA gestapo satisfied, I'm happy. Once a year, I'll take a weekend to pull the weeds around my house and, perhaps, put down some new mulch. After that, this lawn boy's finished. Sleep easy all you lawn gurus who relish your Yard of the Month kudos and love to bask in the glory of your perfectly displayed flower beds. You'll get no competition from me. As long as I can be confident that the Vietcong aren't hiding in my backyard, I'm good.

Mowing the lawn is definitely a suburban 'daddy task.' If you live in the burbs and have kids, you haven't earned your wings until you've dawned a pair of dirty shoes, thrown on an old t-shirt, and cut the grass on a Saturday morning. I mention mowing my yard because this year marks the first time that my oldest son, William, has wanted to help me. William is one of my best buddies (his sister and brother being the other two). Since the day he was born, he's been my "Little Bubba." He's only 3 1/2 years old, but that doesn't stop him from wanting to help Dad with all the big jobs. He helps me carry out the trash. He'll help me put signs together for my part-time real estate business. And he often accompanies me when I have to inspect a property or show someone a house. I refer to him as my "junior partner." And now, you can add "assistant yard technician" to his list of prestigious titles. As I push my lawnmower along, cutting grass (and weeds), William follows twenty or thirty feet behind, his Fisher-Price lawnmower cranked on full power. Focused and proud--distracted only by the occasional insect or need to urinate--this lawn-manicuring mini-me doesn't miss a spot. He follows in daddy's footsteps, making sure the old man hasn't by-passed a single blade of grass. Like Dad, he wears his sunglasses. Like Dad, he stops half-way through to wipe his forehead, take off his shirt, and grab a quick gulp of cold water. Then, like the shirtless studs we are, William and I complete the task at hand before relaxing on the back patio to survey the terrain we've just conquered. "We did a good job, didn't we Daddy?" asks William. "Yep, Sport," I respond, "We sure did."

Because of William, mowing the yard has gone from a mere chore to a precious opportunity. It allows me to spend time with my son. It offers me the chance to make him feel important and help him feel what I already know is true: He's very special to his daddy, and there is no way his father could ever live without him.

I love my Little Bubba. The things he says and does are enough to keep me entertained continually. Take yesterday at church, for instance. We were in the middle of communion. The ushers were passing the trays. As William sat in Meredith's lap, he imitated me and took a little piece of the cracker that our church uses for bread. As he put it in his mouth, I heard Meredith whisper to him, "This represents the body of Jesus." William put the cracker in his mouth, got a confused look on his face, and then, turning to Meredith ,whispered back, "Jesus' body tastes like Saltines."

The more time I spend with William, the more I love him. But it is also sobering. I see how much he wants to be like me. He doesn't just imitate the way I take communion at church or how I go about mowing the yard. No, he wants to imitate everything. He truly is my mini-me. On one hand, such desire to be like "Dad" makes me feel great. It warms my heart to know that my son looks at me and sees a hero. I know that, one day, posters of sports figures and rock stars will cover the walls of his room instead of pictures he drew for dad at preschool. Sooner than I realize, dad will fall from the heights of "greatest guy ever" to "Dad, you're embarrassing me." I'll become the guy he begs for money and gets mad at for not letting him use the car, rather than the guy he wants to be two-steps behind no matter where I go.

That's all fine. That's the way life goes. I don't want to stop those times from coming, I just want to make sure I make the most of the stage William's at now. I won't get a "do over" with William, so I'd better make these days count. Equally important, I better be conscious of the example I'm setting for "mini-me." What is he learning when he sees how I treat his mom? What is he learning when he sees how I spend my time? Does he see a patient man or a temper? Does he see faith or worry? When he looks at his father, does he see a man who values people, or does he see a man who chases money?

One day, William will live his life largely based on how he's seen me live mine. If I'm too busy with work, chores, bills, and the daily concerns of life to enjoy a quick wrestling match or answer a million and one questions about why birds can fly but doggies can't, then there's a good chance he'll grow up to be just as "busy." I know I can't be a perfect father. I'll have to apologize a lot. But the greatest gift I think I can give my son is the gift of example. In particular, the gift of setting the right priorities. It's not enough to tell people that my kids are the most important thing to me; I have to make my children feel like they're the most important. That doesn't just go for Little Bubba, that goes for his sister, Emerson, and his brother, Carson, too.

One day, I might be replaced with other heroes, but for now, my wife and I are it. Plus, you never know; by pouring time and energy into making our kids feel special today, we dads might just find that long after the LeBron James and Rock'n'Roll posters come down, we've, at some point in our children's early adulthood, been re-elevated to the place of
"greatest guy ever."

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