When I hear the phrase work ethic, I always think about my own father.
For as long as I can remember, he has worked two jobs: he works nights full-time in the pharmacy at a local hospital, and then loads up his lawn equipment during the day to service properties in the neighborhood. He logs countless hours and often functions with minimal sleep. I’ve always admired his commitment and drive, and he’s truly the epitome of what it means to provide for one’s family.
While most people know me as a secondary educator, lawn maintenance has been my summer gig probably since age 12 or 13. I was never forced into it, but it was always an open invitation. If I wanted to help, it was there. There was always work and plenty of it. And what teenager wouldn’t want some spending money in his pocket?
When I was a youngster, I would help my dad, but I couldn’t wait to be done. In truth, I didn’t care much for lawn care. There, I said it.
A lawn guy admitting he hates cutting lawns? I don’t know if that’s the guy you want maintaining your property.
Thankfully, though, my dad was there to oversee the work. Some days it just seemed like we’d never finish the lawns. Stop after stop after stop. Lawn care, as I saw it, detracted from my summer freedom. Sure, my father paid me for helping, but cutting grass meant I wasn’t in the pool. Cutting grass meant I wasn’t on the golf course.
Cutting grass meant I wasn’t drinking Slurpees with my friends.
There was always a host of things I wasn’t doing while cutting grass with my dad.
Eventually, though, I started to realize that the time I spent cutting lawns was about so much more than just overlapping the mower paths. Sure, the final product was important (especially to the customer), but my father was teaching me—and not always explicitly through verbal instructions, either.
Much of what I learned from my father during those long summer days on the lawn circuit was how to treat people. And it was always a direct result of my dad modeling it himself. I saw firsthand how he took care of his customers, and it left an indelible impression on me.
It’s important to note that many of my father’s customers were of the elderly persuasion. In all the interactions I can recall, his patience was always on display—his thoughtfulness ever-present. I can remember taking care of our regular customers, and—without fail—a neighbor would emerge asking if we could cut her lawn, too.
Whenever I saw an unfamiliar face approaching my father while working, I just knew what was coming. I also knew exactly what my father’s answer would be.
I’d shake my head and expel a heavy sigh.
Selfishly, I wanted nothing more than to get back to my regularly scheduled summer activities. I didn’t want to cut another lawn, not a chance. We had reached our quota—we were supposed to be done. My dad, though, almost always obliged. And I know there were days where he must have been so incredibly tired from his midnight shift, but you’d never know it by watching him.
And while taking on that extra lawn meant a little less time for rest before his next shift, he saw it as an opportunity to take care of someone.
It’s easy to see it, now. He was never just in the lawn business. It was never just about lawns. It was about the people, too.
He provided a service, but he always made time to chat. Those widows and widowers would light up when my father pulled up toting his trailer. They’d come out ready to “shoot the breeze” before he could even exit his vehicle. The lawn cutting would just have to wait for a few minutes, sometimes.
Now if that’s not a testament to a man’s character, I don’t know what is.
So while I may not have had as much time as I wanted for other things, the time I spent watching my father was priceless. I’m grateful for those lessons, and to this day I still join my father during the summer to help out with the lawns.
They call it lawn care.
And when I think of my dad’s commitment to his customers, there couldn’t be a more fitting description.