Yesterday I helped my father plant his garden. We had already rototilled and refreshed the soil last week, so the hard work was done. Now it was just digging, watering, planting, and watering. I had never done any serious planting before yesterday. My dad’s strategy is this: dig a hole; fill hole with a bunch of Miracle Grow water; let water soak into soil; place plant; water again. He has a theory about this. All old men have theories about the reasons their things are right. His plants grow, and his tomatoes are good. So I allow him these theories.
The stalk of a sunflower had sprung up in the corner of his garden, which was nice. It was in the spot reserved for a tomato plant, though, and because my dad insists on symmetry we dug that miracle up and reposted it in the center of the whole plot. Same procedure: dig, water, plant, water. A half an hour after the job was done the sunflower had gone limp, its wide leaves having fallen like awnings after a storm. Had we killed it just for our symmetry? I didn’t know, but I cared more than I should have.
This morning my father called me and told me the sunflower had recovered, and it made me happy. It made me happy in a way different from the happiness of normal success. A kind of relief, I guess, is more what it was. Relief that I didn’t ruin something humans have done since forever, or relief that I hadn’t killed a thing that didn’t deserve it.
Yesterday my dad had seen plants dying at a local grocery, and he told the workers there to take better care of them. “You should be looking after these things,” he said. “It’s not even about the money.”
Plants are weird, like temporary or vanishing pets. They need a kind of care, and they reward you for it, but not in obvious ways. They don’t talk to you, unless you’re crazy. They don’t do much at all but bear fruit and look nice, plus a whole slew of more complicated things I don’t care about. And yet we feel for them, strangely. When a plant dies we are sad. I don’t think we are sad because of the money lost. At least, I know I’m not. I think we are sad because we had taken responsibility for that thing, and we had let it down. Maybe we’re sad for our own failing, then—I don’t want to just lump humanity in with myself, in case my feelings are mamsy-pamsy. Not all of us love plants, I know.
When I moved back home I told myself I would learn some things from my father while I could. All I’ve really learned is how to plant things, but that’s fine. I’ve got time, I suppose, to learn about cars if I want. Maybe change some oil, change some brakes, that kind of thing. Probably not, though. My whole life, I’ve defaulted to the Internet for these kinds of lessons. I learned to shave there; I learned to cook; I learned to draw; I learned to exercise.
There are times I regret not learning these tangible things from my father. There are scenes in movies I would have liked to have lived, pictures of kids nosing over their dad’s shoulders, or vice versa. Kids with pretend razors scraping their foamy cheeks clean. These are all missed opportunities, things I never cared for until they were no longer possible. I suppose my father taught me to care about things that might not care about you in obvious ways, because not all of us know how to show it. So, that’s why this is here, I guess, instead of on his voicemail.