My pop, a WWII veteran, devoted husband and the sort of father I aspire to be, didn’t raise no fools. Except me.
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I know I’m a fool because back when I was 9 years old and sporting a flat top and a pair of black Converse All-Stars, my pop advised me that I was now taking over the lawn mower duties from one of my older brothers. That brother was being promoted to the job of painting the house for the summer. So, head room being what it is, Pop handed the keys to the mower to his youngest boy.
Actually, no keys were involved. The mower was an old Sears model. For those of you too young to know your American history, Sears was the Amazon of the 20th century. Anytime between 1893 and ’round about 1985, if you wanted pants, a dishwasher, football pads, a lava lamp or a reciprocating sprocket wrench with detachable sprockets, then by damn you got it at Sears.
The lawn mower I inherited as a 9-year-old that early summer afternoon was a late-’60s gas-powered Sears model my brothers called “Chopper.” Chopper ate anything that got too close to its massive rotating semi-sharp blades. It belched smoke as clumps of grass, rocks and half-chewed army men flew out from all sides. As a 9-year-old, I calculated Chopper’s weight to be somewhere between 160 pounds and a two-door Buick. It took all 85 pounds of me, and about three hours, to push that beast around our yard.
Now I know Pop raised a fool, because when he announced solemnly that Chopper was my responsibility, I looked him in the eye and said what I typically said back then: “Yes sir… you bet.” What I should have said was, “Pop, I don’t mean to tell you your business, but do you have any idea how dangerous lawn mowers are to kids?” And then I would have handed him a couple of articles detailing those dangers, and for good measure recited current regulations related to child labor laws and how he just might be in violation of said laws.
Yes sir, that’s what I should have done. I know that now because that’s what former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse recently suggested following the curious case of Frank the Amazing Mowing Boy.
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By now you’ve likely heard the heartwarming tale of Frank Giaccio, the 11-year-old kid from Virginia. Frank has himself a lawn mowing business. According to reliable sources, he charges $8 a lawn. I’m not that good at math, but I believe that’s approximately 8 clams more per yard than I made during my mowing career, so I think it’s safe to say that Frank is some kind of business genius.
Anyway, one day Frank reached out to the White House Office of Lawns and Shrubbery, which is overseen by the Department of Landscaping over at the Ministry of the Interior I believe, and said it would be his honor to mow the White House lawn. Apparently realizing the lawn in fact did need mowing, they reached out to Frank and Bob’s your uncle. I do not know if Frank was also tasked with picking up dog poop prior to mowing. That may well fall under a different department.
Bottom line, Frank got his wish, and by all accounts he did a very fine job mowing the White House lawn. President Trump came out to greet and thank him. In the video of the encounter, Frank almost looks too busy to stop and shake hands. Clearly he’s worried about keeping the mowing line straight. And to be honest, he probably had a couple more lawns to get to that day. And as if this story needed any more of a kick in the pants, Frank apparently told the president that when he grows up, he wants to be a Navy Seal.
I don’t know about you, but after my experience as a kid, and now as a father raising three young boys, I wanted to shake Frank’s hand and tell him well done, keep it up.
But then, Steven Greenhouse came along and rained on my freshly cut lawn. He sent out a tweet that read, in part: “Not sending a great signal on child labor, minimum wage & occupational safety.” Now there’s a good chance that all Mr. Greenhouse was doing was pointing out that children and lawn mowers can be a dangerous combination. He is, after all, a writer on a wide variety of labor topics.
I don’t believe he was making any statement about the need to teach kids responsibility and the value of hard work. I personally think he was sincere in thinking Frank needed to back away from the lawn mower. But, frankly, children and anything else can be a potentially dangerous combination. My boys Scooter, Sluggo and Muggsy could take a cantaloupe, two mini marshmallows and a feather duster and turn it into a deadly weapon. Just the other day, Muggsy broke his nose while using a cardboard tube as a pirate sword.
Given that I’m a bit of a cynical sort, there is also the chance that Mr. Greenhouse didn’t vote for the current president and saw this as an opportunity to creatively take a dig at him. My guess is that if this had taken place under former President Obama’s watch, Mr. Greenhouse would have refrained from said tweet. That’s just speculation, folks.
I also have no idea if Mr. Greenhouse has boys of his own. My research staff is off on another team-building exercise at an all-inclusive resort, and I can’t remember the Wi-Fi password in the office. And I have no idea if he owns a lawn mower. If he resides in New York City, another fact I can’t be bothered to check, there’s a good chance that he has limited experience with yard implements.
What’s my point? When I started writing, I was going to take an easy potshot at Mr. Greenhouse and talk about how we all spend way too much time coddling our kids and trying to reduce life’s risks down to zero, and how mowing lawns teaches kids responsibility and the value of hard work. But Mr. Greenhouse has already been lambasted for his tweet in social media circles … and I don’t have the energy to leap on that dog pile.
Speaking of dog piles, I can look out my kitchen window and see my boy Scooter picking up after our dog Hendricks in the back yard. Scoot’s only 10, but sitting inside the garage is a gas-powered mower with fairly dull blades, and it’s now become his responsibility.
Not to worry, Mr. Greenhouse, I gave him a safety briefing… told him to watch out for flying rocks and chewed-up action figures, advised him not to stick his fingers where they don’t belong and, when pushing it up hill, don’t let it roll back on you. It was the same briefing I got from my pop. Scooter listened attentively, and I’m proud to say his response was, “You bet.” He’ll be just fine.