"Hmmmmm, well." At 84-years-old, he stood up, still tall and proud. He left me and went to his bedroom. Those were his last words to me. Six months later he died. I'd hoped his death would set me free. But a lifetime of pain remained. Feeling inadequate had been my shadow for so long that I didn't believe healing was possible.

Ten years after Daddy's death, an idea began to form—a crazy plan to return to gardening. His words bounced through me as I jogged through my neighborhood before dawn.

Any numbskull can grow grass.

That was it. I decided no more grass on our two-acre lot. I began to methodically kill every blade of Bermuda grass. My suburban yard renovation rarely left my thoughts. As I jogged, I'd spot piles of clippings. "Do you mind if I have those old hydrangeas?" "Can I have a cutting from that Japanese maple?" Twenty trees grew from that one weak-looking sapling. "If you're throwing out those Ajuga plants, may I have them?" Even Sea Daisies from Florida grew for me. Over time, I filled all the bare spots with flowers and trees.

Destroying the two acres of grass surrounding our house took five years. Each afternoon from 4 to 6, I worked. By the third year, I gave away the lawn mower. As I worked, Daddy's instructions returned to me.

Give space for roots. Never miss a watering day. Weeds will choke anything if you give 'em the chance. Gardening is hard work, boy.

One September day, I slipped on a pair of gardening gloves, a gift from a friend. They didn't feel natural. I ripped them off and tossed them aside. Grabbing the dirt and sifting it through my fingers, I inhaled the long-ago smell. Memories tiptoed back. The days in the sun. Gathering produce. Working beside my brothers and sisters.

Turning my hands over, I examined them. In an unexpected instant, I saw my father's hands. Daddy made nails for a living. He kept his fingernails filed to the quick and his huge hands were always filthy. I brushed my fingers off on my jeans and traced my calluses. My calluses matched my father's. I scanned my backyard at the butterfly bushes, old-fashioned begonia, Autumn Joy, black-eyed Susan, and sweet William. Each one thriving. Full of blooms. He'd taught me to work hard and to grow things.

On my knees that Indian summer afternoon, I considered for the first time my father's struggles, his pain, and his demons. His father, brothers, and his grandfather were alcoholics. Who knows what each of them faced as little boys? I rose to my feet as a new truth dawned on me. You can't give away what you don't have. Maybe Daddy didn't have any extra love stored up to share.

As the sun sets these days, I'm surrounded by trees and flowers as though I'm in the Garden of Eden. The Gardener walks alongside me. The condemning orders from my father have grown quieter. Instead, I sense a steady hand that pats my shoulder. Perfect love as sweet as my lavender hyacinths blooms inside me. I hear my Father's words, "You're doing a fine job, son. I love you."

Finally, oh finally, I believe him.

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