Finally, the day came when I was able to buy the rosebushes. The next day would be ­D-­day . . . digging day. I rushed home from school that afternoon so I would have time to finish the project before my dad got home from work. I dragged everything I would need out from under the front porch. Using my ­twelve-­inch wooden ruler from school, I began to carefully measure out two feet from the front walk and two feet between the rose plants.

I would be planting the bushes a bit closer than recommended, but I wanted the roses to be an effective deterrent to anyone taking a shortcut through the lawn. All this activity began to draw a small crowd of neighborhood kids, much to my exasperation. I explained what I was doing and why I was doing it. Some of the kids asked if they could help. I not so politely declined their offer and told them that the most helpful thing they could do would be to leave me alone so I could finish before my dad got home.

They shrugged their shoulders, put their hands in their pockets, and shuffled away, glancing back at me with a “Why are you being such a jerk?” look. At that moment I really did not ­care—­I just wanted to get the plants in before Dad arrived.

After over an hour of digging in the ­hard-­packed, heavy clay soil, I had dug all five holes. Each one was eighteen inches deep and three times the width of the roots, so that the holes almost touched one another. I then carefully mixed the dirt, compost, and peat moss in the proper proportions and planted the rosebushes, making sure they were all exactly ­twenty-­four inches from the front walk and exactly ­twenty-­four inches from each other. I remember looking at the roses from every angle and deciding they looked perfectly symmetrical. As I stood there admiring my creation, I heard my dad’s car pull up and realized I had not yet put the mulch around the roses. I dropped to my knees and began quickly spreading the mulch so the roses would have that finished look.

As Dad walked up to me, he looked at the roses and then at me and asked, “What in the ­h­--- are you doing?” The tone and intensity of his question shocked me and left me struggling for breath. My response bordered on incoherent as I stammered out something about, “The rut . . . the roses . . . stop the kids from walking here.” He stood staring at the roses, silent and frowning. Finally, he said, “They look crooked to me.”

As he walked away and into the house, I stayed there on my knees, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Why do I feel so foolish and weak? In my passion to do something meaningful for my dad and our home, I had made myself very vulnerable. I was angry at myself for not anticipating his response.

I haphazardly scattered a bit more mulch around the bushes, wanting desperately to still care about the roses, to care about what I was doing. But it was as if my passion to make our home more beautiful had shriveled up in the toxicity of my dad’s words. I picked up the leftover packaging and supplies and angrily threw it all in the trash. I never planted another thing in that yard. And my father never said another word about it.

Clearly, my father missed an opportunity to affirm one of his children. So how significant was that moment? As an adult, I realize my love for growing plants never went away. It connects me somehow to God and the wonder of His creation, and I’ve always drawn energy from it. I have a deep sense of contentment and peace when I’m surrounded by living, growing ­things—­which is why, when I had an office at Gallup, I filled it with plants and relished the view from my windows, overlooking the Missouri River. I believe that if my father had affirmed and blessed me the day I planted those roses, I most likely would have chosen a career in horticulture.