Growing Flowers And Fathers Writer Amy Dickinson's father walked away from his family when she was 12 years old, leading to many years of estrangement. But this Father's Day, as the petunias and pansies in her garden take root and grow, Dickinson finds that her flowers are helping to fertilize her dormant relationship with her dad.

Growing Flowers And Fathers

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Well, a lot of people who don't live at the White House are also puttering around the garden this time of year. But for commentator and advice columnist Amy Dickinson, gardening has never come easy, neither has her relationship with her father, and both have taught her something about expectations.

AMY DICKINSON: I'm the worst kind of gardener: passionate, but without skill or knowledge and often disappointed that my efforts yield nothing like those tidy cottage gardens in the magazines.

Like a woman who goes into Neiman Marcus to buy eyeliner and comes home with an evening gown, I return from a trip to buy plants realizing that my ambitions are bigger - much bigger - than my trowel.

Because of this, gardening for me tends to be a joyless activity where I mutter to myself and silently whine about my own failings. My thoughts are as jumbled, messy and unkempt as my shady backyard. I constantly search for meaning and metaphor in the planting and almost never find it.

Lately, though, I've been thinking about my father. I inherited his eyebrows, along with his unfortunate tendency never to finish things. He was a dairy farmer who optimistically started and never completed various hare-brained projects. Our barnyard was littered with old vehicles and project castoffs, including an old oil tank, big as a double-wide trailer, which lay rusting in the pasture during most of my childhood.

I didn't see my old man for many years, but then gradually, I started catching up with him. He sort of made himself inevitable and unavoidable. He kept turning up on my porch. He'd stand there like a fern until I let him in.

Last time I saw him was a few months ago. We had lunch at a diner. He's a broad-shouldered 80-year-old married to his fifth wife. He's hard of hearing, which is fine, because he never really pays attention anyway.

One time I asked him about metaphors. True to form, he said, I don't see things as metaphors for other things. But I do. And I finally found one in my aimless gardening.

Like my father, my garden will surprise me by its hardiness, despite my neglect. Like my garden, my relationship with my old man will be unruly, unregulated, suspenseful and profoundly less-than-perfect.

As I finished planting my annuals last weekend, I figured something out - a true gardener improvises around imperfections, just like a good daughter.

SIEGEL: Amy Dickinson writes the advice column, Ask Amy. She's also the author of the memoir "The Mighty Queens of Freeville."

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