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The Trash Dads

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A few weeks ago, if you’d seen the playground at my kids’ school, you’d have assumed someone had emptied a nearby dumpster. Strewn about were candy wrappers, gloves, masks, unfinished homework, calculators, deflated soccer balls, rotting banana peels, and just about anything else you could imagine a child might thoughtlessly toss on the ground at recess. Every day at pickup, I felt ashamed that my kids went to a school like this.

I’m known for getting pissed about something, complaining to anyone who will listen, and then doing nothing about it. But this was different. Maybe because the problem was obvious, or maybe because the solution was so obvious; nowadays most people can’t even agree on the problems, let alone the solutions.

But trash? See trash. Pick up trash. Throw away trash. There’s really no argument as to whether it’s good or bad. There aren’t debates on Twitter about the value of trash, or if it’s fair to even call it trash. Tucker Carlson or Ari Melber aren’t getting red-faced about the trash epidemic on elementary school playgrounds. It’s a simple, obvious problem with no vagaries in the solution. You can’t apply a post-modern lens and say, “Well maybe trash is a good thing for some people. That could just be their truth.”

And I didn’t have to raise thousands of dollars to build a new playground, or lobby the school board for a new curriculum. Or undergo any of the other myriad initiatives that show up in the endless email strings from my school and local community: donate to this, sign this petition, volunteer at this function, etc.

Not that any of that isn’t worthwhile, but I’m always asking myself, “Is this worth my money or my time?” But more importantly, “Do I really have anything to offer here?”

It struck me that picking up trash is on the short list of things I’m good at and can probably teach my kids.

But when I flipped the text to The Husky Dads for a trash pickup session, I wasn’t sure what to expect. “People have much better things to do on a Saturday morning than clean up after kids they don’t know, and maybe even don’t like,” I thought.

To my surprise, despite only a few days’ notice, the responses came flying in.


“In, plus two.”

“I’m bringing donuts and coffee. Give me your order.”

The Trash Dads showed up with their kids (and some wives) on a mission. And unlike most initiatives, there was no need for a Powerpoint, or a strategy session, or even leadership.

“Eat a donut, grab a trash picker and a bag and I’ll see you back here in an hour.”

So we set out, on a brisk but sunny Saturday morning, to clean up not just the playground, but the entire school grounds. Watching my kids pick up trash alongside their friends was one of the more gratifying experiences of my life. No hyperbole there. Something sacred unfolded as we all fanned out on the school property. We were doing important work with a clear purpose with good people. We filled seven garbage bags and when we were done there wasn’t a speck of trash on the property. As we gobbled down the last of the donuts and headed out, the sense of accomplishment was palpable. It was only 10 am, and we had solved a problem.

At a time when we have unlimited access to information about all the problems in the world, we can feel powerless, we can bemoan the lack of solutions, we can cast blame and shame on others. We can wonder, “What kind of world are my kids inheriting?” and feel paralyzed by the answer.

Or we can text our buddies and tell them to grab their kids and go pick up some trash.

*Trash Dad Photo

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