Father’s Day — Lessons I Never Learned From My Dad Because I’m Kind of Stupid
My father never would have made it as a teacher, but it's probably not his fault. His son wasn’t a very good student.
He's an intelligent man, God bless him, but like his children, he's only been granted a limited amount of patience. I learned this early in life -- it was my dad's division of labor in the household to help me with my math homework.
"It's not that hard," he'd say. "Two plus two will always equal four. It doesn't change, son. It's math."
But for me, two plus two kept adding up to puzzling numbers like six, three - or that one time, 7.9. I was hopeless, and he was at a complete loss to help me.
Eventually he realized I'm a slow learner, and it taught him to take the bull by the horns. I never asked my dad to teach me to shave. One day, he just took it upon himself to buy me razor. I never asked my dad to teach me to drive, either. One day, we were driving along the I-10 service road just outside of Jennings when he pulled over and told me to get out.
"You're leaving me here?" I asked, puzzled.
"It crossed my mind, but your mother won't let me," he said. "Go ahead.
Get in the driver's seat."
"C'mon, before my better judgment gets hold of me."
My father, the shade-tree mechanic, always prided himself on buying some old beat-up truck that had seen its best years in the Carter administration and keeping it running. He did a pretty good job, too. It wasn't until years later that I thought that maybe he figured it wouldn't pay to buy a nice truck when his spastic kids were going to have to learn how to drive. Better to wreck a $2,000 truck than a $20,000 one.
My hand went straight for the F-250's gearshift.
"Whoa, there," he said. "Let's take this one step at a time." I think he was sweating a little. "When you're driving, everything is gradual. You don't slam on the gas or the brakes. You don't jerk the wheel. Everything is ... gradual."
To test this, we left the truck in park and revved the engine, just to get an idea of how "gradual" I could be with the gas pedal. I was about as gradual as Dale Earnhardt, and I think I could actually see the needle on the gasoline level start sliding toward 'empty.'
It took a while, but I eventually nailed it, and it was time to actually see if I could get the truck from point A to B. The goal was to follow the service road from Jennings to my grandparents' house in Welsh, where we would be mowing their lawn.
Hands at 10 and 2. Sit up straight. Eyes on the road. Turn off the radio. Let's do this.
I rolled slowly down the road and hit the first turn with no problem. That's when I got cocky. I got down to one hand on the wheel. I started having a conversation. Driving? Pffft. Child's play.
My dad interrupted our casual conversation to remind me that another curve was coming up ahead. Like, duh, I thought -- I can see. But I'm not much of a multi-tasker. My limited brainpower wasn't up to driving and conversing at the same time, and we entered the turn at a brisk 60 mph.
Now, most people in danger get a little adrenaline boost. Not me, however. My poor brain was overloaded by driving and chewing gum at the same time. That, added to the possibility I was about to send my dad's truck flipping butt over tea kettle into the median shut my brain down. The tires began to squeal
"You might want to hit the brake - hit the brakes, son! Hit the - what the hell are you doing? The brakes! The one on the left! DO IT!"
As the passenger's side tires started to lift off the ground, my father gripped the dash for dear life. He'd gone so pale you could see through him.
And so, like a father-son version of The Dukes of Hazzard, we made the curve near the Roanoke exit on two wheels at full speed, my father sputtering and cursing all the way. I think they heard us in Texas.
We made it through the curve and the hamster in my brain found his way back onto his wheel. The truck settled back into all-fours and I brought us to a stop.
"NOW you stop?!" barked my dad, shaken. "You stop now? Why bother?"
Other highlights from my first driving session included the following quotes from my father:
- "You see that stop sign, right? You are planning to stop, right? Right? No? It's not a suggestion, son! Aaaand ... NOW you've just broken the law."
- "We probably shouldn't go down that road. I see other drivers down there."
- "Now, they call this 'dead man's curve' for a reason. This road intersects the curve, which means other drivers aren't going to be able to see you very clearly if they're coming too fast. You don't want to jump out, but you do want to try to get up to speed a little quicker than normal. Don't gun it, but don't waste your time getting up to the speed limit, right? So let's give it a-" (The rest of these instructions were cut off by squealing tires and the G-forces that slammed him back in his seat.)
- "Maybe you can have your license when you're 28 or so."
When we got home, my father had lost 10 pounds and his hairline had receded by two centimeters. Like any good parent, he'd laid his life on the line to pass on his wisdom to his son.
Thanks for the many things you've taught me over the years, dad, even though I know I spent a lot of time driving you crazy. Ha, ha - get it? Driving! Guess whose sense of humor I inherited.
Thanks for always being there for me through life and for teaching me the value of a dollar. Maybe you really are a good teacher and I'm just a crappy student. 'Cause I'm broke this year, and all you're getting is this post for Father's Day. Read it slowly, pops. Make it last.
One day, if I'm even half the man you are ... well, you'll still be twice the man I am. Love ya, dad.