Today, February 21 is the 91st anniversary of my father’s birth. I have missed him more than I thought possible since he succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage 15 years ago. I want to share one of the lessons he allowed me during our time together.
My father was known through family, friends, and neighbors as a laconic gentleman. He was a man of few words but an observant eye, ready to help anyone in need, anytime.
My mother, to this day, is more impatient and quick to criticize.
With these credentials, my father became the de facto driving instructor for his six children.
My lessons started in the spring of 1967. I had turned sixteen the previous December, but mom acted as principal of the driving school and would not allow winter driving lessons.
In those olden days, the Sunday “blue laws” were in effect. Those laws meant that no stores were open on “the Lord’s day.” So, Dad and I took advantage of the Miracle Mile Shopping Center, making it the track for my driving lessons.
The lessons started with dad driving the roads to the shopping center’s parking lot where he turned over the keys and steering wheel of the 1958 green Oldsmobile 98. That car was so big some of my siblings called it a boat. With its fashionable-in-the-late-fifties fins, I preferred calling it the green dragon.
Over time, my lessons progressed. I became the dragon driver, chauffeuring us both over the quiet streets to the shopping center to practice parallel parking between dad-made wooden poles.
My most cherished lesson came after a Sunday afternoon of parking practice followed by my confident drive back home. The journey ended with a left turn into our single car driveway.
It was a narrow drive past a side screened-in porch that ended in a much wider surface that always reminded me of a map of the United States. To leave we drove through “Florida” and to get to the house we walked through “California” and the Baja peninsula.
Almost home, I engaged the turn signal as I got to Metzger’s house, two doors up from ours. The indicator blinked past Crowley’s and the breadth of our house. Fortunately, no one was proximate to see me turn into the drive and continue turning until I was stopped on our front lawn, parallel to the driveway with the grill of the Olds a very few feet from the entrance to the side screened-porch.
I felt like a complete failure. How could I mess up such a simple maneuver? I must have been shaking—especially since my hero, my father saw my mistake. I could have injured him!
My dad’s reaction allowed one of the best lessons of my life. He asked the perfect parental and instructional question, “Do you want me to move it or do you want to?”
My dad still trusted me? Wow!
I quickly deduced that I was not always going to have my father to get me out of trouble and that I was going to need to fend for myself. “I’ll do it.”
I not only said, “I’ll do it.” I did it.
That was not the last mistake of my life. It was not the last time my father supported me. It was and is a lesson that I’ve kept close to my heart for fifty years.
I hope I’ve been able to pass it down to my son.