Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Very Best Dad

On my fifteenth birthday, my dad told me that as a special present, he was going to teach me how to start the car.  Now, before you laugh, I should say that in my defense, my family only ever owned cars with standard transmissions so starting a car was - albeit, only slightly - more complicated than turning a key.  Gleefully, I scampered outside in the frigid February air and practiced holding the clutch and the brake with my slippered feet, turning the ignition, moving it into neutral, and pulling up the parking brake.  Now, my dad quipped, I had an entire year to practice coming outside to warm up the car before I turned sixteen and he would actually start teaching me to drive.

Fast forward a couple of weeks to me doing chores in the rapidly descending winter darkness between when I got home from school and when my parents got home from work.  Somehow, one of the buckets of firewood that I needed to haul into the house from the garage had gotten wedged just under the bottom of the car.  Tugging on it made no difference, and red-faced and sweaty from the effort, I suddenly remembered that I had a solution.  I could turn on the car, let it roll forward just the slightest amount, and it would release the wedged bucket.  I could turn on the car!  I could do this!  I had skills!  I'm sure you can see where this is going.  I hopped in the car, I pressed on the clutch, I turned the key, and the car started to roll.  Panicked, my mind was utterly blank.  Years of driving teaches the muscles in your feet and legs how to slam on the brakes.  I had no such experience and before my brain could figure out what was happening, with a soft thud, the front of the car slammed into the back wall of the garage...a shared wall with my dad's workshop...that he had just finished re-drywalling two days ago.  All I could do was turn off the car.  The last thing I was about to attempt was backing up.  Panicked, I got out of the car and started to bawl as I saw the three foot section of cracked drywall I had just busted into my dad's shop.

The next hour until my dad to got home from work was a very long (and tearful) wait.  These were the days before everyone had a cell phone and so there was no opportunity for the softer confrontation of a phone call confession.  When he pulled into the driveway, I flew outside to tell him before he could barely step out of the car.  The last thing I wanted was for him to see the damage first.  Voice shaking, I valiantly tried to hold back more tears as I told him what happened.  I'll pay for the new drywall, I said.  I'll help you put it up, I said.  Mostly, all I said was, "I'm sorry."  Over and over again.  Until he smiled, gave me a hug, and told me it was no big deal.  He ambled into the garage, turned on the light, and bent to inspect the damage.  "No biggie," he said as he stood up.  "I'll just re-park the car and then let's go in for some dinner."

If this story ended here, I think we would all agree that my father is a pretty fantastic guy.  Not reaming your idiot teenage daughter out for running the car into the garage?  I'd drink to that.  But, sadly, the story does not end here.  Because three months later...

I did it again.

And the fact that my father was calm, and understanding, and still not angry?
The second time I ran the car into the garage?
After he'd already repaired the wall I broke the first time?
THAT is what makes him the Best Dad in the World.

Guess who always, ALWAYS starts a car with her foot on the brake now?  This girl.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.  I love you more than you know.

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