Good memories are never emptied of their treasures.
November 6 would have been my father’s 70th birthday. Below is an edited repost of reflections on a favorite memory that shapes my present fathering.
I am a grateful son.
(originally posted Sept. 4, 2014)
Side-by side we sat in a Chevy Chevette.
In a cemetery.
Two men. One confident, one scared. A teacher and student. A father and son.
Tree-filtered breezes meandered across the bright yellow hood and through windows hand-cranked fully open. The yellow, contrasted with the deep-space black, vinyl interior invited active imaginations to view us as pilots of a man-sized bumblebee. A masculine carriage, it was not. At the time, I cared not a bit about a car that was yellow – or bumblebees.
I was under siege. Pinned-down by cascading failures strung together with a thread of terror. I could not master the dance between the brake, clutch, and accelerator. Stooges, those three. Starts, stops, and stalls were their shtick. A humiliating assembly of cyclic failure – which I didn’t find funny.
I succumbed to a pattern of resets, struggling to gain ground toward acquiring stick-shifting fluidity. With each restart, I’d longingly gaze at the root-heaved asphalt that lay in sun-speckled tranquility. I yearned to cruise those curvy paths among the gravestones, deftly marching through the gearbox. But that required a skill I did not have. And in that moment, thought I’d never obtain.
Amidst that battle between man and machine, my passenger-seated father was calm, fully immersed in saintly patience. Woven between the whine of an over-revved engine and the chatter of mistreated gears were phrases of gentle instruction and well-timed encouragement. Over and over, my father renewed his commitment to my success. He was fathering me in the truest sense. I felt his love.
That scene from my 16th summer is a highlight, still vivid in the present because of its ongoing effect. I am now the father in the passenger seat – literally, and metaphorically. It’s a seat that is revelatory. It has brought forth some of my finest, and most despicable behaviors. It has frustrated and agitated. It has made me laugh, wonder, celebrate, and cry. It’s a seat that demands a great deal – day after day.
Life demands many things. How we engage our compulsory duties is a strong indicator of who we are, what we value, and how we grant our trust.
Recalling my rough road to mastering a manual transmission brings to mind this quote from Thomas Watson: “To do duty without love, is not sacrifice, but penance.” (All Things for Good, p.88) My father had a duty to teach me how to drive. But in that necessity, he chose love. He went beyond himself, releasing control and trusting God with the risks.
Many times I have wandered into loveless duty. I’ve found it a debilitating snare of fruitlessness. A joyless enduring pockmarked by missed opportunity.
But each day is ripe with new mercy. Today’s relational intersections are divinely crafted opportunities to extend grace and kindness. To give, not just because we should, but because we want to.
Just like my father, on a breezy afternoon, in a car the color of sunflowers.