I know by this point in our relationship--what is it now, 39 years--that you know I think you are great. Or I hope you know that I think you are great. Have I ever told you that directly to your face? Well, I think you are great.
But there is one thing you did that I thought (at the time) was complete crap.
All my friends were taught to drive by actually driving. Their parents or mentors threw them the keys, let them get behind the wheel, let them start the vehicle up, let them put it in drive, and let them maneuver the car on streets. But you, no. I did not see the keys for months after you told me you were going to teach me to drive.
What I did see was the engine of the car, the placement of the oil can, the dirty film clinging to the air filter, the jack and spare tire, the greasy black on my hands after changing the oil or changing the tire. Like I said, it was crap, dad.
All my friends talked about the driver’s ed escapades and the hilarity of almost hitting this mailbox and running that stop sign. Did you know that Mr. Hollenbeck actually made Debbie Hanson get out of the car and apologize to a stop sign one time?
But your lesson to me about driving started by learning how to change the oil. What did that have to do with driving? My teenage mind rebelled as you forced the corroded oil pan and rag into my hands and told me you were going to teach me to drive today.
I don’t know if you noticed the look I gave mom. I just wanted the keys. I could have sued, you know; using me as cheap labor to get your oil changed.
In the driveway, you were already lying on the ground and scooting your way underneath the car and beckoning to me to join you. I didn’t set the oil pan down; I let it fall and tossed the rag also. I met you under the engine of the car where you handed me what I think was a wrench. I had to twist the nut loose and get the pan ready to catch the spillage that came. And it came. Remember, you let “goddammit” slip and mom called from the kitchen window, “Dick,” like she does whenever you do something wrong.
As we waited for the oil to stop coming, you pointed out various things to me. I have no idea what you were saying then and I still couldn’t tell you today.
Then after the oil ceased dripping, I had to wipe around the area. I still don’t know why, no one ever sees that. You handed me the brand new yellow oil filter and instructed me how to place it in its functional spot. It fit like a glove.
We lugged ourselves out from under the car and you were so proud when you announced to me our first driving lesson was over.
Walking in the house, I’m sure I made some kind of sarcastic remark to mom about how great our “drive” was and that I really got a good lesson about how to keep a safe distance behind the car in front of me or something.
Again, dad, the whole thing was bullshit. Especially, when I learned when I got to college that you can pay $14.95 at Grease Monkey and they do that stuff for you. Plus, they vacuum the inside and Windex your windows for no additional charge.
But, now that I’m older (and wiser), I’ve realized that your lesson wasn’t about learning to drive or changing the oil. It was about being independent and having a deeper understanding and appreciation about things that normally we just take as a given.
Thanks, dad. I think you’re great!
Oh, and PS: Teaching me how to wash the car and shovel snow off the car did not equal "driving" lessons either!