When I was learning how to drive, my mother was my instructor about 99% of the time. She taught me well, and for that I thank her, and also – in advance, apologize, sort of, that this is one of the two main memories I have from learning to drive. (The other one is of driving the Lincoln Continental that we used to have and taking a right turn but not taking ENOUGH of one and driving up onto someone’s lawn. That was with Mom. Sorry Mom, but that was memorable. All the words of wisdom and all your patience – in my typical fashion, they are forgotten.)
Anyway, one night I had called home to get a ride after my shift as a busgirl was over. The restaurant about 10 minutes from home. Dad came to get me, and this time he handed me the keys. I hadn’t yet driven at night, and it didn’t seem like that big a deal until we were on the little winding two-lane road heading back to the highway.
The road didn’t have streetlights, that I can recall, and if it did, they were infrequent. It was dark. I drove carefully and started to feel okay until another car came zipping along in the opposite direction.
I’ve heard that deer crossing streets at night are startled and then frozen in place, mesmerized by the approaching headlights of a car. I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, but for a moment, that’s how I felt. I couldn’t help but look directly at the oncoming car and I was no longer able to focus on what I was doing.
"What do I do?" I probably shouted – instant panic.
And he just told me to look down at the white line on the road to my right and follow that.
And it worked. Immediately. I wasn’t in a panic any more, I wasn’t endangering us or the other car, everything was fine. We arrived home safely and he has probably forgotten all about it.
I still hear him say it whenever I’m in a similar situation.
I could expand on this, obviously. Turn it into something bigger, something more symbolic…how, in that moment, he taught me to deal with big scary moments by just keeping focused on what I needed to do and not focusing on the panic or the danger or the oncoming headlights. Just follow that white line and don’t look into the other lane.
I could turn this into a big secret-of-life Father’s Day post.
I could. I’ve got a rather dusty degree in English – I’ve got to trot it out somehow every now and then.
But I can’t bring myself to do it.
It would be flashy and showy and not about my father, really, but about how cleverly my brain can connect the dots.
My father isn’t flashy and showy so such a story wouldn’t be appropriate. It wouldn’t fit.
My dad just taught me how to keep from getting in an accident that night, and he did so in his usual quiet, understated style. Calmly, and without fanfare.
That’s who he is to me.
He belongs to the local Rotary Club. The Rotary motto is "Service Above Self." (I don’t think that violates any secret handshake-type rules they have – to let that out of the bag.) I know that means doing things for the good of others…and without tooting your horn about how helpful you are in the process. You just do what you can do. You don’t ask for praise about it. You don’t point to yourself afterward and say "look at what I did!" You just move on to the next thing.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t have fun. He has a great sense of fun. I think that’s one of the reasons all the grandchildren gravitate toward him. They don’t love him more than Grammy…but they recognize that at heart he is one of them.
Here’s another little image…I am in the kitchen at my parents’ house, years ago – but it could just as easily happen later this afternoon – I am on my way out the door, Mom is about 6 feet from me, and Dad is in the background, hanging out.
I don’t know what was going on but for whatever reason, my mother was kind of wound up about something…and my Dad helpfully interjected a few words into the mix, and set my mother off. She got that tight-lipped look on her face that we call her cat whisker face and gave me a look like she was trying to count to ten or twenty or a hundred…her back was to my father, but I could see him sitting back there, a huge grin on his face, holding a big imaginary spoon in his hands and stirring the contents of a huge imaginary pot.
It is great fun for my sister and me to drive my mother to the point where she makes the cat whisker face. And I believe we actually learned that from our father.
There is, of course, more. He taught me to throw, to catch, to use a screwdriver and a hammer and a handsaw and a wrench…to measure accurately…to hold a camera ("Keep your elbows in"), to process film, to print photographs, to be critical of my work without being critical of myself….all kinds of little things that are not flashy or showy – but they get the job done.
Thanks, Dad. For teaching me how to look.