My dad taught me many things: how to play in the key of G, how to shave, how to eat four pounds of crab legs without throwing up in public. I can’t assign a relative level of importance to any of the aforementioned as, at age 37, I still use every skill on a regular basis. I can’t count the number of important lessons Dad taught me over the years (including how to cheat death). Some of the most intense tutelage I got in my formative years came in a dark blue Pontiac Bonneville on a December night in 1989.
It was a typical southwest Missouri ice storm, one that coated the roads in a inch-thick layer of ice–ice that didn’t melt for two days, took down 100-year-old trees, and plunged homes into darkness for weeks at a time. It happened with a near-clockwork regularity and came in all varieties. Freezing rain storms, blizzards, F4 ice tornadoes. It seemed we got them all. Dad looked forward to each like I anticipated being alone for a third time with that one particular girl I knew back then. And so, as a father, he taught me how to drive on the ice. It was his job. He didn’t wait for somebody else to do it, or for me to ask. He just put me behind the wheel and put me on the streets of our little grid-patterned subdivision. There I learned to let off the brakes, how to steer into the skid, and how to curse mightily when it call goes wrong and the nose of the car ends in a ditch at the corner of Eldon and Collings.
This is something for which I should’ve thanked my father several times, if not in words, then in action. When he asked some time later that I take the main highway home to drop off my date, I should’ve listened instead of thinking it would be a lot more romantic to go the back way by the airport. Black ice on highway EE, a cross-traffic skid, a near roll-over in my ’73 Cougar convertible, and a near death experience later, I was hitchhiking back to my parents’ house and facing an angered-silent father. I eventually got the Cullen girl home, but that was our only night out. Sorry, Doni. It probably wouldn’t have worked out, black ice near-death date or not.
Looking back, I was probably the winter driving bane of my dad’s life. I made more bad winter driving decisions in my few years as a teen driver than most people make in their lives. Dad always had to bail me out. I spent so much time apologizing, I never realized I should thank him.
And so came today when the tiniest of ice events happened on the streets of Greenville, SC. The world came to a halt over what was basically a rain storm. My son’s private school stayed in session and the wife called to the bullpen for the righty to brave the streets. As I pulled together my things and got in the car, I realized that everything I did was at my dad’s urging. Proper dress, extra coat, one blanket, emergency phone, etc. As the boy and I made our way up Piney Mountain Rd, I explained the concept of black ice and how to distinguish it from a wet road. I explained about braking, proper speed, and proper following distances. I dropped him off safely at school, got coffee, and went back home.
It took me most of the day to realize that around 21 years ago this month, my dad prepared me for this very day and that I never properly thanked him for that.
So, thanks, Dad, for helping me out today.