Last weekend’s theme: I Blame My Dad. When I have a story that illustrates a major point in a conversation, I usually start of by saying, “Have I ever told you about the time…” But last weekend, I was looking into the bewildered eyes of my listeners after telling my anecdotes and was feeling compelled to add, “I blame my dad…” because he was the source of almost every one of my illustrations. Without him, I wouldn’t have the gift of spotting nincompoopery at it’s finest.
There isn’t enough room on this post to itemize all the lessons Dad tried to pass along, so I chose only those that I talked about this last weekend. Please remember that within all the practical-turned-bizzarre lessons that my dad taught me was the love of a father for his child.
Good drivers care more about developing skills than living by the handbook.
It seems I have a high aptitude for this particular lesson.
My father taught me how to drive. My mother taught all the others, but when it was my turn to learn to drive, she handed me over to Dad, claiming it was his turn.
I don’t blame her. She had probably had enough heart-stopping experiences. Teaching nine 15-year-olds how to drive over the course of 20 years was a little more than she probably bargained for. And “heart-stopping experiences” is probably no overstatement. When my mother was in the hospital after having a heart attack, the cardiologist told my father that she had probably been having small heart attacks for quite a long time. Yeah, I thought and their names are #1,#2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, and #9, because she handed me off to Dad, I had nothing to do with it. *finger snap* Still, she could have finished what she started. I felt a little dissed.
Here are a few of my father’s instructions that haven’t that haven’t boded well for me. Keep in mind that an adult can spot the flawed logic right away, but a 15-year-old may tend to not question a parent especially when he is giving her “permission”:
- You can always go 5 miles an hour over the speed limit. Law enforcement officers don’t care.
Ummm… yes they do, Pops. Some of them care a lot.
- You don’t have to ease to the left to see if you can pass the car in front of you. Just look through their windshield to see if there are on-coming cars. This cuts down on valuable seconds that could be better spent passing the slow poke.
Yeah. I’m not going to explain how incredibly wrong you were, Pops, but I will add that law enforcement officers don’t like this one either.
- When taking curves, you can easily go at least 10 miles an hour over the posted speed limit. They post such low speeds for the inexperienced drivers.
Well, Pops, it has been my experience that those speeds are for every one. And you owe me a lot of money.
Always have an Escape Route A and an Escape Route B.
My father was constantly giving me scenarios and asking me how I would get out of them, and when I didn’t have a good enough or bloody enough answer (somehow the bloodier translated into the better), he would instruct me on how to escape harm.
For instance, when I was about 8 or 9, my dad woke me in the middle of the night to watch a building burn down a block from my house. all the while he told me to feel the heat, and watch the flames in the sky because I would have to remember that feeling if I was ever in a burning building. It would be 100 times hotter if I were in the building. What would you do if our house started on fire? I didn’t know, probably run downstairs and out the door. What if the stairs were engulfed in flames? Then what? Ummm… I would climb out the window onto the porch roof and wait for the firemen. What if they didn’t get here on time? What then? Ummm… I would jump off the porch’s roof, run to the neighbors and wake them for help. That’s quite a drop, you could break your ankles if you landed wrong. do you know how to land? Ummm… no. I didn’t know there was a special way. Yes, there is , but I can’t show you now. I wanted you to see the fire so you would never try to play with it. Fire is dangerous. Yes, Pops, I won’t.
But I think that promise lasted all of a month, and then my brother #9, my nephew and I started a bonfire our on our front walk way with stuff we pulled out of the garbage can while Mom and dad were watching tv.
Using common, everyday items as weapons was one of my dad’s favorite lessons.
[Distraction before surprise attack was my brother’s (#9) addition, but that’s another post.]
Car keys: another everyday item introduced to me by my father. Dad was adamant about me never putting my keys directly in my purse after getting out of the car. He told me to hold them between my index and middle fingers as a makeshift sword. If a man attacks from behind, stab him in the leg (thrusting his arm down and back) or in the eye (thrusting his fist over his right shoulder and then his left shoulder) and then run to the building. You better brutally stab with intent to inflict serious harm for three reasons: 1. so he’ll let you go, 2. so he can’t catch you and 3. for identification purposes. You may not get a good look at him, but the police have a better chance of finding him if you do some major damage to legs and/or face. Gotcha, Pops. Major damage to assailant’s face and legs. Run like hell.
Roll playing is another thing I learned from my dad.
When I was 19, I decided that I wanted to drive across country (Nebraska to Southern Indiana) to see my cousin. In the name of safety, my dad outfitted me with a gun and a bit of advice before I set out. He handed me a Derringer and gave me these instructions:
Keep it loaded. Keep the safety on. Keep it wrapped in this towel and under the driver’s seat. When you get tired, pull into a rest stop, park under a light, keep the gun close to your hand (in the cup holder or on your chest) and the safety off. In the event someone tries to break into your car or hurt you, grab the gun, wait until they are close enough to touch, and then pull the trigger.
We acted this out (sans the pistol) in the middle of the living room in front of my mother who was rolling her eyes and shaking her head.
My dad was eccentric.
Capricious, erratic, idiosyncratic, quirky, or however one chooses to define him, this one thing is true: he really did love his children; although, each one of us questioned it for part or most of our lives. Being abandoned at 9 years of age by his mother, left in the care of his mostly absent father, but most assuredly influenced by a loving aunt, my dad didn’t have an ever-present parent to lead and guide him, so he had to learn about life on his own. And what he learned, he felt compelled to pass on to us. His methods were unconventional to say the least, demented at times, and quite often utterly short-sighted, but his heart was in the right place. I think I inherited from him the idea that I would parent my children the way I wanted to be parented.
I try to think of him in a more positive light: if his delivery wasn’t flawed (okay deeply flawed), I wouldn’t have captivating illustrations, humorous anecdotes, or a smidge more than slightly disturbing stories. I wouldn’t have an abundance of crazy stuff to tell my kids.
So I try to pass it along, this legacy of eccentricity. I tell my kids all the time that because of my imperfect parenting they are going to have stockpiles of great stories to tell their children. They are going to thank me the day they get to say, “I blame my mother…”