Tuesday, February 19, 2013

When Daddy Let Me Drive

Not too long ago, I remember seeing a commercial for an insurance company...Or car company...Or something totally unrelated.  I'm not really sure what the topic was.  But, in any event, the premise of the commercial was a young guy picking up a girl for what we are to assume is prom.  He pulls up to the curb, where she's standing waiting.  He leans across the interior of the car to open the passenger door so she can get in, at which point he stops her, awkwardly shakes his head as he points to her shoes, and she removes them as she gets in the car, obviously annoyed.  I'm not going to spend time dissecting all that is wrong with that from a chivalry standpoint, because that isn't why I brought it up.  But, do know that I am aware of it.

No, the reason I draw your attention to that commercial is because I think we all, at one point or another, know someone that obsesses over cars.  They wash them almost daily, on down to the point of almost combing the floor boards looking for the smallest speck of dirt.  The car is always waxed, and kept in pristine condition.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing...You should take good care of your stuff, especially something as expensive as a car.  But, there's no question some people take it just a bit too far.

My dad teeters on the brink of being one of those people.  Dad has always worked hard for what he's been able to accomplish in life, and when he dumps thousands of dollars into anything, he takes extraordinarily good care of it.  Whether it's a car, truck, lawnmower, bicycle, or anything else...He takes care of his stuff.  No question about it.  And while it's nothing for him to wash his and mom's vehicles twice a week during the summer, he's nowhere nearly as obsessive about his truck as the individual I described above.

He saved that obsession for his boat.

Literally for as long as I can remember, my parents have had a boat.  They started out with an old poop brown and yellow pontoon that just screamed of the 1970s.  Of course, I can't complain...I'd give my left arm for a boat of my own, even if it were that exact same boat reincarnated.  I'd take it.  Just check out that beautiful interior:
Mom and Dad ended up selling that one and upgrading to an old Mark Twain runabout that we had until I was about 7 or 8 years old.  I don't really remember much about it except one time when we were crossing the lake, we came upon a line of barge waves and a wall of water came rushing in over the nose, completely drenching the boat, and everything in it.
Now, Dad's obsession with caring for his boat was almost assuredly present during the time my parents had those boats, but I was so young I don't remember it.  But, when Dad came home with The Bat Boat, all that changed.  And for good reason...It was a sharp, sharp boat.  I remember multiple times when people would idle up next to us and offer to buy the thing on the spot.  It was beautiful, and unique, and kept in like-new condition from day one.
I suppose I wasn't fully aware of his obsessive-compulsive behavior in regards to the boat until I was in high school...When I first started to get the nerve to ask if I could take it out by myself.  Of course, I might as well have been asking Dad if I could go to the moon, and I don't blame him.  I sure wouldn't trust a 16-year-old kid, even my own son, with my boat.  But, after a couple years of chipping away at him, he finally gave in.  And I remember that day very well.

I was 17, we were camping at Hillman Ferry, and Dad and I had already been out on the boat that day.  I don't know exactly where they were, but Mom and Lensey weren't with us.  One of my friends had shown up that afternoon, and since the boat was already in the water, I asked Dad if I could take it out for another hour or two.  And, by some miraculous act of God, he said yes.  I was so excited I could hardly contain myself.  And I'll never forget the last thing he said to me as he pushed us away from the dock..."It better come back exactly the way it left."  Come on, Dad...What could happen in an hour?

Knowing that any hopes I had of ever taking the boat out again after that hinged solely on my ability to get it back without so much as a speck of dirt, and I intended on making sure that happened.  We drove two bays down to the Rock Quarry, puttered around for a few minutes, and then made our way back.  The journey lasted no more than 45 minutes, but I didn't want to press my luck.  I figured the longer I stayed out, the more likely I was to screw something up.

I turned the corner of the bay, pulled back smoothly on the throttle as the boat lost its plane, and slowed to a beautiful idle.  I had made it back, safe and sound.  I could already hear Dad heaping praise on his only son for taking a major step towards manhood.  "Hell, take it out all weekend if you want to!" I could hear him say.  I was floating on air...I was on top of the world!

Then I was crashing to the floor as the backrest on the driver's seat collapsed.

I lay in the floor, momentarily paralyzed.  I looked up at my friend as if to say, "What the hell happened?"  He looked back at me with a puzzled, worried look as if to say, "I have no idea!"  I was frantic.  I looked everywhere for some kind of solution...What in the world had happened?!  One minute everything was fine, and the next there were wet, rotted wood fragments sprayed all over the floor.  The wooden support where the driver's seat and passenger seat's crests meet back-to-back had completely pulled apart...Screws were sticking out on either side, and the seats refused to stay standing up.  Not only could I see my daydream plummeting into darkness, I could see my life doing the same thing.

I know Dad had to have sensed my despair.  I was an absolute wreck, trying to explain what had happened both without having any explanation to offer, and not having any question solicited by him.  The type of explanation that immediately makes someone appear guilty.  He tried to calm me down and told me he'd look at it when we got back to the campsite, but it was no use...I knew I'd probably never get to even look at the boat again, much less drive it alone.

It just didn't seem fair.  I had asked Dad to take the boat out dozens of times before, and the first time he lets me, I practically destroy two seats and have no earthly clue how I did it.  I was deliberate in every movement I made.  I had taken every precaution.  I was more careful than any normal human being should be.  And none of it mattered.  As I approached the campsite, returning from the shower house, I saw Dad pop up from inside the boat.  The verdict was in.

"I just need to replace the wood back here.  It's just rotted through...Was going to happen sooner or later, anyway...Don't worry about it."

I could practically see the clouds part, and hear a chorus of "Hallelujah" reverberate down from the hills.  There was hope.  It wasn't my fault!  Dad told me not to worry, and he didn't make a big deal out of it at all.  He let me take the boat out by myself a bunch of times after that.  And, as my friends can attest, I was a drill-sergeant when it came to keeping it clean. J-Bird doesn't mess around, I'd constantly remind them.

My dad loved that boat, and the care he put toward it illustrated that fact.  But, as Lensey and I grew older and grew tired of skiing and wakeboarding, the need for more room became apparent and they sold it to my cousin and her husband a few years later.  Dad had taken such good care of it, it hardly depreciated at all.  They bought a nice pontoon, which they still have.
The first time Dad let me take the pontoon out, I was met with a laminated folder of typed instructions on every step I had to take prior to launch, and upon my return.  Step-by-step, he laid out every plausible scenario from a spare battery, to where the bimini top straps were located.  It told me which rope was used to tie the front and back to the dock.  It even provided instructions on how to operate the radio.  It was, to be frank, a little ridiculous.  But, a perfect example of just how thorough he can be in assuring his investments last.

It took me a little longer than he would have hoped to inherit that trait.  He made Lensey and I keep our bikes clean when we were kids.  He was constantly on me about washing my car or getting the oil changed.  He'd always say something like, "If you want to trash your car, then you can start paying for it."  And when I bought my truck a couple of years ago, I understood exactly what he meant.

Buying a boat is at the top of mine and Adrienne's wish list.  And while I probably won't have typed and laminated instructions stored under a seat, I'm sure I'll do my dad proud in taking care of it.

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