Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Pacers Look Better Over Time
A couple of months before I turned sixteen, my father came home and surprised me with the news that every teenage boy longs to hear. "Come with me, son," he said, "let's go check out the car I just bought you." YES! My own car! I couldn't believe it. Already I enjoyed the advantage of being a few months older than most of my friends. I'd be getting my license before any of the other guys. Now, thanks to dad's unexpected benevolence, I would have a car. I was psyched! "No stopping me now," I thought. Life is sweet!
After allowing dad a few minutes to dump the jacket and tie he'd worn to work, my father and I piled into his car and headed off to claim my prize. I don't remember much of what we talked about on the way. I'm sure he was probably lecturing me on the responsibilities of owning a car and bombarding me with the importance of driver safety. But all I heard was "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah..." My mind was already fastforwarding to me and the guys cruising up and down Fayetteville Street. Finally, my days of standing at the mall exit, pathetically waiting for my mom or one of my friend's parents to pick me up were over. No more watching every girl I remotely liked climb into an older guy's car and head off for a night of dating fun while I headed home or to a friend's house to play ping-pong. Nope, soon it would be my time. Unleash the testosterone! Let the good times roll!
A short time later, we pulled up to a house I'd never been to before. It was then that my heart fell to the floorboard of my dad's car. There, in front of the house, with a big SOLD sign on the windshield, was a freshley washed, shiney red, Pacer. I don't know if you're aware of what a Pacer looks like. But picture a giant, pregnant rollerskate, and you've pretty much nailed it. Not only that, but the thing is 90% glass. If you don't want to drive it, you can just park it out back and use it as a greenhouse. It's also round. I swear on my life, it's a round car! "God help me if I ever flip it," I mumbled, "the thing will roll through four counties before it finally stops."
"Well, what do you think?" Dad asked. I didn't know what to say. I was torn. On one hand, I appreciated dad's willingness to buy me a car. On the other, I was horrified. I could feel the icey grip of high school celibacy tightening around me. Cold, clammy sweat poured out of my adolescent body. Everything in me wanted to yell, "What do I think? I'll tell you what I think! I think you've insured that I'll never have sex! I think the only girls who'll be seen with me are the ones who wear head gear and pluck their unibrow for special occassions! I think that once word of this gets out, my soon-to-be ex-friends will exhaust themselves finding ways to make my life a living hell! And I think that the moment I drive up to Asheboro High School in this thing, kids in the band will kick my ass!" Despite my inner panic, I bit my lip, kept my emotions in check, and forced a subdued "Thanks, Dad."
For two weeks I drove the Pacer; or, as my friends came to call it, the "eternally-a-virgin mobile." Since I only had a learner's permit, Dad was beside me most of the time. He kept giving me pointers and showering me with directions. But all I could think was how I looked like I was driving a fish bowl. Look everybody, it's the boy in the plastic bubble! Finally, the humiliation became too much. I got up my courage and told my dad that I just couldn't drive the Pacer. To my dad's credit, he was pretty cool about it. I guess he remembered how precious cool points are when you're sixteen. You don't have money. Your reputation is the only currency you've got. He sold the car and, after my birthday, I bought my brother's old clunker for $350.
To this day, I would love to know what the guy who okayed the Pacer was thinking. Think about it. At some point, some high-paid exec in Detroit looked at the first Pacer that rolled off the line and thought, "Oh yeah, that baby'll sell!"
But I digress. The point I want to make is this: Time greatly changes your perspective. When I was a teenager, all I saw was an ugly car. Now that I'm a grown man, I don't look back and see my dad's failed attempt to buy me a cool automobile. All I really think about is how much he loved me and cared to want to give me what he thought I wanted. I once heard it said that almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Other than that, intentions don't get you very far. But you know what, when it comes to fatherhood, that's not necessarily true. Intentions might not carry the day at the time. But as the years pass, kids see less and less of whatever went wrong, upset them, or caused them embarassment, and a whole lot more of the love and intention behind the parental gesture. So keep on giving dads. We might not always get it right. If you're like me, your cool points were exhausted long ago. We'll likely fall short as we try to relate to our kids. Perhaps our efforts to spend time with them or take an active part in their lives will even seem, at times, embarassing or like a nuisance. But hang in there. Your best efforts might look like a Pacer today. But one day, they'll be an important reminder to your kids of how much you've always loved them and just how lucky they are to have you for a dad. So thanks for the car, Pop! And this time, I really mean it.