My best friend Chris and I stood over the opened hood of my 1998 GMC Envoy pretending to know what we were looking at. We knew for sure that the car wouldn’t start…and that was about the extent of our mechanical assessment.
Chris and I were just graduating from Miami, and this night was a rarity for us—we had actually been invited to a party and we had girls to go with us. Those same girls were now sitting impatiently in the backseat of a GMC Envoy that was parked on Bishop Street in Oxford and had no plans of moving from that particular location any time soon.
“I think we’ve almost got it fixed,” I yelled as I poked my head out from underneath the hood, flashing my best smile to our damsels in distress. Both girls smiled and laughed, probably knowing that I was using a liberal application of the word “almost”.
“I have no idea what I’m looking at here,” I said to Chris as we peered over the engine. I probably also added a few additional “adjectives” to help capture my emotions towards the vehicle, the car my Dad had bought for me during my senior year in high school. When he had bought it, I was super excited to have a car with a leather interior, a CD player, heated seats, and a sunroof. Four years and lots of driving, however, had gotten the best of the Silver Bullet. She was exhausted from the over 160,000 miles she had earned. The victim of my Dad’s attempts at numerous repairs had gotten the best of her. And now she was refusing to do the one thing I needed her to do: to start.
So Chris and I did what any college boys trying to impress a couple girls would have done. We took off our button downs, bent over the engine in white t-shirts and jeans, and started banging unmercifully on any piece of the engine that looked like it needed to be hit.
And when that didn’t work, we called my Dad.
Dad had received dozens of these calls over the years. “Dad, I went to get in the car after work and it won’t start.” “Dad, I have to be to class in 15 minutes and my car won’t start.” “Dad, I’m stuck in the middle of Route 4 and my car just died and there is an angry mob with pitchforks and torches ready to flip this hunk of junk if I can’t get it going. I might join them.” He always had a solution, usually something completely outside of my technical understanding of motor vehicles, but more times than not he could tell me what I needed to do to get the car moving, at least temporarily until we could get it to the shop.
But on this night, our call would be different. Memorable, and different.
I dialed his number and told him the story. “Dad, Chris and I and some friends are stuck in Oxford because my car won’t start.”
And then, he did the unthinkable.
“Did you hear me?!” I said, ready to explode. “I said my car won’t start! We are stuck. I don’t know what to do.”
“Well, I don’t know. Do you have the hood open?” he replied.
“Yes, Dad, of course we do.”
“Have you tried banging around on the engine yet?” he said.
“ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?! DAD!”
He laughed even harder. I, on the other hand, found myself within moments of violating a handful of the Ten Commandments in a single response.
“It’s a Friday night. Hang out in Oxford for a bit, try to start it again, and if it doesn’t work you’ll find a way to get home,” he said. “Maybe this is why you don’t get invited to parties that often,” he said in between his maniacal fits of chuckling.
I closed my phone, looked at Chris, and gave the only response I could possibly drum up that would explain the conversation I had just had.
“I think my Dad is on drugs.”
So, Chris and I regrouped and came up with a new plan. We would bang on the engine even harder than we had done the last time, and then we would start feeling around for parts that had popped loose and we would jam them back into the spots where we guessed they probably belonged.
And, miraculously, the car started.
Sometimes, a little dumb luck and advice from your Dad goes a long way.
“I can’t believe you were just going to leave us stranded up there!” I yelled at my Dad after getting home much later than I had originally planned. “You know I’ve got a big day tomorrow, and you were no help at all!”
Dad just sat in his recliner, smiling from ear to ear. He had stayed downstairs watching television, probably falling asleep in the recliner and waking up once he heard me come through the door. I swear I saw popsicle sticks laying on the side table. The audacity! Your only son is stranded and you have the nerve to eat popsicles?!
“You got home alright, didn’t you? Did you bang on it like I told you?” he smirked.
“Yes-I-banged-on-it-like-you-told-me-to. And it worked, but that’s not the point!”
“Is the point that you want to thank me for giving you such great mechanical advice?” he said, with that all-familiar smugness of a Father knowing he has his son cornered in an argument he can’t win.
I turned around, face beat red, ears burning, and said “I can’t talk to you when you act like this.”
“We will fix it tomorrow,” he yelled up the stairs. I ignored him and went into my room, slamming the door in an all-to-predictable move for an angry son.
As I stormed up the stairs, I could still hear him laughing to himself in the chair. That laugh would infuriate me more than anything. I was half-tempted to tell him I hitchhiked home with a drug dealer just to see if it would get him to stop laughing.
I hadn’t lied to my Dad when I told him that the next day was a big one. Maybe more busy than big, but jam-packed nonetheless. It was a hot day in the early summer of 2009, and I had classically overcommitted myself yet again. I was scheduled to referee two soccer games in the morning. Then, I had a brief break in the middle of the day before I needed to leave and announce a post-season baseball game. After that, I would have to scurry back home, clean up, and leave again because that night promised to be a special night.
My college graduation party. My Mom and Dad had worked really, really hard to put together a beautiful graduation party for me to celebrate the end of my time as a student at Miami. They had rented out the athletic center at a local school that my Dad had helped to construct. My Mom had ordered a ton of food from my favorite Greek restaurant in town, and had also cooked many more items for everyone to enjoy. They had each set up tables, decorated, set up cornhole boards, hired a DJ, ordered a cake, and done just about everything they could to make this an amazingly special night. They had invited hundreds of our friends, family, and neighbors to come to the party, and I was beyond excited to see everyone.
I got home from the morning soccer games on that Saturday—sweaty, smelly, and overly exhausted. I hopped in the shower, put on some fresh clothes after, and hit the bed for what I hoped would be a brief and refreshing nap. And as soon as I did, I was disrupted.
“Ty,” my Mom said from the bottom of the stairs, “we need you to come outside for a minute. There’s someone here who wants to see you and say hi.”
I immediately felt annoyed. I was tired, and wanted a nap more than anything to prepare for the rest of the day.
“Okay, Mom,” I said. I got up, dragging, and made my way down the staircase.
As I made my way down the staircase, I saw a really sharp black SUV parked in our driveway. I tried to look out the windows in the hopes that I might recognize who it was, but I had no idea. This being my graduation party, I figured it was probably some long lost relative that my Mom and Dad wanted me to meet. Whoever it was, he/she drove a really nice car. I made my way through the foyer, opened the front door, and stood there with a look of shock on my face as I saw who was waiting in the driveway.
It was my Dad, standing next to the black SUV, with a camera in his hand—pointed directly at me.
“Happy graduation, Bub!”
When the reality of what was happening actually set in, I completely broke down. I started crying, and I turned around and hugged my Mom, who stood in the doorway right behind me.
“We love you, Ty,” she said. “Happy graduation!”
“Mom, you guys shouldn’t have done this,” I responded, tears already forming.
“Ty, your Dad really wanted to do this for you,” she said.
I ran out into the driveway, and threw myself into my Dad’s arms. He put his camera down and hugged me really tight—I can still feel that hug. “Happy graduation, bub. You’ve made us all really proud, and you deserve this.”
I opened the doors of the new car—my new car–another Envoy, but much sleeker, newer, and reliable than the one I had previously had. It was absolutely beautiful, and it looked brand new. It had everything I wanted in a car. I just couldn’t believe it was actually mine.
Dad had gone the extra mile, as he did with everything in life. He had driven all the way up to Oxford and bought Miami University license plate frames, window decals, and some of my very first Miami “Alumni” items that I ever owned. We walked around the car, checking everything out from top to bottom. The engine grill was mesh and really made the car pop. There wasn’t a scratch to be found on it. The interior was spotless.
“Want to take it for a quick spin?” Dad said. He tossed me the keys, and of course, he had added a Miami RedHawks key chain to them.
I hopped in the driver’s seat as Dad climbed into the passenger seat and Mom hopped in the back row. I began to drive down the road, shaking my head the entire time and repeating over and over again “I just can’t believe you did this.”
We rolled down the streets of our neighborhood as Dad showed me all of the cool features that the car had. He rolled from the main console to the seat controls and to all of the other things that this car had which my old one didn’t. We rolled down the windows and rode together as a family down Canal Road near our home, basking in the sunlight of a summer day and a boy with fresh wheels.
And then, it hit me.
“THAT’S WHY YOU WERE LAUGHING LIKE A MANIAC WHEN I CALLED YOU LAST NIGHT!”
And there it was again. The same laugh I had heard the night before when I stood over a cold engine on the streets of Oxford. The same laugh that is burned into my senses anytime I think about my Dad now that he is gone. The same laugh that brought me, my family, and anyone who met my Dad such tremendous joy. The laugh that I long, more than anything, to hear again someday.
Yes, the night before when my old car had once again failed to start, my Dad knew all along that he would be giving me a new car the very next day. As a matter of fact, I found out that my Dad was actually cleaning the interior of my new car when I had called him. With a bottle of leather cleaner and a microfiber cloth in hand, Dad was laughing at the irony of the situation—and probably at the thought of how much more I would appreciate the new ride in less than 24 hours.
My Dad understood that for a boy in college (or freshly graduated from it), a car is so much more than four wheels. A car tells a story about the driver. A car is not simply a transportation device to get someone from Point A to Point B. A car has character. A car has its own story to tell. And a car, in my life, represents much more than freedom.
“You’ve worked really, really hard in college,” my Dad told me as we drove around. “I wanted to think of a way for your Mom and I to show you how proud we are of you for working so hard.”
That new Envoy was a trophy. It was a daily reminder, each day that I opened the door, of how proud my Mom and Dad were of me. Every day when I opened that car door, I could feel a sense of happiness, appreciation, and confidence wash over me. It was a daily reminder of the love my parents had made me feel my entire life. And it reminded me of the sacrifice they made—and had always made—to show me how loved I was.
I remember pulling into the parking lot at Foundation Field later that day to announce the baseball game, and the look of surprise from the coaches who saw me roll into the complex in a sleek new ride. They all came jogging out to the spot I parked in (very, very far away from the reach of any particularly pesky foul balls) and put their arm around me when they saw the new car.
“My Dad and Mom gave it to me,” I said proudly as I shook my head. “I still can’t believe it.”
After the game, I drove with a new sense of pride and purpose to my graduation party across town. Dad made me park the Envoy right out in front of the door, and he went back to work on my new gift—polishing, cleaning, waxing, and perfecting. Apparently, Dad had told a number of people that we worked with what he was getting me for a graduation gift—it was amazing that his secret actually stayed a secret!
That car became a reminder of my Dad each and every time I opened the door and sat behind the wheel. He had found the car from an old coworker and friend and bought it while it didn’t have many miles on it. Even though it had miles, it looked brand new. He had come up with the idea of getting me a car for graduation, and convinced my Mom that it would be a great idea.
And then, when my Dad passed away, it became a tangible reminder of his love for me. Daily, that car would bring me back to happier times when my Dad was here to love all of us in person—but it also reminded me that he was still loving me and my Mom and our entire family from the other side of Eternity. After he was gone, I often that back to that day when I stepped out of our front door and saw him standing there with a camera. It’s a memory, thankfully, that is burned in my mind forever. I’ll never forget the feeling my parents gave me that day, and I’ll never quit seeing the smile on my Dad’s face.
But even the very best cars that are gifted from loving parents will break down over time. The interior will dirty and the engine will fail, and there will always come a time when that car is no longer as functional as it was before.
But how do you let go of a car that is more than four wheels? A car that is a gift from a Father who is no longer there? A car that is a physical reminder of the Dad who raised me, loved me, and taught me how to drive and so much more?
I’ll tell you how I let go next week in the conclusion of this story.
Dad, I still remember that Saturday afternoon when you and Mom gave me the new Envoy for graduation. I remember the smile on your face when you saw me come outside. I remember that you took so many pictures, and I remember how happy you were to show me every detail and feature the car had to offer. I cherished that car and I will always cherish that day. You made that entire day so special, but more than any tangible gift you ever gave me, you always told me how proud you were of me. I never told you how much confidence that gave me and how your belief in me helped me overcome so many obstacles. After you left, there were so many days where I would just hop in the car, drive down the road, and reminisce about the day you gave it to me. You blessed me with so many gifts in this life, and I am eagerly waiting for the day when I can see you and thank you again. Until then, seeya Bub.
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)