Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Lesson From Dad

When I graduated from high school I needed a car to drive to college. My older brother had faced this dilemma before and had demanded my parents buy him a car. My mother laughed and told him to get a job and buy his own car, which he eventually did.

So when my turn came I chose a different strategy. When asked about college I told my folks, “I don’t think I’ll go to college.”

My mother was appalled. “I thought you were planning on going to the local community college and then transferring to UCLA.” Although neither of my parents went to college, both grew up in big families that prized education.

I had only one hand to play and needed to play it well. “If I went to college,” I said to my parents, “I’d need a car. And you guys have already given me so much that I couldn’t possibly ask you for something so expensive. So I think I’ll just stay home, get a job at McDonald’s and live with you guys.”

There wasn’t any more discussion about it, but a few weeks later there was a car waiting for me in the driveway, a fairly new ‘68 blue Volkswagen Beetle. Without my knowledge, Dad had purchased it at a police auction and, being a professional mechanic, had replaced the damaged engine with a new one. My plan had worked; I’d succeeded where my older brother hadn’t. I was handed a practically new car.

I enrolled at the local community college. The campus was nearly twenty miles away but the distance wasn’t a problem thanks to my blue bug. I was desperate to leave home but two years would pass quickly. Soon enough I’d be off to Los Angeles, the land of my fantasies, few of which had anything to do with college.

Of course I still lived at home during this time, and my dad would frequently ask me if

I was taking good care of my car. I assured him I was. A lie, of course. It’s a sad fact that young people seldom take care of anything obtained without effort. Had I worked to earn my car, like my brother did, I’d have cherished it, maybe even washed it and rotated the tires, had I taken time to learn how. But I wasn’t a good car owner. I filled the beetle with gas and expected it to run perfectly.

One Saturday after visiting friends, I drove home and saw Dad hosing down the driveway. When I parked at the curb and climbed out of my car he said, “You’ve been adding water to the radiator every few weeks, haven’t you?”

I looked my father in the eye and said, “Of course.”

“Glad to hear it,” he said.

I snuck out of the house minutes later when Dad moved his watering to the back yard. I drove furiously to the nearest gas station where I yelled at the attendant, “I’ve had this car for four months and I’ve never put water in the radiator! What should I do?”

“You should learn more about your car,” he said. “Volkswagen Bugs are air-cooled. They don’t have radiators.”

“They don’t?” I asked with relief.

“They don’t,” he said.

When I drove home Dad was curling the hose and putting it away. He was a man of few words. His smile said it all.


  1. awe so cute.Your dad seems like a wise man .

  2. Yep, dads are pretty smart and young sons aren't. You found that out. What a great story.

    Great job on getting a car though!

    Have a terrific day. :)

  3. I would say that you are a lot like your dad. He owed you one for the way you got your car, and you got paid back in kind. Oh, those dads. They sure know how to pick their spots!

  4. That's awesome. My dad had a few clever things that he did when I was growing up (similar to this).

  5. Haha! Not adding water is bad enough, but failing to change the air in the tires per the maintenance schedule could have been disaster!

    So, how's your Rav 4 holding up? :)


  6. With my kids, it's "Have you changed the oil?" As tech savvy as they are, they don't yet realize there's an internal gauge that tells me on the dash when the oil was changed last.

  7. My first car was a '77 Nova. It was literally older than I was. But it was in decent shape for being nearly 20 years old. I remember that I could actually change the air filter and battery and headlights and stuff on it. Whereas today's cars it's almost impossible. When my last car's battery died the mechanic told me the battery was actually UNDER the backseat of the car!

  8. That's a great and well told story, Stephen. I'm amused. After all these years, bugs are still cool. Must be the lack of radiators.

    PS You went to UCLA? Me too, class of 89. We'll have to chat.


  9. Hey! That's not a '68 VW in the picture

  10. NOw that was funny. Your dad had a great sense of humor. I drove a '74 bug when I graduated from college in '84. Kind of wish I still had that car.

  11. My dad had a volkswagon. I loved that little car! No one was allowed to drive it except him. Not even my mother.

    Your dad. I see where you got your sense of humor!! ;)

  12. Ivan:

    Is this picture better? It was labelled as a '68 but you might remember that I'm a dunce when it comes to cars.


    I love my RAV. I'm coming close to working up some lyrics for all the fun noises it's making.

    1. Yup, that is more like what a '68 should look. The bumper and the angle of the windshield are what gives it away.

  13. Was your dad Ward Cleaver?

  14. And you thought YOU were the sly one! I had a '62 VW bug convertible, passed down from my older sister to my older brother and eventually (when it was practically rusted out) to me. Great memories!

  15. Oh yeah, I know from dating one never to try and bs a mechanic about mechanical things!

  16. Oh my gosh...I need to find out if Honda Fits have radiators!

  17. 4 kids 10 cars...this will not happen with the next 4..we are finally understanding that 16 yr olds are not as smart as they told us they were.

  18. I love your dad, but don't get me started on the wiles of younger siblings.

  19. I take pretty good care of the inside of my car, but I haven't washed mine since I bought it eight years ago. I used to love my fifty something VW. It had this knob you turned that would release a gallon of gas if you ran out. It was so cold you had to scrape the inside of the windows though.

  20. yeah - i guess a lot of us are guilty of just expecting things to work...

  21. We always start out thinking we are smarter than our parents! How dumb is that?!

  22. Wow... That story really made me laugh! Did we have the same Dad???

  23. Dads are so stinking clever, aren't they. Bet you wish you had that little bug, don'tcha?? Laurel

  24. Yes, another story that shows just be honest.