A Father’s Day Tribute

My father started saving toward my college education the day I was born. The sun came up in the morning and set in the evening and with just as much certainty my sister and I knew we were going to college. So we could get good jobs. Most men of my father’s generation (b. 1927) would have been more worried about marrying their daughters off. Instead, Dad was intent on making us self-sufficient. To this day, my sister and I (both college graduates) very much are. For this Dad, I thank you.

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When I was in art school, I took my dad —  a mechanical engineer by profession who also was a crack mechanic —  to see a car I wanted to buy, a yellow 1978 Ford Thunderbird. I think it was March. He looked under the hood and jacked up the car and scooched underneath. Then we drove it around. When we got home, Dad said, “Looks like the oil pan gasket needs to be replaced, but just keep dumping oil into it and we’ll fix it in the spring.” Two months and five quarts of oil later, I heard the connecting rod knock. The previous owners had put in heavy oil to mask the sound.

And so the car sat in the driveway until one day in early spring, when Dad and a buddy took out the old engine. I spent the better part my summer sanding and then painting the inside of the engine compartment with Ospho rust treatment. Dad had purchased a new engine and it and the 4,574 other parts that connected it to the car were spread out in the garage. I knew my dad was good at replacing brakes and changing oil and spark plugs but I’d never seen him do anything like this before.

Then one day I came home from school and my Dad handed me the key to my car. I opened the five foot long door and slid onto the big brown velour bench seat, stuck the key in the ignition and twisted it forward. The engine turned over easily and came to life. And I felt like I had just seen the best magic trick ever. For this Dad, I thank you.

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“Hey, come over here and pick up the lighter end of this transmission,” said Dad. I spent the better part of my childhood and teen years in the garage helping my dad and so I’ve had my fair share of grease under my fingernails and grit in my hair and on my face. What I learned from this experience: 1. It is okay to be interested in and pursue things that are in men’s territory as long as you don’t ask for special dispensation and are willing to push up your sleeves and work just as hard. 2. There is no lighter end of a transmission. For this, and for everything, Dad, I thank you. Happy Father’s Day.

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