My old car lasted 14 years and went almost 110,000 miles. Bits of it had started to fall off. The dealer doubted I could drive it up the hill to trade it in.
Maybe it was about time for a change. To justify the expense to myself, I look upon my new car as an advance Father’s Day present. Who needs a tie or deodorant when he has eau de new car for after-shave? And I thought of my father, and not only because Father’s Day is next Sunday. Dad taught me to drive and much else besides.
Dad was a large man — in fact, he was overweight before obesity became popular — but for much of his life he drove small English cars.
The car he owned when I was growing up was an Austin A-30, an auto so small that it could have infiltrated a Shriners miniature car parade. It was so small that a lad could take a date to the drive-in theater and she would be perfectly safe from romantic encounter unless he put his legs out the window. The car was a motorized English roller skate.
Funny how the eccentricities of the father can take root in a son. I am a tall fellow and I drove small cars for years, too.
But what would Dad have thought of my new car, which is quite big by his old — and my recent — standards? There’s no saying now. The old man passed on 14 years ago. A smoker for years who liked a drink and a sandwich, he died of lung cancer in the end. Maybe he was asking for trouble, but he was 96 at the time.
So when I call him the old man, that is not just an affectionate flourish, although there’s plenty of that, too. Jim Henry was 46 when I was born. He had gone to World War II as a correspondent with the Reuters news agency.
The stories he told of being attacked at sea by Japanese suicide planes and landing with the Marines on distant Pacific atolls was one reason that I wanted to become a journalist. It sounded exciting.
Unfortunately, the old man never told me about the endless meetings in the journalism business, but then I fear it’s no different in the corporate world, with less opportunity for scratching and laughing.
As the very image of an English gentleman, colonial variety, the old man wasn’t much for scratching but, oh, he liked laughing. He was a fountain of jokes and merry quips.
With his large appetite for life and its many humorous stories, no pun or play on words was too lame for him. He was like the guy who walked into the French restaurant and asked the waiter if he had frogs’ legs. “Oui, monsieur. This is a French restaurant after all,” the waiter sniffed. “Very good,” the guy said, “jump over the bar and get me a cheese sandwich.”
With such a father as a role model, I could not help being impressed. Why, to this day, everything I do, both in my writings and my conversation, essentially boils down to urging people to jump over the bar for a cheese sandwich — metaphorically speaking, of course.
My father left me only a little money after 96 years on this Earth. That did not matter. He did not bequeath me his abundant charm that could make a room light up. That didn’t much matter to me and my creative grouchiness. And he did not leave me his remarkable attractiveness to women. (OK, that mattered a lot, but I smiled bravely through my tears.)
But in the fullness of time, I became a father myself and learned that Dad left me a greater legacy in the form of this wisdom: Whatever success in life a man might have, nothing is more important than telling cheesy stories to sons or daughters, teaching them to throw a ball, drive a car, tell jokes, battle adversity, do good, be kind, laugh, be brave, love life, love country and, as far as the spirit so inclines, honor all creation and its Creator. And be always there for them, on rough roads or smooth.
There are families that for various reasons never had fathers, and some manage quite well, even magnificently. But if you have a good father, the same as if you have a good mother, the chances of a good life go up and up.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You should see my new car. I took it for a spin and found myself driving down memory lane.
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.