A father has to be a provider, a teacher, a role model, but most importantly, a distant authority figure who can never be pleased. Otherwise, how will children ever understand the concept of God?
-Stephen Colbert, I Am America
My husband loves cars. He loves researching them, talking about them, buying them, selling them, buying their parts, selling their parts, taking them apart, putting them back together, watching them zoom around race tracks, driving them on race tracks, and tailgating beautiful sports cars on the open road. A notoriously terrible morning person, he would leap out of bed at dawn on Saturdays when we still lived in Northern Virginia to drive 45 minutes to Katie’s Cars and Coffee, a weekly get together of sports and vintage car enthusiasts in Great Falls. Before we owned a house with a garage, he rented a storage unit for a Miata, spending whole weekend days rebuilding its engine in stifling August heat.
Since we met in 2008, we have owned 12 cars and one purple motorcycle. The most at one time was six: a sedan he drives to work, a Miata intended for racing but, even with constant tinkering, refuses to run; a Miata he’d rebuilt and painted a shiny Ferarri red; a totaled Mercedes convertible given to him by a coworker who’d told him he could keep it if he could fix it (which he did); a Corvette, his prized possession; and my car. As of last week, we are down to three: the stubborn Miata, his sedan, and mine.
Although my son and I are enjoying the open garage and driveway situation for the time being, I don’t expect it to last; my husband is in the best place he can be right now, researching and dreaming about what his next “toy” will be. To say that I have mixed feelings about this hobby is an understatement, and possibly a lie. I am the Peace Corps, tree hugging penny pincher to his new and shiny, pave-the-backyard thrill seeker. I am Pride and Prejudice. He is Fast and Furious, the one where the cars soar out of a jumbo jet in mid-air and parachute onto a bridge over a gorge while being shot at by RPGs. You know the one.
It should come as no surprise that my son is a combination of our personalities. When I last wrote, before I returned to teaching at the start of the school year, Jake was four months old. We had just introduced him to solid foods, and were about to embark on a hilariously awful family road trip to Florida (hilarious in retrospect; at the time, just awful). Now, at the start of summer and the cusp of 15 months, Jake’s personality is blossoming in spectacular ways. He has entered a stage when even the most mundane thing has an exclamation point: Dog! Sprinkler! Lawn mower! Stop sign! Ball! Trash can! Grocery cart! But most of all, Car!
Car! Car! CAR! His favorite thing in the entire world is to stand in the driveway and point at cars as they drive by. When he plays in the (temporarily) empty bays in the garage, he stops every few minutes to point at the Miata and say “Look!” to point at my car and say “Look!” and to point at his dad’s car and say “Daddy!” Because even at 15 months, Jake knows. He knows how much his dad loves cars, and he wants us to know that he sees them, too. That he might even love them someday, wheels and speed and gears and grease and all. There are nights when he falls asleep to the not-so-gentle sound of the Miata’s engine revving as his dad tries yet another tweak to get it going. And I’ve never seen a smile so big as his the day he pushed the button on his power-wheel by himself, lurching forward, launching himself across the driveway and into his childhood.
Yesterday was Father’s Day. I took Jake out early, because he’s an early riser (like me) and loves being outside (also like me). I held his hand while he directed me to Look! at the neighbor’s car parked in the driveway, Look! at the truck parked in the street, and Look! at the car passing by. I thought about how lucky Jake is to have a dad with a passion. A dad who spends most days in meetings at work and meetings in the car on the way to other meetings in Northern Virginia, his face glowing in ambient light from a laptop screen, preparing for a presentation while Jake passes from one sleep cycle to the next. But any time he has a free moment, his dad is up to his elbows in grease under the hood of a car, channeling his inner little-boy self, trying different ways to make some part of it better or faster. Someday in the not-so-distant future, I imagine Jake will join his dad under the hood of a car, that their fingernails will be similarly blackened, their brows similarly furrowed, and their hearts filled with the same simple joy.