Dad's Lessons on Living
In celebration of my father, who gave me my love of cars, planes and life.
My father, mentor and hero, Charles Hart, passed away at age 81 this month. He lived life to the fullest, but not always responsibly.
In memory of my dad, and in celebration of new year, I'm sharing a post I ran when DriveTribe was first starting out, entitled "Irresponsible $#%! My Dad Taught Me." I think with everyone constantly worried about everything all the time recently, this is a perfect time to share it:
Drive safely. Be careful what you say. Always be fair. Follow the rules.
Unless you’re my dad.
My father was the king at teaching us irresponsible mischief with the twinkle in his eye.
He wasn’t a drinker, was unfailingly faithful to my mother, worked hard, prayed hard, and did a majority of fix-it work on the home and our cars, but he was no Ward Cleaver. He was more like the Weasley Twins from Harry Potter, solemnly swearing he was “up to no good.”
He often used his special brand of mischief to teach us some life lessons.
I’m not advocating anyone go out and “try this at home,” but I am saying it’s possible to survive a little living off the rails. Here’s some of the @#$% my dad taught us about living:
My father raced motorcycles and cars in his youth, and he never let us forget it.
When it snowed, we would take the truck to the nearest empty parking lot and do donuts. When we went over hills, he sped up so “we could get air” and that stomach tickle. If there was a speed limit posted on a highway, he always set his at least five miles over that. A few cops let him know that wasn’t appropriate, but what they know? “Just meeting a quota,” Dad would say.
Both my brother and I learned to drive in his ’66 Mustang–by shifting gears at slightly higher speeds than necessary on interstate access roads. I’m still not really sure my dad knew he was driving over the speed limit; it seemed about normal to him.
Shortly after my brother got his driver’s license, our intrusively well-meaning neighbor often called my mom to ask her to please tell my brother to quit revving the engine and peeling out in that “old car.” It’s simply too loud for the neighborhood.
My mother told him it was actually my dad who was driving the car and our neighbor was welcome to talk to him.
The concerned phone calls stopped coming, but the occasional car-revving did not.
Ever been on an amusement park ride surrounded by animatronics and heard the chipper music and banter fade out for a second while a disembodied voice announced, “please keep your hands in the vehicle at all times”? If so, you were likely riding somewhere in the vicinity of the Hart family, with my dad in the back seat of the little boat, log, or car.
If there was a big animal close by, my Dad had to poke its nose. If there was a waterfall, he had to run his hand under it.
I remember the overly-polite scolding from a Country Bear Jamboree worker when my dad lifted me up to pet the talking moose head on the way out.
“Keep off…” “Don’t touch…” “Do not enter…” These were mere suggestions.
We constantly found ourselves looking over our shoulder, with jittery fears of being caught by a museum docent when dad had to crawl up to that historic plane cockpit “just to take a look” or having fears of pulling dad’s mangled body from a ditch because he wouldn’t remain completely seated on tour tram.
He knew the importance of rules, as well as what rules he deemed important, having served in the military, worked as a campus police officer, and serving in education. He knew when to stay in line and when to happily jump the turnstile. I don’t think he ever actually jumped a turnstile, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.
Even in his mid-’70s he still exhibits these little acts of rebellion.
We recently met my dad at an evening church event, and the little parking lot at the building had one way in and one way out. When we left, there were few people remaining in the lot. My dad got in his car and headed straight out the entrance past two large “Wrong Way” signs.
I looked at my husband and said, “Wow he didn’t even see those signs.”
My husband just glanced at me.
“Oh, he saw them,” he said.
There was a commercial I saw recently of a father with his son after a peewee football game. The son was carrying a post-season trophy that said “Participant” when the father knew his team won every game. The dad ripped the label of the trophy and wrote “Champions” in its place.
This was my dad in a nutshell.
My dad felt everyone should be allowed in the game, but no one needs a head start. If they can’t win, so be it. That’s competition. He felt everyone deserves the right to try, but they also deserve to fail if they don’t have the skills, physical abilities, or practice. No “lowering standards” if someone couldn’t keep up.
There are no “Participation” ribbons in his world.
There are many who disagree–I understand–but my father was also a big supporter of Special Olympics, he encouraged and cheered on everyone on the field at the school, and told everyone they did a “great job” after school games. This behavior didn’t go unnoticed by my brother, who went on be a special education teacher specializing in adaptive physical education. My brother and his wife have spent much of their professional career creating camps for youth with autism.
It isn’t all about competitive sports. I don’t recall my dad ever throwing a game of checkers, Candyland, or Battleship just to spare my feelings. Oh, yes, I stormed off a few times, but then I got competitive as well.
I knew I would eventually be good enough to beat my dad “at his own game.” When I won that first game of Battleship after tweaking my strategy over and over again, that victory was sweeter than if I had been handed a win.
Was it fair for a grown man like my dad to jump over a five-year-old’s ill-fated gameplay and sink my destroyer? Probably not, but if he did let me win, I wouldn’t have built up that sweet taste for justice in beating him “fairly” myself?
Trust me, when I first beat my dad I earned that title. It was a long time coming, but no one was taking it from me.
Today, "Grandpa" is still teaching the youngest in our clan to live life to the fullest...close to the edge (Lord help us!)
"Grandpa"continued teaching the youngest in our clan to live life to the fullest...close to the edge, just as he did us.
Embarrass Your Kids
My ex-Air Force, racing dad had another side to him. He was in theatre in college, and also taught it in his early years in education. He performed in Shakespeare productions, modeled for rifle catalogs, and he wasn’t embarrassed about anything.
He wasn’t shy about making inappropriate comments to others or acting silly in public, and he felt the most uptight, “too cool for school” teenage years made for easy prey.
He’d pose for photo ops with amusement park mascots, stop and dance when music he liked came over an intercom, and, by far the worst offense, made sure any annoying waiter-infested singing presentation was enacted during special occasions.
To this day, I have an irrational fear of going out to eat on my birthday.
As a teenager, when I was especially self-conscious, I found this behavior horrifying.
I didn't realize how blessed I was until my first year in college. I had a classmate who grew up on a reservation. She had a baby at age 16 (who was staying with her sister back home) and was overcoming alcoholism by age 19. One night, I took her out to eat with my parents when they were in town.
My dad was, of course, filled with embarrassing jokes and comments. A couple were off-color, and I just knew my friend would be embarrassed too. Maybe even offended. Instead, when we left she told me:
“I want your parents to adopt me.”
I wasn’t expecting that response , but she continued:
“They are so happy, and so much fun. You’re lucky to be able to sit at the table with them and laugh.”
I guess I was fortunate. I just needed someone else to point it out.
Here's a new foot note: Even this year, when we have been warned not to "kill grandma" by obeying stay-at-home and mask rules, my dad said he would "rather live a month being around friends and family, and hugging his grandkids, than a year in isolation and loneliness. He wore a mask only when it was "requied" but never around family, and he always hugged his kids and grandkids.
He didn't realize in March, when all this started, his cancer would return with a vengeance in October, and take him by December. When they tested him recently for COVID...it was negative, and it had always been for him. Had he followed those rules "for his own safety" he would have spent his last months miserable and alone, like so many others have done.
I am not telling anyone they have to do what Dad did. I you feel worried, by all means follow the rules be safe. I'm just sharing how my dad throught, and for others who feel this way to know they are not alone.
My dad would tell you, to not be around others if you are sick, but by all means, don't just worry about "surviving," celebrate "living."
Thank you, Dad, for teaching me and my brother, grandkids, and everyone you met all these fanstastically, irresponsible things. I'll take your love of life and your memory with you into 2021 and beyond.