CBS 2’s Lou Young reflects on lessons learned from his father.
“If you won’t take ‘no’ for an answer, then don’t ask,” Dad told me almost matter-of-factly over his shoulder while I was begging for him to take my side in some minor teenage crisis.
I forget what the conversation was about, but I wanted him to say “yes” to something and he was telling me I had to start making my own decisions. His implied answer was “no,” but he was daring me to go ahead and do it anyway. It unnerved me, but I usually decided to do what he “suggested.” He was trying to teach me to think for myself.
Most of the time that arrangement worked out well. Then my 17th birthday rolled around and it was time to get a car. Dad drove a VW Beetle after owning a series of Chevys and Fords, and praised the little car for it’s durability and remarkable gas mileage. I wanted something with a little more pizzazz. I was 17 and I had big ideas where a larger car could take me.
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The car I wanted was a gigantic white and red 1960 Ford Sunliner, ( a 9-year-old out-of-production convertible) with a very cool hood scoop over a transplanted Chrysler engine, a Hurst shifter on the floor and a custom tachometer on the steering column. Through my teenaged eyes it was $350 worth of vehicle and ticket to paradise. I could not be dissuaded by Dad’s furrowed brow and his caution that the vehicle “looked like trouble.” I had Mom on my side and the firstborn, honor student creds to pull off the birthday present. In March of 1969 I took possession of the absolute coolest car in the Newfield High School parking lot. An 8-track tape player completed the package. I had arrived and was only the tail end of my junior year!
Even now, I have to admit the “Summer of ’69” was just about as good as the song for me and my buddies, playing in a rock and roll band, driving to and from work in the big car and doing everything else that comes with being the owner a gigantic rag top in the last days before the first big energy crisis. But Dad never liked the car and kept a close eye on my expanding social life. He stayed up late on Friday and Saturday nights waiting for the deep rumble of its engine before he would go to bed even though he owned a business that opened at 7 AM, 7 days a week. I remember him meeting me on the doorstep, warning me about drinking and driving and looking over my shoulder at the car’s magnificent profile, the engine still ticking in the driveway as it cooled.
“How’s it running?” he’d ask.
He never seemed convinced.
When the engine blew up the following September, it was like suddenly waking up on a grey Monday from a wonderful dream: an instant reality check. I knew it was a disaster as soon as I heard the awful knocking sound and saw the smoke pouring out from under the hood. I remember calling him from a payphone hoping for some magic advice, but all he could do was call a tow truck and bring it to a mechanic he trusted. It turned out that “custom tachometer” I loved so much was perfectly positioned to hide the warning light that would’ve told me the oil pump had just quit.
Dad never had to say “I told you so,” but I heard it anyway. My wheels were gone and I replayed the lesson in my head every day I had to endure the indignity of riding the yellow school bus my senior year; the very days my friends in their Mavericks, Pintos, and VWs were too busy to pick me up.
“The car looks like trouble,” he said, and he was right. But he was also right to let me give it a shot.
On one level I should’ve listened to his advice and at the time half-wished he’d forbidden me to own the big car. I cursed my bad luck, but he knew some things have to be experienced.
Besides, he told me later, “You DID have a good summer, didn’t you?”
Dad knew the deal. At 80, breaking in his new knee down in Florida, he still knows the deal. He’s been talking about getting a new car.
Maybe a convertible.
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