I’ve never threatened to turn the family car around if the kids didn’t stop misbehaving, so maybe I’m not even a real dad.
I know. This should be a Father’s Day topic. But it was just the other evening when I read a post somewhere about a young teenager and his dad who had regular battles of wills. Some battles resulted in the dad threatening to “turn this car around right now.” I realized I’ve never done that, even though it’s a dad threat as old as automobiles themselves.
Here’s something: Bertha Benz, business partner and wife of automobile inventor Karl Benz, “was the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance, rigorously field testing the patent Motorwagen, inventing brake pads and solving several practical issues during the journey of 65 miles.” That happened on Aug. 5, 1888, Wikipedia says.
The entry doesn’t mention this but I’ll bet Bertha probably had planned to drive 300 miles or more. Just 32 and one-half miles into the journey, however, a kid in the backseat became so unruly she turned that brand-new Motorwagen around in the middle of the road and took that child straight home. It sounds so real it should have actually happened, don’t you think?
In that story, Bertha is the one who made and carried out the turn-around threat. Over the years of automobiles and families, though, the responsibility for such threats has come to rest with dads. It’s almost a requirement for fatherhood, like making stuff up when a child asks you a question you can’t answer, or pretending to know what to do next when your car develops engine trouble and you’ve figured out how to open the hood.
Of course I’ve made up stuff when stumped by a child’s question. What dad hasn’t?
And sure, when one of my kids would complain that their car made a funny noise or sputtered when they stepped on the gas, I’d pop the hood, purse my lips, lean forward for a better view and say (to myself but loud enough for them to hear) “I wonder if it’s an A-frame. Maybe the timing chain. It might be the solenoid. Probably is. I”ll need to call a mechanic. I”m not comfortable working on the solenoid of one of these late model cars.” Never mind that the car in question is a 1974 Camaro.
While I’ve done those “dad” things, I actually never have threatened to go back home in the middle of a trip. I didn’t learn many things in my early years as a father, but I did learn that if you're going to make a threat like that to one of your kids, you’d better be prepared to follow through.
On one trip I started to tell one of the boys they could get out and walk if they didn’t like whatever it was that had them complaining. I caught myself, though, and added, “No, you can’t. Sit right there and shape up.” I know I’d have lost a contest of stubbornness.
My dad sometimes threatened to stop the car, usually over something my big brother was doing. One night, a mile north of Reliance, Dad actually pulled over and let Jim out. Then the rest of us drove slowly along the shoulder through the gravel windrow while Jim acted like he was prepared to walk seven miles in the dark.
The worst time (I think this is a true story, it’s certainly a vivid memory) was in New York state on the way to Niagara Falls. I can’t recall what caused the fight, but it ended with Dad pulling to a stop and Jim, scowling like James Dean, ready to climb out of the car. I could barely breathe as he and Dad silently squared off. The image in my head doesn’t show me which one caved, but I was deeply relieved when Jim pulled the door shut and Dad shifted into drive again.
Much as I’d have liked more room on the trip, I liked even more having my brother next to me instead of standing in a New York road ditch. I mean, the guy could be obnoxious, but he was family.