When I was growing up my Dad and I didn’t have the best relationship.
Often times I struggled to know how to communicate to a man who was often stern and focused his attention on being either the best automotive professional or the best provider to our household. When he was physically present he was emotionally detached. When he was emotionally there I was filled with so much anger and unforgiveness I couldn’t appreciate the times he did put for the effort.
The joy of working on a customer’s car fueled my Dad and gave him a sense of purpose in this world. But in March of 2003, he was involved in a head injury at work that changed his life and our entire family. His injury to his head to this day affects his neck muscles, back, and upper torso — he also sustained major nerve damage in his neck area. That injury shifted things in a major way for my dad. Surgery and therapy helped to correct some of the damage, but he still struggles with permanent pain and discomfort from time to time.
With therapy and time, physical wounds heal but his emotional wounds of knowing that he no longer works on cars have been the hardest reality for him to accept. The injury changed him — in some ways for the best and in some ways for the worst. It changed our finances back in 2003 and it changed how our household functioned. It was because of his injury I was able to realize just how important having a father figure in a home was.
I became detached from friends, co-workers and went into deep depression back then — often times seeking out unhealthy means to cope. We had no choice but to bind together in order to shoulder the weight of reduction in finances and preserving our sanity, as we felt the security of life shift beneath us. My Dad was constantly going to doctor visits, therapy sessions, filling out paperwork and I watched all of this take a toll on my mother, grandmother and myself.
I was 20 and at a place in my life where I was in the process of building my own future, but instead, I chose to sacrifice my personal ambitions and educational goals to be there for my family. Our family structure of the past was no more and it changed me in so many ways to be appreciative for having a father. The shitty part about the timing of my Dad’s injury was prior to it, he began to really take a sincere interest in my growth as a young man. I had just graduated from high school in 2002 and he was super proud.
My parents surprised me with my first car that summer after high school graduation. It was a 1987 420 SEL Classic Mercedes in mint condition. My parents paid $4,000 for it, but it had its fair share of engine bugs and kinks that my Dad aimed to fix. He purchased that car so it could create an opportunity for us to work on the car together. I worked to buy the parts and we worked together as I gained a wealth of automotive engineering knowledge from him. That time we spent working on that car became a catalyst to change the relationship between a father and son.
It gave me an understanding and appreciation of his years of education and experience in the automotive field. Working on every part of that car provided a teaching opportunity for me to learn about the technical aspects of cars and how every internal system is interconnected. It wasn’t about fixing stuff though – it’s weird because for the first time in my life I began to really develop a sincere love and appreciation for my father. My Dad and I worked on that car for a span of 5 months, learning so much about each other. We fixed fuel management issues and quieted the old rickety noises coming from the upper and lower suspension. The winter season came and we stopped because of the arrival of colder temperatures and then…
BANG…March of 2003 came and he got injured.
Describing the details of his injury and his recovery process is not something my family would want to discuss publicly. My father is a private man, but in all his privacy the one thing he would want me to share was the pride he carried in his work. He would want others to know how much he loves cars and how fixing automotive problems gave him a sense of purpose and direction. Watching him struggle to accept the reality that his life would never be the same has inspired me to find a way to keep both is talent and his knowledge alive. I’ve become wiser with age; once experiencing life through the eyes of an angry young man bitter towards a man who only cared about serving his family. Throughout his recovery process, I made a decision to forgive my father and to begin to learn about a man I chose to hold a grudge towards rather than forgive.
Since 2003 my Dad has made every effort to teach me and share his knowledge, so I would be prepared to handle car repairs as an informed consumer. We have intense discussions about cars, debates about top manufacturers and drive throughout the streets pointing at cars and nitpicking the design of their body panels. But with all the knowledge I’ve gained about cars, I think ultimately I’ve developed into a man who really loves cars because of the love for his father.