As Father’s Day approaches, I am reminded that some of the best gifts in life are those gifts that are not given, but are taught. I also realized a few years ago that by the time a man realizes that maybe his father was right, he usually has a son or daughter who thinks he is always wrong, which makes Father’s Day even that much more special.
One of the greatest life lessons that I ever received from my father was when he didn’t give me a new car on my 16th birthday and made me personally responsible for what I thought was an old antiquated 1974 Ford Mustang II. Regardless of how much I complained or felt deprived, it wasn’t going to change his mind, as he knew exactly what was probably going to happen. And he was right.
When I look back on that life experience as I attempt to raise my own kids, I realized that I learned everything I ever needed to know about responsibility and consequences in those days following his ever-so-wise decision
Being the son of an FAA air traffic controller, I was 14 when my father graciously offered to match whatever I saved towards the purchase of my future car. But the money from my paper route and mowing jobs just didn’t seem to go very far after all those trips on my bike up to the Garden Springs convenient store or to the Turfland Mall arcade to play pinball, Pac-man and Space Invaders.
So for a grand total of $1,200 we purchased a little sporty blue Ford Mustang II that had a rebuilt motor. He filled my first full tank of gas, paid my first quarterly insurance payment (liability only) and then said, “you are on your own from here on son.”
Looking back, I had no idea how strongly those words would resonate and the lessons I would learn.
I didn’t let any grass grow under my feet. I quickly took a job at the Versailles Road McDonalds the very same week and everything was going great until I graduated high school and took a delivery job that paid commissions plus tips for Domino’s Pizza.
It was there and then that it all started to go downhill.
For those of you that didn’t work for Domino’s Pizza back in those days, let me just say that you very quickly realize that the harder and faster you work the more money you make, and that “30 minutes or free,” – well that was apocalyptic to management. As a result, my driving safety habits very quickly disappeared for the sake of profit. It took several months for Lexington Metro Police to catch up to me, but when they did I became a target and within a one “4-week period” I received two reckless driving ticket and bordered on losing my license.
After my second trip to traffic court within a month where the very same Judge actually said “You again,” I realized then and there that I better take her advice and avoid trying to get to know her any better.
I paid off each of the fines, and like any industrious teenager I shrugged it off and accepted it as a cost of doing business. But I later learned the consequences of being labeled a high-risk driver, after my father dropped me from his insurance policy quicker than it took me to type out this sentence.
As a result, I was left to fend for myself as I searched the phone book for the state minimum coverage, with shady insurance agents who seem to relocated offices about every other 12 months. I distinctly remember dropping off one of my monthly insurance payment inside a dimly lit one-room office in a bad section of town. Inside I found an older agent with a coffee-stained shirt, a metal fan running on his desk, a cigarette in one hand and bologna sandwich in the other, who took my payment as he was laughing to Archie Bunker reruns. As I left he waved his sandwich towards me with a mouthful of Bologna saying, ”I’ll see you next month.”
Like most college aged kids today, I also had a couple of small accidents and a couple of other dents to add to my distinguished driving record. As a safety/loss control consultant today, I am a little to embarrassed to give you all the details, but I can still remember seeing the look in my father’s eye as he shrugged his shoulders one morning after walking past one of my fresh dents and saying, “Oh well.”
And I was left with the humility of driving around town in a wrecked vehicle that required me to tie down the hood with wire.
The final and life-changing lesson came a few months later, after I briefly left the University of Kentucky at age 20 to accept an opportunity to become a Store Manager for a budding company called Pizza Pronto a couple of blocks away from the University of Georgia campus in Athens, GA. After all, I had to feed the insurance machine as my premiums accounted for a large portion of my annual measly salary.
As my story goes, on a ride over to Atlanta to pick up my father at the airport, the wire holding my hood down came lose while I was driving 60mph down a two-lane highway. The hood flew back up bending around the top of my windshield blocking my view.
After about peeing my pants, the life-changing lesson didn’t occur by having another wreck, as I was able to safely steer myself to safety off to the side of the road. It came with the embarrassing moment afterwards, as I had no other choice but to climb on top of my car and jump up and down on the hood to bend it back down in to place, as cars passed by.
As I was doing Irish River Dance on top of my hood on the side of the road in the middle of Georgia, that I realized that my very own actions and unsafe behavior had been my own demise in my short four years as a young driver. And that things must change.
As I fast forward through life and now chuckle 28 years later, I realize how powerful that this life lesson was. It was my father’s decision to not run to my rescue every time I made a mistake, but to allow me to suffer through the consequences of my decisions, feeling the pain of every poor one I made.
As I have learned from my father, a father is a Republican towards his children, forcing or encouraging them to fend for themselves without coming to the rescue every single time they make a poor decision. My wife is a bit more Democrat, more nurturing and forgiving. Between the two of us we have found a healthy balance to raising and teaching our kids.
Like most adults, my driving record improved dramatically and my insurance costs dropped to manageable level even with two young drivers on my policy. But as a father who received a phone call a few weeks ago about a son’s small fender-bender, I find it almost poetic. Funny but scary how youth and risk-taking behavior still seems to be synonymous, even hereditary.
But I am forever grateful for this lesson I can now pass along, as I too wasn’t very sympathetic to my son’s phone call. I now fully understand the meaning of the old saying that I heard a hundred times from my father….”this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you, Son.”
Thanks Dad, love you! Happy Father’s Day.
Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at email@example.com.