A Father I Admire

(I originally wrote and posted this on October 4th, 2011)

I’ve been asking for it. Anyone who drives a 16-year-old automobile is asking for it, car trouble. I caught a 6AM flight to Atlanta today and when I returned to long term parking my car started right up, just like it always does. Sitting idle for 5 days didn’t bother old reliable, she did it again, or so I thought.

As I pulled out of my parking spot and made my way to the exit my car made an extremely inconvenient decision, it wasn’t going to go any faster than 10 MPH. I thought maybe it needed more time to warm up, but that didn’t help. It didn’t matter what I did, when I floored the gas pedal I could get up to about 10 MPH and then she’d just stutter. There was no getting around this, I needed help.

I slowly made my way to a bank parking lot and called my insurance company, they would send a tow. I also called my wife, to let her know she would have to make the usual 1 hour drive to pick me up. Problem was it was 9AM and she would be coming with traffic, I’d see her in 75 minutes at best.

I was told my wait for the tow truck was going to be 45 minutes and much to my surprise it was right on time. I thought for sure 45 minutes meant an hour or longer and with it taking my wife at least that long to come get me I fully prepared for lots of alone time in that bank parking lot.

After an initial failed attempt we finally got my car on the lift. The driver locked it down and he was ready to go. “You riding with me?”, he asked.

The thought never crossed my mind. My car was getting towed to within 10 minutes of my home and we’d be going against traffic, I should have thought of riding with him in the first place. I called my wife, she was still a good 50 minutes away.

“Turn around”, I told her, “I’ll ride with the tow truck driver.”

I was little annoyed she wasn’t closer. While we were loading my car on the truck I fully anticipated her pulling up to the bank to pick me up any minute.

As fate would have it she wasn’t even close. Climbing into the dirty diesel tow truck I wondered if the driver and I would talk at all, and if so, what the conversation might be like. It was 44 miles to where we were going, it would most likely take all of 50 minutes. I knew this because my insurance company would only cover the first 25 miles, the last 19 were on me, at $2.75 per mile.

I let the driver set the tone and the small talk began. First about my car, it’s life span and mileage. Then about how he once owned the same make, but different model, and got 350,000 miles out of it before selling it for $10,000. I was impressed by the story. I had half the mileage and I’d be lucky to get $2,500 for my car.

The conversation turned to family and the driver was quick to share about his, one son, three grandchildren.  Three grandchildren? I never would have guessed it.

Proud of his grandchildren the driver couldn’t wait to tell me about the two oldest, both girls, 7 & 6 years old and sweet as could be. He was just as excited about the 3rd, a 7 month old boy, and the anticipation of him getting big and doing boy stuff with him.

He told me how he loves taking his granddaughters on dates. I know they’re pretty young, but “it’s never too early to learn”, he explained. He talked about how important it was to him that they knew how a man was supposed to treat a woman and that they should never accept anything less from a man than the way grandpa treats them. Hold the door open, use good manners, and make sure he puts you first. If he doesn’t do those things for you, then he doesn’t deserve you. “I want them to know that and always believe that.”

It didn’t have to be said, both the driver and I knew what kind of man he wanted to keep his granddaughters away from. I was instantly on his team, picturing those little girls who I never met and never will, hoping for them that they make the best decisions when it comes to boyfriends and eventually a husband. I wondered if these girls knew how lucky they were to have such a loving grandfather and it made me question if I was doing enough with my own 10-year-old angel.

I shared about my family and how my little guy was a terror, full of energy and keeping us on our toes. He laughed that comfortable grandpa laugh as if almost to say, “those darn little rascals, aren’t they the best?”

It was the warmest laugh you’ve ever heard and filled with sincerity. It made me wish I had more people in my life that laughed that way. It was eerily similar to Mykelti Williamson’s portrayal of Josh Gibson in HBO’s Soul of the Game. If you know the movie you know the laugh, it was spot on and genuine.

The driver pressed on about his family. He was engaged to his only son’s mother, but a life together would never happen. Before they could get married she fell victim to crack cocaine addiction. Introduced to her by her friends it consumed her life and destroyed the future they had planned together.

“She was a beautiful woman, sweet and full of life, the addiction took all of that away”, he told me with the pain still in his eyes.

He did everything he could to get her off of it. “I threw her my life jacket”, he said, “My life jacket! And every time I pulled her in she’d fall away again.” He couldn’t do it any more, he was risking too much. His life jacket was all he had and now there was a baby boy involved. “Addiction is a powerful thing, she was an adult, I had to let her go.”

He gained sole custody before his only boy was two years old. “I always wanted a daughter, but now I got 2 granddaughters to fill what I missed.”

He did his best to surround his son with female role models, his mother, sister and an eventual girlfriend all pitched in, but it was grandma carrying most of the load. With all the support he undoubtedly received his son was still missing something.

“When he was 5 years old my boy asked me, ‘Daddy, why doesn’t Mommy love me?’”

Can you imagine having to answer that question from your son? I can’t. There is nothing, not race, not gender, not socio-economics, absolutely nothing, that separates us from the innate desire to be loved. We all want it, we all need it, children especially and the driver’s only son wanted to know why his Mommy wouldn’t give it to him.

I’m not sure there is any perfect answer to that boy’s question but I don’t doubt my tow truck driver handled it like the inspirational father he is.

We delved in to work. I was hoping he would never ask me what I did or used to do and thankfully the conversation never got there. I didn’t want the focus on me, I wanted it on him. I was curious about his tow truck business.

“Well, I was working electrical down at the airport but they would only give me 40 hours a week.” Only 40 hours a week? I quickly realized a full time job was just a starting point for my tow truck driver and not nearly an end.

This single dad eventually started driving a tow truck to pick up extra work. It led to him owning his own wrecker, the one we were currently driving in. With 450,000 miles it was solely responsible for buying three more trucks and birthing a successful tow trucking business. And by successful I mean after 50+ hour long work weeks he’s left with just enough money to take those beautiful granddaughters out on dates, so that they can learn what a real man is and how they should always be treated.

I’m too cheap to buy a new car and my wife was taking longer than she probably should have to pick me up. Because of that I gained a little perspective today. I met a man who single handedly defines what unselfish means, what work ethic look like and regardless of what life throws at him, keeps his focus and priority on what was most important to him…the people he loves. Because of him I’ve hopefully become a better father.

I met a role model today, he’s a tow truck driver and I never got his name.

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