When I was 14 years old, my Dad bought a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T SE. It was the coolest
car I had ever seen. It was primered gray with the original green fading through with rust
all over. Just the way any kids car should be. My mom hated it and my friends envied it.
This car was to be the link between the generation gap my father and I had discovered
we were suffering from. Little did we know it would take ten years to cross that gap. To
this day I firmly believe it was the car that did it.
My Dad and I spent hours upon hours in the garage sanding, sanding, and more sanding
with a little motor and interior work. Dad spent more money than my mom and grandma could
possibly fathom. No one but he and I could understand why anyone would sink literally
thousands of dollars into an old piece that looked like it should be at the junkyard
rather than in our pictures on the walls of our garage.
I can distinctly remember during my driver's education class I would beg my Dad to
leave work to pick me up from school. Again no one understood why I would plead with him
to leave his brand new corvette in the garage and drive the "Dodge." My Dad
understood and on occassion he would do just that.
When I was finally 16, at least legally, I could drive the "Dodge" ,and drive
it I did. I knew I had the fastest car in school and I was bound and determined everyone
else at school knew it too. Dad spent, I thought, over a million dollars to have a local
speed shop build the most souped up 440 to ever burn up P.C. North High School. I tried to
do just that, burn it up. I know Dad must have been upset when he kept replacing just the
right rear tire, even a posi-trac limited slip differential couldn't keep up with me. But
he never complained and he never grounded me from the car. He just kept pouring money and
time into my car. I think he thought he was going to get to enjoy it when he first built
it, but he only saw it when it wouldn't run.
My high school friends and I spent our entire school year in that car. It was the most
notable token of our school days. My wife and I spent many a night out on a date in that
car. It's funny how now she won't even get in it, knowing what she used to do in it.ha ha.
Finally the day came in the spring of my senior year, 1987, when I finally hit the gas
pedal so hard it hit back. I rammed the car into a cement drainage ditch with me and my
two best friends laughing away a hangover. I broke my nose, my friend Lance, cracked his
knee and Kelly had his head rattled. But the worst fatality was the old "Dodge."
It took a hit so hard it ripped the oil pan right off the block and left the bolts in
tact. It bent the frame and shoved the front end through the doors. After a week in bed, I
finally faced my Dad. HE NEVER SAID A WORD. I crushed his dream and his
pocket book, besides my mom must have at least tried to kill him, and he never once made
me feel bad. As I look back no judge in the world would have convicted him if he had
killed me on the spot. It is now I realize my Dad does love me more than anything in the
world, because I thought it was the car he cared about.
The car sat for over 8 years while I did the Army thing, the college thing, and the
married thing, I'm glad to say I'm still doing that. I told myself I would one day earn
the respect from my Dad I felt I lost that day and fix the old "Dodge." Don't
tell my wife this but 9 years and $6000 later I've finally seen that look in my Dad's
eyes. It's got a new motor, new interior and it finally has paint, it was supposed to be
red but it turned out to be orange.
I drove it to my Dad's office today. When I pulled into the parking lot I could see him
smiling. It was at that very moment I felt the gap was bridged. Through the windshield of
that orange charger I've never loved my Dad more. The look in his eyes was not admiration
for the car, but it was love for me, well maybe the car a little, but he was loving me.
My high school reunion is next year. I hope to have it red by then. I think the campus
police officer, his name was Bobby Joe I'm sure he still remembers me, who used to admire
the car from under his red and blue lights will like that color.
The moral of the story is use whatever tools it takes, and love your family because
they are all that count.
Mark A. Steele