Thanks Dad, I think.
But Too Little, Too Late?
My dad and I were never close. That realization came early to me, and nothing occurred until his death to change it.
I wanted us to be in the same corner, but we were in opposite corners, being prepped for battle, waiting for the bell, anticipating the inevitable conflict in the center of the ring.
Except this once.
When I was 17.
At the best of times as a kid growing up under my dad’s rein, he was neutral about me. At the worst, he was disappointed, and didn’t hide it. I was perceptive. All too aware of this crashing realization that crushed most of my will to try and right that ship, to show him what he wanted to see.
To this day, I still don’t know what that was.
It was a rainy night, 1977. I was living with my dad in his angrily acquired divorce-cave; an apartment in San Carlos that was home to his bitterness, with the presence of myself and my sister mere bit players to the side of the stage, hoping to avoid his rage.
I was a couple of blocks from the apartment. I was turning right onto Holly from El Camino, blinker on, wipers going. All was clear and though the light was red, California trusted its drivers enough to decipher the danger and make the turn legally on the red. I was in the right lane, but evidently not close enough to the curb. A car squeezed in beside me, and as I turned, I hit him. Wasn’t going very fast, but I dinged him. He glared at me and completed his turn. I followed him a half block to the 7-11 and we pulled into the lot. To this day, it is the only accident I have ever been involved in.
He got out of his car. Furious, breathing heavy and he was huge. He was probably 6’ 4” and 250 lbs, maybe 35 years old. I was still scrawny, even at 17, having yet to fill out. He began barking at me, looming over me like a bear. I admitted fault, reached in and got my insurance info, but he wouldn’t calm down. I told him I needed to call my dad. I remember this quote like it was yesterday. “Go the fuck ahead.”
Thinking back now, I wish I’d said to him, “Be careful what you wish for, Gunga Din.” But I had no idea what kind of response I’d get from dad, I just knew I was going to get nowhere by myself with this asshole.
I dialed in the pay phone booth, eyeing the big guy warily, who was still breathing hard. From the booth I could see that his car had minimal damage.
Dad picked up on two rings.
“Dad,“ and I felt my voice start to break, accompanied by shame and fear. “I hit this guy on the El Camino. Not a big accident, but he’s really pissed and yelling at me.”
“Where are you?” I told him.
“I’ll be right there.”
I still didn’t know what to expect. He sounded mad, but I assumed he was mad at me.
I told asshole and we waited. I refused to talk to him.
From about a block away, I heard the screech of a tire, but thought nothing of it. Dad had a new Cadillac Seville. A real beauty. He would never drive it recklessly.
From around the corner, however, his gun metal gray caddy stormed into the 7-11 parking lot, which had a steep incline on the driveway. With his speed, the front and rear end banged as he flopped over it. He screeched to a halt inches from the rear of the guy’s Ford LTD.
He flipped open the door, got out, leaving the door open and the key buzzer ringing. He looked at me, I pointed to the guy, and dad walked right up to him, his neck craned skyward, as dad was only 5’ 10”.
He hollered, “Are you the asshole yelling at my kid?”
The guy thought his height and weight advantage was going to be enough, so he barked right back. “The little punk doesn’t know how to drive? Look…” and he pointed to the slight scratch and dent on his left rear fender.
Dad raised his hand and poked the guy with his finger in the upper breastplate. “Did you try to intimidate my kid?” The guy took a step backward. It was clear to me dad had a scotch or two already under the hood, and I think that also registered with the asshole.
The big guy was silent, then said rather meekly, “Uh, no.”
Dad pounded even harder on the guy’s chest, the last pound with a closed fist, as if knocking on a door.
“That’s not what he said.”
“So now you’re calling my kid a liar?”
“I didn’t touch the kid.”
“Did you yell at him?”
By this time, the retreating big guy had his ass up against the front fender of my car. He could retreat no further.
“Yeah, I did. He hit my car, for christ sake.”
“Well, you get your ass in your car right fucking now, or I’m gonna hit you.”
The guy was flummoxed. He could tell dad was not bluffing. Dad could smell a bully, and he had sniffed this jerk out.
The guy hesitated, then got in his car and drove away.
My dad and I never spoke of this incident again.