My parents owned a car and a truck—both with standard transmissions—so when I was learning to drive, I had to figure out the intricate use of three pedals on the floorboard. Dad had learned to drive a stick shift in the wheat fields of Eastern Washington, so he volunteered to teach me.
We went to the abandoned airport—with long runways and nothing to crash into. Like a new clutch-using driver, I killed the engine repeatedly. We lurched and stopped. Lurched and stopped. Dad made me laugh—sparing me humiliation and keeping me willing to try.
It wasn’t long before I’d mastered the art of “not killing it” to get the car moving. Then it was learning how to shift—which involved some grinding of gears—again my Dad supplied the jokes and we were smiling at my lame attempts.
Soon, we were touring side streets and using quiet neighborhood stop signs as start-up practice. Things were going great. Confidence was built. Then Dad introduced me to a stop sign perched on a slight hill. No one was behind me. I rolled back before the engine engaged—I knew I would have hit the car behind me, if one had been there. Dad winked and made me feel better.
During our long drives on country roads and city streets we talked about life and my unseen future. Soon, I’d mastered shifting and those pesky stop signs on hills. We decided to celebrate at Dairy Queen.
Dad instructed me to turn down North Cliff Road. Let the name assure you that “cliff” is accurate. The curving road is also lined with tall trees, and an exceedingly sharp decline. I’d never driven down such a steep hill. As I came around the curve into the steepest part of the hill, I pushed the clutch in to downshift so I could go slower. Then I panicked, leaving the clutch in, and I lost control of the truck. It swerved back and forth erratically. I screamed, but Dad calmly reached over, shut off the engine, took hold of the wheel, and told me to gently brake. He got us safely to the side. I was so shaken, I couldn’t drive. As I stepped out to let him take the wheel, he hugged me and said that even though I’d lost control, he hadn’t. He was there beside me.
It was a couple months before we tackled North Cliff again, but I did fine.
About 10 years later, things seemed to be spinning out of control while coping with business financial losses. Dad told me that you can lose a lot in life, but you’ll always have God. Then he asked if I remembered North Cliff. I nodded yes. He said, “If things get out of control, let him take the wheel, and you’ll be just fine.” He was right.
As I think of Father’s Day, I appreciate the sacrifices my dad made to give me a great start in life—from diapers to driving. There were plenty of lessons along the way, but North Cliff reminds me that God is in control, even when I lose it.