By Terry Boers-
(CBS) The year was 1970. I can vividly recall it as a sticky, sultry midsummer’s day and I was sweating like Robert Hays would later do in “Airplane.” I was in trouble.
Or at least I thought it was.
I had screwed up my 1969 Dodge Charger RT with a toxic mix of foolishness, bravado and street racing. Did somebody say hillbilly? But just as I used to tell my good buddies from the Steger police department, I wasn’t the only one out ratting my car around. Just about everybody I grew up with had a muscle car of some sort, and all of them wanted to race.
Caution. Don’t try running that last lame excuse past a traffic court judge. I once gave it a shot. That’s a no good.
But on this day I had to tell my dad that the brakes didn’t seem right, that the once throaty engine had some funny sound to it and I also thought the tires were out of line, which just might have happened because I’d hit a curb hard.
Check that. Make that real hard.
In truth, I was going to leave the hitting the curb business out. Oh, I was going to say the thing seemed out of line, but I didn’t know the reason.
I figured that my dad, who made his living as an auto mechanic, would be able to fix things. He always could. But what would he do to the ridiculously silly kid who’d been on notice more than once after other incidents of bad driving, and general behavior befitting a Moonshiner.
After all, remember in those days the father was supposed to be the breadwinner and the harsh household disciplinarian. Women were the nurturers, the passionate care-givers, the oh-so loving ones who rarely left the house. My mom did not drive, and like millions of other women at the time, didn’t have a job and wasn’t really expected to.
You also had zero chance of slipping any nonsense by her.
Still sweating and feeling as if I’d been on the wrong side of a bad burrito, I gave my dad a bunch of half truths and lies in the process of asking him if he’d take a look at the car.
To my surprise it went well. Rather than breaking into some crazy person as he had every right to do, he simply asked me to follow him to the garage.
So far so good.
Then not so good.
The car had everything wrong I’d expected and a little more.
I want to say the cost in parts was around $300, a hefty sum in those days. He got the engine purring, changed the brakes and would later take the car to friend of his to get it back in line.
And he did all without yelling, although he seemed more than slightly annoyed as he worked. And believe me, my dad was seldom annoyed. About all he said was that if he wanted to join a pit crew, he’d join a freakin’ pit crew.
I was far from the brightest kid around, but I’ll never forget how patient he was that day, how lucky I was not to have the car taken away for good. I did lose some driving privileges for a brief time, but he probably should have done much, much more.
But then I always think of my dad in those terms. The ultimate good guy with a heart of gold burdened by a kid with head of crap. And also someone who, no matter who asked him, preferred never to talk about his time as a soldier for the 34th Infantry Division in World War II.
When Father’s Day became an official U.S. holiday back in 1972, I don’t remember any type of family get-together, perhaps because my mother had died a month earlier and nothing was going to ease that pain.
But there was no party in ‘73 either, although I was already married and had a son of my own by then.
But being self-absorbed, like karma, can be a bitch at times. In all of these years since, I still harbor a deep sense of regret about not spending more time with my dad, who died of a heart attack in January of ’74. He was 56 when he passed, same as my mom.
I realized in the ensuing years that I wanted to know so much more. I wish I could have soaked up every bit of his life, going back to the days when he was a terrific young baseball player who gave it up to go to war.
I know that he and my mom would have loved my four kids, two of whom have become terrific fathers in their own right.
So don’t make any silly mistakes. Don’t let your own anything get in the way of your relationship with your dad today, or, for that matter, any other day.
You know how they say that life’s too short, right? It really is.
A longtime sportswriter for the Chicago Sun-Times, Terry Boers now co-hosts The Boers and Bernstein Show, heard Monday-Friday from 1pm-6pm on 670 The Score.