My dad handed me the keys and said, “Get in.” We were both standing by a little 1990 Volkswagen Fox that, if all things worked out, would become my first car.
Worked out was not about money. I had the $1500 from my summer job at a golf course. I drove that little gas golf ball picker on the driving range, the one that everyone aims at because moving targets are so much more fun to hit than a little hole in the ground. My nerves never got used to those bullseye hits. But I got paid and that’s what mattered now.
Worked out was about the test drive about to happen once I opened that car door. This little VW might be cool but she was a manual transmission. I was 15 years old with a learners permit and exactly zero experience driving a stick shift.
But my dad said get in. So I opened the door and got in.
That feeling almost doesn’t have a name, when my dad believed in me where I didn’t believe in myself. It was like love. It was like trust. It was also like finding a superpower I didn’t know I had. Of course, my dad knew I couldn’t drive a stick. At least not yet. And that’s the point: He believed I would figure it out. That shot me full of confidence. Or was it courage? I was not confident, my racing heart confirmed that. I was scared. But I could open that door to take that risk anyway because my dad said get in.
I started the car and he gave me a quick lesson on how a stick shift works. especially how to ease off the clutch pedal while you give it some gas, which all felt like learning some two pedal two-step. And I tried that and stalled the car. “That’s okay. Start it back up and try again,” he said. And this time I danced the pedals a little better and sent us jerking down the street. I just about shook the car in half. “Okay, push in the clutch and try second.” I did that and all 85 horsepower of that little VW roared to life. We were really moving now.
I laughed I was so giddy. He smiled and sat with the same calm he had the whole time. He said, “Good job.” And we bought the car.
Whatever we accomplish in life its because somewhere someone challenged us or believed in us or encouraged us. Which is not just the same as just teaching us. I needed to know how a clutch worked. But I needed my dad’s belief in me as much as that lesson.
I drove a stick shift for the next 20 years of my life. And I enjoyed every minute of those years because of that day.
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