Ode to my dad (car-themed)

I had a very silly dream a few months back. In it, my dad bought me a car – specifically (for mysterious subconscious reasons) a Subaru Forester. What was silly about this dream was my strong and very mixed reactions to this generous act:  (a) What’s wrong with the car I have?  (b) When did we become That Kind of Family?? And last but not least: (c) a Subaru???

In honor of Father’s Day, I thought I’d record a few of my favourite things about my dad, along the car theme…

Favourite thing no 1: He likes the car I have. Elvis, the trusty Citi Golf, is the epitome of my dad’s car-buying philosophy: basic but fit for purpose, decent quality but good value for money. For all of his working life, my dad was an attorney at one of the top law firms in South Africa. Every day, into the parking lot full of new BMW’s, Audi’s and Merc’s, he drove his Ford Cortina station wagon. Until my brother learnt to drive, and Dad upgraded – to a Toyota Corolla 1300, second-hand. These days he drives the fanciest car he has ever owned, Jerry the Geriatric Pajero – a pre-computer 1990’s model, with 400K on the clock and counting.

Suffice to say, my dad is not one for conspicuous consumption. And clearly, does not give two hoots of a Cortina’s horn what anyone else thinks. Which is why at 67, he has been retired for almost ten years already, while his former partners are still paying off their Merc’s.

With all due respect to Subaru drivers, I don’t think there’s one in our future.

Favourite thing no 2: He taught me to change a tyre. Before I was allowed behind a steering wheel, and after he first explained to me (with beautiful diagrams which I still have), how the infernal combustion engine works. Now I love the gallant part of South African culture in which men (of all colours, shapes and sizes) spring to the aid of any woman looking as if she’s about to crank a jack. What I don’t love is when it’s done dismissively, and particularly if the word “girlie” is involved. I’m getting better at toning down my raving-feminist reactions to the unsuspecting well-intentioned, but any hint of “step aside little woman” and I’m likely to wield that wheel spanner in a manner other than that for which it was designed.

It took me a long time to realise what a problem this gender-equality stance can be. Apparently, it’s why I am still single. In the words of one male acquaintance, we independent, capable women are just too intimidating (he clearly felt this was unfair of us). According to another acquaintance, I should never mention to men I meet that I like DIY. I’m not talking knocking down walls or remodeling kitchens, just replacing the odd bathroom tile or repainting the window frames. It seems that DIY salespeople agree: the first time I walked into Mica to buy a toolbox (a gift from my dad, in fact), the salesman practically refused to sell me one. He said I didn’t need it.

Best of all, I was recently advised by an Uber driver, an educated and otherwise very pleasant gentleman in his fifties, that I should certainly lie to any potential husband about having a PhD. At least for the first six months of the relationship. Just until he is secure… “because you really do need a husband.”

My dad is not like that. He doesn’t care if I have a husband, if I’m happy and doing awesome things. He is inordinately proud that I have a PhD. And he lends me his drill whenever I want it.

Favourite thing no 3: He taught me to fail my driver’s. That came out wrong – he taught me to drive first, and if I do say so, I’m not too bad on the road. But I failed the test the first time, and when I phoned him at work to tell him, I felt terrible. He did not miss a beat: “Katie, that’s wonderful!!!” I thought he’d misheard me, but no: “You’ve never failed anything in your life. It’s such a valuable experience to go through. I’m so proud of you.”

The two of us are a lot alike: hard workers, performers and perfectionists. No-one had to push me to work hard at school or varsity – on the contrary, we used to fight about my overdoing it. When I finished my OT degree, my dad said: “If all you want to do next year is sit on the floor in the middle of your bedroom and contemplate your navel, I will support you. I might even join you.” He knew I didn’t need more pressure, I needed to learn how to have an identity and a life outside of work. It’s taken me a long time to learn that. But I would never have got anywhere near if he hadn’t started it then.

Favourite thing no 4: He isn’t going to buy me a car. My dad is incredibly generous, and at the same time very, very wise. Money is seldom “just” money, especially within families, and can easily become the vehicle (no pun intended) for values and dynamics that have nothing to do with its superficial operations. My dad understands that. He respects and supports our independence, and in dealing with each one of his four children, over the years, has been both generous and deliberate. Each transaction has not only met a real need appropriately and at the right time, but has reflected values of fairness, accountability and freedom.

I am unendingly grateful for what his generosity has made possible, and for the circumstances which allowed him to be so, but even more I’m grateful for what these interactions have taught us about money and relationships. This kind of education, sadly, seems vanishingly rare.

My parents are not big on Fathers’ or Mothers’ Days, so I won’t be handing over socks or chocolate, but I’m sneaking around the no-celebration rule here: Dad, you are amazing. There is so much more I could write about how, and I’m sure it will come up again. For now – thanks for not buying me a Subaru xx






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