Where Rubber Meets the Road

One of my boys never left our driveway without leaving rubber on Birchwood Loop. Our closest neighbor loved it (not).

On our two acres of land, cannibalized 4x4s pleaded with me to put them out of their misery at the salvage yard. I couldn’t walk a straight line 20 feet without tripping over an engine, a pile of axles, or welding iron. If patience had a boiling point, mine had turned to steam.

The boy and I never just “talked.” We dueled or negotiated. His strut and the jut of his chin reminded me that this was my own fault. He had shouldered man-sized responsibilities at 14. At 17, his ambitions ran amok—all over my yard.

His crew didn’t drink, and he attended Christian youth activities (I felt sorry for the youth pastor). Between school and real work, he and his midnight grease monkeys assembled junkers that local cops laughed off as barely drivable. I don’t recall the boy getting speeding tickets, but fix-it tickets stacked up.

I let my son relocate storage items to turn a shed into his clubhouse where big guys challenged one another to grappling matches. The boy had always made time to help his ol’ dad, so I thought that he deserved a little indoor space, too.

He was sooo restless, and so was I. One day he told me he wanted to go fishing, and I don’t think he expected me to be so jubilant. An elderly captain with a fishing boat needed a young hand, and the boy thought he had signed up for a summer “cruise.”

I drove him to Merrill Field one very fine morning, and we hardly talked on the way. We both felt the paternal tow chain snapping in two. Nice. Scary. Worrisome for us both.

His little puddle-jumper disappeared in the clouds, and I didn’t see the boy for three months. His mom got a couple letters, but only when he returned did we find out that his “cruise” had been an eye-opening experience. He thought that his DAD was a tyrant…

The boat couldn’t float to the mouth of the ocean because of low water conditions in the river. Have you ever worked for a land-locked fisherman during a salmon run? Who do you suppose bore the brunt of HIS impatience? It took weeks to finally float their boat downstream.

One captain. ONE CREWMAN. LOL.

Mom and I picked up my tanned, humbled son at Merrill field again, and some of his first words warmed our hearts.

“It’s so good to see you guys!” he said.

Under layers of father-son emotions I detected something else—for the first time, he was tuned to my frequency. Or maybe I had finally tuned-in to his.

He’s 41 years old now. Eight children. With a wife that I could hug every time I see her, if she’d let me. Our two families have been stranded away from the “salmon run” more than once over the years. But we have worked hard and prayed for our river to fill, and it always has—in God’s time.

I raised a man, without realizing it was happening. He has sons of his own now, and I hear the same arguments that he and I had when he was 17.

“Ease up, Ol’ Man,” I say. “Keep the boys close as long as you can. It’ll be worth a little rubber at the top of the drive, in the end.”

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