Shifting for Life

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”

— Alan Lakein

Today’s story is from Stan Snyder.

My father taught me to drive a stick shift

Stan driving an ambulance

A typical day in the life of a teenage me. Dad and I doing battle. His goal? Make me miserable.

“You will learn to drive a stick,” Dad emphatically said. “You’ll learn, or you won’t drive at all.”

“What’s the point?” I protested. “I’m buying an automatic.”

(I’d saved up for years. A few blocks away sat a perfectly decent automatic sedan. My aunt had promised it to me once I’d saved up the money. Dad knew that.)

But my father wouldn’t let up…

“One day something will happen… an emergency. You’ll need to know how. Then you’ll be grateful one day — I guarantee.”

I doubted that, greatly.

It was worse than you think. Dad’s had a crusty, rusty, faded out pick-up, hardly a car. All the “cool kids” were practicing in their parents’ posh automatics. It seems silly now. But at the time it was a big deal. Everyone would see me driving this embarrassment on wheels.

Driving lessons started that day, and continued for months. I dreaded every one. Every Sunday after church. After most had left. Dad and I stayed on. The old junker sat waiting in the back of the lot.

We sputtered and jerked, me with a hand on the wheel, a hand on the knob, a foot on the clutch (or was it the brake?), and a foot pressed too hard (or too light) on the gas. It was never, ever exactly just right. Some churchgoers lingered (even giggled!) as we lumbered and screeched.

Dad isn’t exactly the most patient guy — not then, not now. I’m surprised we weren’t struck by lightning for the curse words he spat. Remember, this was a “holy” parking lot. That we both didn’t die of whiplash — a gift in itself.

But then, I started to “get it.” Dad calmed down. My feet became trained. They knew what to do when I moved my right hand.

My father taught me to drive

Stan at work

Driving lessons ended. I was soon in possession of a license, “gold” for a restless 16-year-old. And, I was just weeks away from saving enough to buy my aunt’s car. I was determined never to drive a stupid stick shift again.

Dad was genuinely excited to see my new license! He felt like he’d pitched in and helped… and of course, he had.

“Let’s celebrate,” he said. “You’ve earned it, kid.” (Not something I’d heard often from my tight-lipped Dad). He took me to my favorite pizza joint. We ate, we enjoyed. Until…

Dad’s face twisted in pain. His hands flew to his chest. “What’s wrong?” I asked Dad. But he couldn’t speak. He went white as a sheet.

“Call 911!” I yelled… But no one moved or picked up a phone. (This was before the time of cell phones). Everyone just stood there and stared.

I wrapped my arm around my Dad. He leaned into me. Somehow I got him into that truck.

Now it was just that stick shift and me. No one to help. I had to get Dad to the hospital, miles away, or I was sure he would die.

Turns out, I was right. “If you’d waited for the ambulance, your Dad would likely not be here today,” said a doctor later.

But he is here today. He pulled through. Dad’s first words to me? “Thank you. Good job. You saved my life. I love you.”

Those hellish Sundays in the parking lot? It turned out Dad was right after all. I’d be “grateful one day.”

Dad’s great lesson to me?

Learn as much as you can, about everything you can. Be proactive about life. It might just save a man — maybe even your Dad.

My dad taught me to drive a stick shift

Stan Snyder grew up near Johnson City, Tennessee where he lives and works today. He is a paramedic and is passionate about saving lives, an interest ignited during his dad’s near brush with death.

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