Dad was a great driving teacher, just like I knew he would be. Not all the guys at school idolise their father, but my old man is an all-round great guy. He never yelled at us and yet when he didn’t like what we would do, he would calmly let us know. Dad was able to show us how to think things through so that we knew how to make amends when things went awry. He always said,
“No matter what goes wrong, face up, front up and fix it up.”
Being true to his word was crucial for Dad and this meant that by continually showing us how to make amends when we were young, he instilled in us an ability to negotiate our way out of any problem.
My father was resilient, and patience was his middle name.
“I always hope that I have taught you how to ride out the rough patches. Mistakes are OK if you learn how, to tell the truth, and talk them over with other people. Resilient people always think things through and work out a solution.”
Dad taught me how to drive in an old banged up, manual Mazda we used to call Maisy. For a while, we just sat in Maisy and talked as I became familiar with the equipment. As I practised going through the gears, they would jump and jerk while they grated and ground out a pitiful sound.
“Wooo!”, Dad would say, “The hardest part is letting the clutch out without jerking.”
At first, we used the old block of land that we had out the back of our town as a practice patch. We would line up two trees and laugh at my dodgy but daring attempts to reverse park. A couple of times, I spun Maisy sideways, kicking up dust and narrowly missing a guidepost on a makeshift race track.
Dad was paranoid about safety, and so he changed a little once we were out on the open road.
“Slow down and take it carefully,”
Dad would say calmly but seriously, his patient enthusiasm mingling with my determined focus. It wasn’t long before I got my licence. The guy who took me for my test said he was quite impressed.
When I got my licence, my uncle came over to celebrate and brought some beers to share around. Dad seemed annoyed, and they had a bit of a spat about my uncle giving me alcohol.
“Don’t teach Sepania to be a wimp!” my uncle shouted, “Just because you don’t drink doesn’t mean he can’t have a life!”
I was surprised at how angry Dad became. Usually, he stayed so calm and now he was raising his voice and waving his arms around.
“Alcohol and driving don’t mix,” he said in a cranky, over the top, irritated way.
Even though the friction made me uncomfortable, I had a drink with my uncle and quite enjoyed it. It was a hot day, and the chilled VB went down well. I still can’t see anything wrong with having a few beers with my mates.
On my 18th birthday, Dad said I was old enough to be responsible for the Audi, his treasured car. I wanted to pick up my new girlfriend in style as we were going to a dinner thrown in my honour. She was the kind of girl that would be impressed by a car and clothes, money and the like. Dad began to warn me about drink driving as he threw me the keys- but – then he stopped,
“I am not going to insult your intelligence,” he laughed, “I know you are worth more than that.”
Feeling trusted, I thought, “He is not just my dad, he is my friend.”
However, later that night, I would let him down.
As I said, Jessie, my new girl was irritating in the way she looked at status symbols as THE sign. Deep down I knew that she only went out with me because of Dad’s money. From the beginning of the dinner, she seemed stuck up, scanning the floor and comparing herself around. I ordered a beer as we walked in and she frowned. Ignoring her, I got the drinks, and we all took our seats. When I ordered my second beer, I knew it would be smart to stop because I was driving.
“I’ll stop there,” I thought and in retrospect, of course, I wish I had.
My uncle came over with a drink he had bought especially for my birthday, and I accepted.
“The second beer was against my better judgement, but again I said to myself, ”I’ll stop now”.
Unfortunately, because I wasn’t used to alcohol, the third drink was all it took. When I remember that dreadful night, I often hum the song, One’s Too Many and 100 Ain’t Enough.
A better way to tell you what happened was to say that “I threw caution to the wind”, and just got into the swing of the party instead.
By about 10pm, my girl was cracking a mental at me and calling me names.
“You’re just a drunk like your uncle”, she was yelling.
She enraged me so much that just the sound of her voice was enough to set me off. When she grabbed me by the arm, I shook her away, and she staggered back against the wall. As she started to cry, I suddenly realised what was happening, and the shock sobered me up. When she asked me to take her home, I realised I was in trouble and began to placate her.
“Take me home!” she demanded, “Give me the keys and I will drive.”