Father’s Day Lessons from a Car Fanatic

I got my love of cars, and some of life's key lessons, from my dad, all as we shared life, laugher and an affinity for tail fins. Happy Father's Day, Dad.

Father'S Day

Dad taught me a lot about cars… and life

My dad grew up with three brothers on a farm in New Jersey, and he learned to drive at a young age. Cars have always represented both a passion of his and a watershed, life-changing moment: a devastating car crash as a teenager.

Raised with bunch of boys, my dad was, apparently, fated to raise two girls. I can imagine that was probably a great culture shock for him. He turned to his hobbies and passions, and instilled in me an appreciation for cars and sports.

Over the years, attending car shows with my dad became our special connection. When we’re visiting each other, we still seek out car shows, and I remember when my father pointed out makes and models to me when I was a kid. Consequently, the cars I dream about are the late-50s model sedans with long, beautiful fins. The next generation, my son, learned how to call car brands on the road when he was four; I like that he can pick out a Ferrari in a lineup.

The lessons my dad imparted through our shared love of cars 

Dad taught me a lot of things in my life, not the least of which has been how to say “I love you” through actions, not just words, how to stand up for myself, and how to fix the speaker wires in my car when they shook loose on bumpy county roads. My dad is a quiet man, and if he were a car, he’d be a purring Jaguar – understated, reliable, and classy. But through his measured, generous manner, here are some key things I’ll never forget:

Father'S Day Memories And The Dodge Aspen 1977

That’s me on the left and my first car on the right: a 1977 Dodge Aspen. It was a land yacht, but it was a good, safe car for my first one. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

1) Make a full stop.

All of my life, I think of my dad when I get to a stop sign.

“Don’t roll through the stop, Kristin,” he would say. “Stop fully or you’ll get a ticket someday.”

I try to remember to avoid rolling through anything without taking the time to pay attention and make a full stop. By taking that extra second, I have the opportunity to breathe, look, listen, and watch out for dangers headed my direction.

Last night, I thought about this as I put my son to bed. He wrapped his arms around me and didn’t want to let go, so I held him while his eyes closed and he fell asleep in my arms.

Full stop. I don’t want to miss moments like that.

This Father'S Day, Thinking Of My Day In The Hospital In 1959

My dad, when he was 16 and recovering from a car crash that resulted in the amputation of his right arm.

2) Learn how to shift gears.

My father’s oldest brother went to the military recruitment office when he was 18 to sign up for the service, but it happened to be closed. Before he could return to formally enlist, he was offered a college scholarship to play basketball and went on to graduate, complete seminary school, and get married. The next two brothers in line served in the Navy, and my dad thought he would follow in their footsteps too.

Until he lost his right arm in a car crash when he was 16.

He not only survived but thrived, finishing college and meeting my mother on a blind date. Mom didn’t blink an eye at his artificial arm and married him a couple of years later. My father has had to shift gears in many ways and in many directions in his life, and he gives me inspiration to keep shifting too.

Dad has steered me through some gear changes of my own, including an eating disorder in college, a divorce, and subsequent financial challenges that I conquered on my own. He has always given me solid advice, and I trust him to lead me down the roads I need to travel (as much as I have been willing to listen).

Life is never driven in first gear alone.

Wedding, Lago Vista, Texas

Me and my dad on my wedding day, 2006, in Lago Vista, Texas. Photo credit: Denise Prince, Prune Photography

3) Choose your vehicle wisely

Picking out a car is like picking out a mate: don’t choose one on looks alone, be sure you can live with it for many years, and be sure it’s going to meet your needs.

In college, I wanted to trade my car in for a motorcycle, but my parents weren’t having any of it.

“Oh, that’s fine,” my mom said over the phone. “Then you can go ahead and pay for your college classes, too.”

Dad nodded in the background. I mean, I couldn’t see him through the phone, but I’m sure he was.

1957 Bel Air, Florida

Due to my dad’s influence (he was born in 1943), these are my dream cars and his dream cars. But we wouldn’t mind a brand-new Ferrari, either. Photo credit: Kristin Shaw

4) Enjoy the ride

We took a lot of road trips growing up. Mom and Dad bought a big blue van and we folded out the back seat into a flat surface on which my sister and I could lounge all the way from Indiana to Florida every Christmas. There was no TV. No video games. No iPads. Just books and music. And a CB for trucker-style entertainment.

I learned how to read a map on these trips by taking my turn as the navigator, and I developed a love for small towns and quirky roadside attractions. We were able to stop wherever we felt like it. We looked out the windows and watched the southern half of the U.S. fly by from our perch on the van couch.

I do love to fly, but I have a lot of great memories of road trips in that big old van.

Enjoy the ride. There is so much to see out there.

Thanks, Dad. Happy Father’s Day!

A Girls Guide To Cars | Father'S Day Lessons From A Car Fanatic - Dad And Me

Me, when I was about 3, and my dad. Always smiling, with that gleam in his eye. Photo credit: Virginia Vander Hey

Writer. Car fanatic. Mom. Kristin is the co-owner of auto review site Drive Mode Show and a nationally-published writer... More about Kristin Shaw