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  • My father loved being at the helm. Whether on his boat, the PoopJooBee, or behind the wheel of his Chrysler company car, he preferred being in the position of control. In that way I suppose we're a lot alike.

    I say "suppose" because he died young, a once-and-done heart attack in the early morning hours of January 9, 1969. I was all of sixteen, and I'm the one who found his lifeless, quickly cooling body on the kitchen floor. But that's a story for another day. Today I want to talk about the time he put me behind the wheel.

    My dad was into gadgets. Not the kind we all have now, the electronic gizmo-poppers I, for sure, am so enamored with. His gadgets were the boat, an 8-track tape deck in the car, an early model (not very) portable phone and a 3-wheel gas golf cart. One day he suggested we drive to the golf course and that we make the approximately 5-mile trip in the cart. I jumped at the offer, first because it was to be just the two of us, and at this stage in our lives my dad was clearly my hero. Also, the ride in the golf cart would be an adventure, great open-aired fun - not to mention, the disruption we would cause on the few city streets we'd travel ... definitely a bonus.

    About half way there he asked me to take the wheel, to drive the rest of the way. Though I was a little shaky at first, a few minutes and one stoplight later, we chugged into the parking lot at the golf course, and I pulled the Harley-Davidson 3-wheeler into the parking lot. After a couple of cocktails for him and nine holes for me, we headed back home, me at the wheel for the entire trip.

    I didn't know it then but I was being tested, and apparently I passed.

    About two weeks later Mom brought Dad home from the hospital and cataract surgery. Back in those days the doctors did it with knives, not lasers, and the recuperation time was more than a few hours or a couple of days. Both of Dad's eyes were covered, big patches all taped up and very scary looking. He must have felt vulnerable; I can't imagine a minute of blindness, much less a week of being led by the hand all over the house. Mom, my sister, my brothers and I took turns helping him from room to room. Then on the third day, as I'm walking him down the driveway to pick up the mail or the afternoon paper, he says, "Son, let's take a ride to the golf course."

    "Sure, I'll get the golf cart," I quickly agreed, feeling empowered after our little jaunt a few weeks earlier.

    "No," he said, "let's take the car."

    I didn't worry about the safety - or lack of it - riding as a passenger in a big Chrysler with a man who had both eyes covered. Didn't have time to worry. "You drive," he says, handing me the keys.

    "But, Dad, I'm only 12."

    "You did it in the golf cart. You can do it in the car, easy."

    All he said was true ... except the "no sweat" part. I was a nervous wreck, but that was the only wreck that day. My speed was well under the limit, and I may have looked a few too many times to the left and right at the stop signs. But Dad had a couple of pops with his pals and I had a first drive adventure. I could never have guessed that piloting the golf car would serve as my driver training, but clearly he was planning ahead.
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