How to work, how to learn, how to negotiate, how to treat others, how to live. And he thought he was learning how to fix cars.
Dad was a Chevy man. More specifically, he was a vintage Camaro man. It seemed as though he was always buying a Camaro out of someone’s yard or barn and parking it in the garage.
Growing up as a kid in the 80’s, I spent an enormous amount of time in my Dad’s garage working on cars with him and my brothers. We’d would help him restore a car, and after driving it for a while, Dad would sell it. The garage never stayed empty for long, though, as Dad would soon find another rusted gem in need of attention, and the next restoration project would begin.
Of course, my brothers and I got in on the act, too, building our own cars for cruising through the streets of our small town. When you’re in high school, it’s good to have a Dad that’s a car guy.
In dad’s garage, I learned a lot of skills, from refinishing car bodies to rebuilding engines, but as I reflect on that time, I realize the most important things that I learned had very little to do with cars, and an awful lot to do with living well. Even though I couldn’t name these lessons at the timeI recognize them now.
Nothing Comes Easy
The garage wasn’t air conditioned, so it could be brutally hot in the summer, and it was only moderately heated in the winter. Comfortable temperatures were a luxury, and entirely dependent upon the forecast. As for the work itself, it was usually dirty, greasy, and physical. Tasks such as trying to hold a heavy starter in place with one hand while you get the bolts started with the other (all while lying on your back), or pulling on a wrench with all your strength trying to loosen a stuck bolt were common. While those with more money would pay others to do such tasks, if we wanted something built, fixed, or modified, we busted our butts and got it done.
Sometimes the Only Way to Learn is to Try
Dad wasn’t a mechanic by trade. We picked up a lot of our skills in the garage by tearing things apart and studying them, then trying to make them work. We approached car problems like a puzzle to be solved. The same approach can be used for friendships, marriages, and careers. Sometimes in life you need to just tear stuff up, see what’s inside, and make it into what you want.
There Will be Pain, You Will Bleed, Suck it Up
In high school, my hands looked like they had gone through a garbage disposal most of the time. Skinned knuckles and smashed fingertips were a very common occurrence at our house. My brothers and I viewed them as badges of honor. When we smashed a knuckle or cut a finger, we would take a few minutes to compose ourselves, possibly utter an expletive or two, and maybe even go get a bandage if the mood struck us right. But then we got back at it. Play through the pain.
Networking is Important
Every small town has its cliques. We belonged to the car guy group. When an especially perplexing problem evaded our ability to solve it, Dad always had a friend with the fix. He was happy to return the favor for the rest of the group, offering advice or help as needed. Ideas, suggestions, and knowledge gained by experience were freely exchanged to the benefit of all within the group.
Be a Tough Negotiator
My dad was well known by most of the used car salesmen in our town. I wouldn’t necessarily say they liked him, but they definitely respected him as an adversary when it came to hammering out a deal. When I was about 12 years old, one of them told me “I hope you aren’t learning negotiating tactics from your dad—I’d like to sell you a car someday.”
I have watched my Dad pull the plug on deals over the difference of $100 on cars that he dearly wanted. One time I asked him why, and he told me that they would call the next day and accept his offer. Some sellers did, some didn’t, but Dad fought hard to get a deal on his terms, and if he couldn’t, he was never afraid to walk away.
Always Trade Fairly
For as tough as he was when it came to negotiating, Dad never lied or told half-truths about a car. Any potential problems were mentioned, and the buyers knew what they were getting. He never sold a car without making sure it had a full tank of gas as a way of saying thank you to the buyer. I remember more than one buyer with a very pleasantly surprised smile on their face when he told them he gassed it up for them as he handed them the keys.
Respect Your Elders
There was an older gentleman who lived on our block who frequented our garage. When he heard us working, he would come down the alley to see what we were doing. We would always stop and visit with him, showing him what we were working on and chatting about the typical things guys from the neighborhood talk about. I always assumed my Dad enjoyed these conversations, but as a guy with his own garage now, and a never-ending list of projects to complete, I know that it can be frustrating to get interrupted unexpectedly when you are trying to get something accomplished. If my Dad felt this way, he never showed it.
Enjoy the Fruits of Your Labors
My first real car was a 1971 Nova that Dad and I restored. I had been telling my friends about it at school while we were building it, and I remember the first time I was able to get it on the street. The feeling was surreal. Months of hard work and anticipation had passed, and now I was cruising in my new ride. That feeling couldn’t have been matched by a new car paid for by my parents, or even by me. What made that drive special was the work of our hands. In life, it’s important to sit back every now and then and enjoy what you have created.
Thanks for the lessons, Dad.
Photo credit: Getty Images