The Dao of Da: “That’s What Bumpers Are For!”

This is the second in an occasional series where I will try and capture some of the life lessons my Dad (Da to his grandchildren) taught me through the years, the goal being to preserve them for his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. 

Lesson 2:  “That’s What Bumpers Are For!”  

My Dad loved to drive.  Loved it.  He was proud of his driving abilities, enjoyed the independence a car symbolized, and had a knack for finding used Cadillacs being sold by little old ladies who only drove their Sevilles and DeVilles to church on Sunday mornings.  He spent most of his working years in the railroad and public transit.

When I was an itty bitty little girl, my Dad drove a bus in Chicago for a short while.  One summer day, much to the surprise of the entire neighborhood, he pulled up in a city bus in front of our suburban home.  Kids across the neighborhood packed onto that bus for the joy ride of their five and six and seven and eight year old lives. Liability be damned.  Aaaahhh, the 1970s were an awesome time to be a kid.  My Dad was a certified hero that day.

CTA bus, or 1970s childhood fairy tale?
CTA bus, or 1970s childhood fairy tale?

The truth is, I have dozens and dozens of stories about my Dad and transportation.  It was his jam, you know?  After my Mom died and he began his life as a bachelor, his walls were littered with framed prints of steam engines, buses, trains, carriages, depots.  Going places and how to get there were matters of great interest to him. There was not a neighborhood in Chicago he couldn’t drive through with authority, maps an unnecessary nuisance to him.

While it was a high school gym teacher that taught me the specifics of driving, watching my Dad throughout my lifetime provided the nuances of driving.  He added the art to the science.  After I moved to Chicago in my early 20s, my Dad gave me a lesson on parallel parking.  To this day, I think of his instruction every time I put my car in reverse.  It was all about lining up the backseat passenger window with the rear winshield of the car in front of the spot you wanted.  “Cut the wheel and don’t be afraid to tap the bumpers — that’s what bumpers are for!,” he would exclaim, frustrated by my initial timidity.

Twenty some years of living in the city has erased any timidity I had in those early days of city driving.

I can recall, with great clarity, watching my Dad fit into tight spaces with literally one inch on either side of his bumper.  And he always drove old boats, none of these foreign compacts.  Cadillacs and Crown Vics were his style.  I still marvel at the experience.  How did he do it?  It was as if a magnet had gently pulled his car into the seemingly too small spot.  But you know how he did it?  He tapped those damn bumpers, that’s how he did it!  Why?  Because, “That’s what bumpers are for!”

Of course.

Equal parts white man entitlement and total confidence (perhaps those are one and the same?) are what got my Dad into those tight spaces.  He was always a bit of a bull in a china shop, uncareful and uncaring of what damage might occur due to the space he took up.  It was his space to take, you know?  He and his Cadillac were entitled to that space, dammit (thought he would never swear, but that’s another post).  Now, mind you, that didn’t mean ripping apart or damaging those cars that straddled his parking spaces, but it did mean that they would get close and personal with his bumper.  Those bumpers were all up in one another’s business.

Da had three daughters, all of whom have grown into strong women, both in temperament and accomplishments.  He wanted the same things for his daughters as he did for his son — to know their place, to own their place, to push boundaries, to not always cede to authority (except, of course, his authority) which, as it turns out, is a lot like tapping bumpers to ensure you get your space.

A man, his bumper, and 2 of 3 daughters.
Da, his bumper, and 2 of 3 daughters.

His message to us, in driving and in life, was to not be afraid to tap those bumpers — push for what you want, what is possible, what is available to you.  Don’t be restricted by the idea of something, don’t hesitate because you worry you won’t make it, don’t stop yourself without trying.  Make it happen, carve that spot out for yourself, use your resources, tap those bumpers.  Bumpers are meant to bump, it is their function.

It’s a worthwhile lesson, both in and out of the car.  Thanks, Da, for helping me always find my space.

Da and my Mom.  You don't ever parallel park a car this long without tapping a few bumpers along the way.
Da and my Mom. You don’t ever parallel park a car this long without tapping a few bumpers along the way.

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