Stories Told

The safety to express our anxieties

I’ve written before about how my dad always needed to be in control in our relationship and how never really were able to relate to each other just as men.

There was one time when he did it, and it was through seeking my advice about whether to buy what turned out to be his last car.

Dad was a Ford man. He owned eight Fords in his lifetime, turning to other makes — Chevy, AMC, Renault — only during the ’70s and early ’80s when Ford’s build quality had taken a serious nosedive. When quality became Job One at Ford again in the mid ’80s, Dad went right back to his first automotive love.

Dad had driven his 2006 Ford Focus to about 70,000 miles. Being a product of his time, he thought this was a lot of miles and that the car was nearing the end of its useful life. But I knew that his Focus easily had 100,000 miles left in it, especially because he had taken very good care of it. I was ready for a new car myself, so we negotiated a price for his car. After he bought his next car, I’d write the check and drive the old Focus home.

Looking Over my Car

Dad soon found the car he thought he wanted, a one-year-old 2012 Ford Focus. I waited patiently at the dealer while he and Mom test drove it, in case it was “the one” and we’d complete the deal on his old Focus.

When he came back from the drive I asked how it went. He said it had good room, power, and handling. He wished it were a hatchback rather than a sedan. He also thought the car had high mileage for its age.

Then he looked straight at me and asked it: “Do you think I should buy this?”

The wavering tone of his voice, and the unsure look in his eye, and the very question itself all startled me. I noticed that he was fidgeting a little and sitting crooked in the chair. He had always seemed so sure about everything. He had never asked my opinion about a personal matter before.

He needed to be pushed off the fence, and it was clear that my word was going to do it. “Do you like the car?” I asked. “I mean, can you see you and Mom being comfortable and happy in it as you drive around town and on your trips downstate?” He didn’t hesitate in saying yes, but he still worried about the car’s mileage. “Oh Dad,” I assured him, “you put 5,000 miles a year on your cars, tops. That’s far less than most people. In a couple years the car will be at the right number of miles for its age. You’ll get lots of years out of it. And I’ve checked online: this car is priced fairly. If you negotiate a little, you should get it at a very good price. There’s no reason to hesitate.”

Dad loved a bargain. He stopped fidgeting and sat up straight. He bought the car.

Then I drove home in his old car. I drove it daily for five and a half years, commuting to work, taking road trips, and even driving my sons on a Route 66 vacation in it. It has been the most fun-to-drive little car I’ve ever owned. Despite a couple expensive repairs, I’m happy I bought it. It’s been a good car.

But now it has rolled to 150,000 miles. Little things had been going wrong and I was getting to know my mechanic a little too well. After a failure last winter that required a tow, I knew it was time to put this car out to pasture. The Focus is still in our fleet on light duty. One of my sons currently uses it to drive to his summer job.

My wife and I have two newer cars now, a 2013 VW Passat for me and a 2017 Kia Soul for her. I certainly felt my own anxiety over these two major purchases! Will we like it long term? What if it’s a lemon? Wow is that a lot of money to spend. It’s normal to feel this anxiety, and it can be helpful to talk it out with someone.

I wish my dad could always have felt safe in expressing his own anxieties. But at least this once he was willing to share his with me and let me offer a perspective.

Thanks to Paul Niedermeyer for this article over at Curbside Classic, a Father’s Day memory of the one time his dad took his carbuying advice, which reminded me of this story.

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20 thoughts on “The safety to express our anxieties

  1. A bittersweet story that makes me think – I do not recall my own father ever asking me for car advice at all.
    This is also a good reminder to ask myself how open about such things I am being with my own kids.

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  2. Dan Cluley says:

    I’m reminded of my Grandfather’s last car, a 1988 LeSabre. His first car was a ’29 Model A, and as far as I know everything after that had a V8, so the information that 8 cylinders were no longer available in the downsized Buick had him concerned. He went to take a test drive, but asked me to come along. I’m not sure how much he needed my opinion once he tried it out, but the V6 proved to be quite satisfactory.

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  3. DougD says:

    I was just saying to my wife last night that I like our new(ish) 2013 Focus, but our 2001 Focus was a better car.

    I give my Dad honest advice when he asks for it, which is rarely. But I do give him ridiculous car advice too as a running gag. Last week I suggested he buy a very nice 1967 Dodge Polara that is for sale in town because the radio would be easier to use than his Ford Escape. Easier because it didn’t have one :P

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    • I drove my Dad’s 2012 Focus just a handful of times, but even on that little bit of experience I’d have to agree with you: the original Focus was a better car.

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      • TBM3FAN says:

        I also agree. I currently drive a 2004 Focus 2.3L 5 speed. Mechanically an excellent car at 160,000 miles. However, a few electrical gremlins which is what has always concerned me about today’s cars with the heavy emphasis on all kinds of electronics. To have a car die because of a few sensors is unacceptable to me. To die because of 250,000 on the engine is acceptable to me.

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        • Oooooo you got the 2.3. Mine has the 2.0 Duratec and it has plenty of power — I can only imagine that the 2.3 (esp. with that 5 speed) makes that car a ton of fun.

          I agree: stupid ancillary stuff breaking and doing a car in galls me but an engine wearing out from good use seems like a noble way for a car to die.

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  4. Heide says:

    Wonderful post, Jim. Your dad’s question struck me as a kind of microcosm of the changes our parents — and our relationships with our parents — undergo with age. But it speaks volumes about his esteem for you and trust in you that he turned to you for advice.

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  5. Do you ever wonder where the dynamic between you and your father originated? Was it something that could have happened between your father and his father? Lately I’ve been thinking about how tendencies within a family dynamic are easily passed down through generations.

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    • Oh my goodness what an insightful question.

      I never knew my dad’s dad; he died three years before I was born. But through the stories my dad told, I can see that there is a “way” in our family that almost certainly has been passed down through the generations. My dad made an effort to break some of that cycle, the parts of it that he judged to have been harmful. And I’ve tried to break more of the harmful parts of that cycle through my own parenting choices of my two sons. Yet somehow my sons are recognizably Greys through how they approach their lives. There’s got to be some nature in there, regardless of the nurture.

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      • I think it’s interesting to see the nature of family transfer as time progresses. I didn’t know my dad’s dad but I think their interactions have somewhat transferred to me and my dad’s. If I have kids one day I wonder if I’ll do the same. I think it’s a beautiful thing that we can try to fill gaps to our children’s experiences when we feel we’ve had gaps with certain aspects of our own childhood. At the same time, I like how we must simultaneously pass down the legacy of family even if some parts are unfavorable.

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        • My dad’s family is from the hills of West Virginia. There’s an ornery streak that runs through us all, even those of us (like me) who never lived there. It’s remarkable to see it play out even in my sons. We went to a family reunion several years ago back in Dad’s tiny (pop. 400) hometown. There was a giant bowl of cans of pop, all iced down. I spied my son from across the room picking cans out, shaking them well, and putting them back in. I have urges do to such things but thanks to my mother I learned to curb those urges. Taking a page from my mother’s playbook I took my boy outside and read him the riot act. I was interrupted by a couple older cousins (I call ’em all cousin because it’s usually not clear to me where they sit on the family tree) who admonished me sharply. “Let your boy have his fun!” they said. Not only did they get it, they embraced it.

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  6. jon campo says:

    Jim, that was a very moving story. I had a good relationship with my Dad, but he died very young. Sad to say, among my peer group, I can only think of a few of us that had a positive relationship with our Dads. Complicated relationships seem to be the rule. My 2004 Focus SVT is a good car and a ball to drive. When it runs. Has had more than it’s share of electrical issues over the years. It only has a bit over a 100 thousand miles since I cycle so much.

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    • Parent relationships are complicated, period.

      Oh wow, you got the SVT! At 170 HP I’ll bet it’s a bucket of fun.

      Mine steered clear of electrical gremlins, but I’ve replaced the motor mounts, the power steering pump, and the alternator.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Roger Meade says:

    I am the last of five sons. I had a great relationship with my father, and had a lot of time to enjoy it since he lived to be almost 89. I am pretty sure that the older boys did not have that kind of connection, but times were much tougher then, and the pressures on him were much worse. They also had time to change the dynamic, and they did for the most part.

    I got into photography early, and was able to steer my dad into the hobby with advice on cameras and film. Thus, he moved up from a Duoflex to an Argus C3, then to a couple of Canon SLR’s. He became pretty proficient and had a ball doing it.

    As to the Focus, I had a 2005 ST Sedan and it was probably the most trouble free car I ever owned. It had the 2.3L with the 5 speed and it was fun to drive. It took us to Arizona, New Hampshire, Canada, and Florida- even to Indiana! I sold it with about 100,000 miles a couple of years ago to a friend who was driving an old Dodge truck that got terrible mileage. He loves the Focus. WE replaced it with a new Subaru Outback- a very competent and comfortable car, but I hate the electronics it comes with. The owners manual is thicker than a NYC phone book, and all in English! Nothing about the controls is intuitive. I will be looking for an older, low mileage vehicle that I can understand.

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    • How fortunate that you were able to share your photography hobby with your dad! If he upgraded to an Argus C3 on your recommendation you must have had a long association with him in the hobby then.

      My Ford Focus turned out not to be quite so reliable. It needed a couple major repairs during my time with it and left me stranded once. The most reliable car I’ve ever owned was my Toyota minivan, which I didn’t like driving. Nothing ever went wrong with that car. Least reliable was a Mercury Sable wagon — constantly breaking down, and expensively.

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