Today was a good day

Today was a special day for my dad. He got a new car. It was also a special day for me because he invited me along for the ride. That version of the story doesn’t even begin to explain the significance of today for my dad, and it also doesn’t make clear why this morning will probably become a story I will tell people when people ask me to share a great memory of my dad.

To put it in perspective we have to visit rural Iowa in the late 1960s when my dad was a skinny high school kid who had five siblings; a Lutheran pastor for a dad and a mom who found ways to feed and clothe her family that would make Dave Ramsey appear careless with money by comparison.

As a kid, my dad developed a deep interest in cars. Not that he or his parents had enough money to buy the coolest vehicles of the time, but he still knew about them all. To this day when he sees a car from his childhood era he’ll tell you the make, model and year. And although he has now owned dozens of cars he can still tell you the details of each one as if it’s still in his garage.

Mustangs have always been his favorite, and ever since he first saw the 1968 model he has dreamed of owning a “red Mustang convertible with camel [tan] interior.” He’s been talking about that car since I can remember, and as the youngest child in my family his dream was often mentioned as being directly connected to my educational progress, as in “when you graduate from college I can finally get my convertible,” or “my next tuition payment is going to be for a Mustang.”

The irony in this story is that my parent’s owned a 1968 Mustang when I was a little kid (in the mid 1980s). It wasn’t a convertible, but it was red, and the story I’ve heard is that the heater didn’t work and my mom didn’t like driving it on ice and snow, which seem like legitimate reasons – especially since we lived in northern Iowa where it’s winter half the year and a sports car is not at all a practical vehicle for a family with two young kids. So my parents sold the car to a high school kid in town. I have a faint memory of seeing it in a parking lot a few years later and watching my dad look at it, longingly. I somehow ended up with a key for that old car and I still have it today, along with a childish thought that someday I’d randomly find the car and use the key to reclaim it for my dad.

Fast forward to just a few days ago when my dad, who works at the same school as me, pulled me out of a meeting to see if I was available to help him with something on Saturday. When I said yes and asked him what was happening on Saturday he shared the reason behind the glow that was on his face…he had finally found his Mustang! It was in Iowa and he needed to go pick it up. The Ford dealership (which my uncle owns) arranged for a few guys to drive the car an hour south of the twin cities where we’d meet them in the parking lot.

So I woke up bright and early this morning, on a Saturday(!). One of the first things I did after turning off my alarm clock was post the following status on a few social media sites: “up early on a saturday to help my dad track down a dream he’s been chasing for over 40 years. this is going to be a fun day.” I had no idea how fun today was going to be.

My dad picked me up after stopping to get coffee and we headed south. It became clear right away that I was living out a great scene in a cool story.

As we drove into the morning sun my dad talked about how long he’d been dreaming of this day, again going back to his love of the ’68 model. He talked about all the different Mustangs over the past 40+ years and told me he had test-driven many of them (something I didn’t know). He said none of them looked and felt quite right to him until a few years ago when the 2010 model came out, the version of the car he was now about to own. He mentioned the mixed emotions he was feeling about having his very own red Mustang convertible with camel interior, explaining that after wanting this car for so long he wasn’t sure how it would feel to actually have it. What would he dream about now?

The conversation we were having was about a car, at least that’s what it would have sounded like to a casual observer, but knowing my dad like I do it was obviously about so much more than just a car. The car represents not just his childhood dream, but now it also seems to embody the humbling reality that he can afford his dream car. What an incredibly blessing. He didn’t seem to have regrets that it had taken this long to get the car – since every instance of waiting was an example of making other things, like family, a priority – and at the same time he also wasn’t overcome with excitement about finally getting the car he’d always wanted.

I’m not sure what word describes my dad’s spirit this morning, and that’s probably because he was experiencing a culmination of memories and emotions that covered every dimension of his adult life, and for certain that’s a lot more than I can comprehend, but what I can say is just riding in a car and talking with my dad this morning is something I’ll never forget.

There are two moments in particular I’ll always remember about today, and thankfully I had the presence of mind to capture them both on video.

Pulling up next to his new car:

Reflecting on his dream car and driving it off the lot:

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