Me and my buddy Jimmy sat in the back of Big Red as he looked at me and said, "well, my daddy's truck is a 4-wheel drive too." I wrinkled up my face as I looked at him sideways and said, "no it's not, all 4 wheels have to pull for it to be a 4-wheel drive." He leaned into my face and said, "well, it has 4 wheels, and it can drive!" I had to laugh and smile as I broke my Whatchamacallit candy bar in half, allowing him to choose which piece to take, and we shared a perfect summer moment can be known only to two 10 year old buddies sitting in the bed of a big red pick-up truck.
Big Red was my dad's truck and I was very proud of it. I can remember sitting on the edge of the side with my legs inside the engine compartment as I watched him make repairs with Craftsman wrenches and oil soaked into the lines of his hands. I never felt so alive as when we load up in 4-wheel drive and crunch it through the woods loading it full of firewood from fallen trees. Dad was the chain-saw man and I was his swamper.
I remember riding in the truck bed with our dog Rebel as we made our way to the Beechwood Market that sat on State Route 122 about 5 miles west of Middletown, Ohio. The warm summer air would blow through my hair as I faced the wind. Nothing could stop us... it was like being a superhero in flight with my loyal sidekick.
But by far the best thing about Big Red was riding up front next to my dad. He would sit me on the top of his big silver tool box with his arm resting across my chest. I have never felt so safe. We would bounce up and down those Preble County roads with country music playing on the crackly speakers and warm wind blasting through the hard to crank open windows. The knob was loose and the arm was bent, it didn't turn in a smooth circle.
Even after all these years... these moments easily surface as some of the best memories from my childhood. Even now, I can remember the sounds of the creaky truck as we navigated those crooked roads.
I have a 12 year old son now and the time we share together will either be the memories of his future or simply days long forgotten. My father and I make memories even today, and his gaze into my own eyes when I misspeak or I rush through the day reminds me of the importance of the young life that looks up my way. I want to be as good a papa to Caleb as my dad was to me. It is my job to show him what it means to be a man.
I have always known that I was loved and safe when my father's arm rested across my chest. I have always been able to sit at his side while he works and learn what it means to face a problem head on and solve it. My dad has been married and faithful to my mom ever since the day he said, "I do." Their commitment to each other reminds me of the responsibility that Kellie and I carry as our 3 children watch our life together.
What does it mean to be a man? To have vision in the face of adversity. To have the willingness to stand for what you believe in, even if it hurts. To find joy in everyday life. To live faithfully. To love my wife and to always have my arm securely across my children.
These are the lessons that I learned, safe in my father's arms on a toolbox.