During my childhood in the 1970s, another time when inflation plagued household budgets, my father pinched pennies by doing his own car repairs—even the hard stuff that usually sent other dads to the local mechanic.
There were, alas, no YouTube videos back then to help my dad master the maintenance of our family sedan, always a secondhand model. Another strict rule of domestic economy at our house was that we never bought new cars.
Things worked out because Daddy, a professional carpenter, was handy with tools and also a gifted reader. What he needed to know could be found in the Ford Maintenance & Repair Guide series at our public library down the street. Those Ford guides, perennially on loan to my dad, were his secular bible, consulted as frequently and deeply as the Old and New Testaments he used to prepare his Sunday school lessons.
Perhaps I think of those Ford manuals and Holy Writ in the same breath because the cosmology of combustion engines seemed every bit as complicated to me as divine scripture. As he sat on his bedroom rocker with the latest Ford tutorial on his lap, my father entered some private rapture, contentedly immersing himself in the nuances of the intake manifold tightening sequence, automatic linkage adjustment or an exploded diagram of a carburetor that appeared, like some variation of the Big Bang, to be expanding infinitely into space.
Daddy was such a fan of the Ford guides that in 1977 a personal copy of the latest edition became one of his cherished possessions. Maybe he splurged on the book himself, or maybe one of my shrewd siblings treated him to a copy as a gift.
After Daddy died of a heart attack in 1978—taken from us on the day before Father’s Day—his Ford manual and Sunday school Bible passed to me. More than four decades later, both books rest on my living-room shelf, a daily reminder of how he applied his spiritual life to the practical urgencies of fatherhood. For him, faith was a verb, something fulfilled in the daily doing of what needed to be done. In repairing
he gave me a sense that most things can be fixed, a possibility that has sustained me in my own life as a father.
The introduction to Daddy’s old Ford manual concludes with this encouraging sentence: “Trust yourself—you can do it.”
If there’s a better creed for fatherhood, I haven’t found it.
Mr. Heitman, editor of Phi Kappa Phi’s Forum magazine, is a columnist for the Baton Rouge Advocate.
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