Routines

It’s funny how in memories the mind makes correlations between events that really aren’t related, at least in space and time. But I think our brain, in hindsight, understands life beyond the tangible. It ties together moments by fusing feelings and emotions, though the events they are attached to appear incongruous.

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For years, as a child, I begged my parents for a dog though deep down I knew it was a lost cause. I’d broach the subject every so often on the off chance they’d cave. Alas, the answer was always no, the idea brushed aside like crumbs from a table.

Then one Christmas, I was told there was a final gift to open but I didn’t see any presents left under the tree. Up from the basement my dad bounded with a box in his arms. Oddly, the lid and box were wrapped separately – and that’s when it clicked. I pulled off the lid and out popped a puppy. Bouncing around with its tongue and tail wagging, it looked like a wind-up toy. I couldn’t help myself from exclaiming, “Is it real?!?”

BarneyJake

(L) Our first dog Barney; (R) Our second dog Jake

A few years later, my dad bought a truck. This was a man who’d owned a succession of Hondas because he believed in the value of miles per gallon. Sure, the truck was manual transmission and foreign-made (a Nissan), but it would never get the gas mileage an Accord or Civic would. So even with my limited financial acumen, I was quite surprised.

From the first moment I saw that truck, I knew I wanted to drive it more than anything in the world. Steel gray, over-sized tires; it was a thing of beauty in my sixteen year-old mind. It was also a vehicle much too expensive to let a newbie driver get behind its wheel.

Nevertheless, I still got jealous watching him pull out of the drive on his way to work wishing it was me instead. He worked at Toledo Hospital as a pharmacist (still does) and that commute was the primary purpose for using the truck. I can still picture the route now, twenty years later, timing the lights just right, the twists and turns as familiar to me as childhood.

I’m sure he’s quite sick of that route these days considering he’s been taking it for thirty years (has it been that long?!). But I will always feel envious of that drive because day in and day out, he made it with that truck and I so desperately wanted to take the reins.

But then came prom, senior year, and there was my dad handing over the keys. While I’m sure my date didn’t appreciate having to hike up her dress in an attempt to climb into the cab, I was in seventh heaven driving the twenty miles to pick her up and take us to the dance. Gradually, he let me drive it more often, until I eventually went off to college.

I majored in Communications because my dad wouldn’t help out with tuition if I followed in his footsteps as a pharmacist – the position wasn’t in high demand then as it is now. I got a job out of college working for a radio broadcaster in Chicago. Roads are narrow there, parking spots tight, so there was no need for a truck. While I spent a decade in the Windy City driving mid-sized sedans, it was always in the back of my mind to own a truck like Dad’s.

It was during my life in Chicago that my dad got rid of the old, gray Nissan. But he replaced it with a newer, maroon version – an automatic transmission (gasp!). Also during that time my surprise Shih Tzu puppy also went into the clearing at the end of the path. But his going, too, was supplanted with a newer version. I met them both on various visits home and it reminded me that while things change, they also stay the same.

Maroon Nissan FrontierGray Nissan Frontier

(L) Maroon Nissan Frontier passed down to me; (R) Dad’s third Frontier

Perhaps that thought is a key driver in how I approached my life. My parents were stable, reliable and consistent in word and deed. The Nissan Frontier changed color and year and the Shih Tzu went from Barney to Jake, but by and large things looked the same. I, on the other hand, was always moving in and out of relationships, looking for the next great thing and doing my best to fly my wax wings too close to the sun.

Eventually the fun ran its course in Chicago; it’s a young man’s metropolis. It was time to settle down and grow up a little. I moved with my wife to Cincinnati, a nice small town as my old boss Paul Harvey would’ve put it. We bought a house in the near suburbs (only two and a half miles from downtown across the river lest you think I gave up on fun completely) and started life as mostly responsible adults – like our folks – except with two cats instead of a dog.

One day, my dad says he’s interested in a truck down by where I live and asked if I’d come check it out with him. I obliged and we went to look at a practically new steel gray Nissan Frontier. It was even more beautiful than the one that stirred my teenage adrenaline. He bought it and, to my surprise, gave me his old maroon one. I finally had a truck! Only took me thirty-five years.

Around that time I also got a new job working for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. No – I didn’t go back to pharmacy school. I manage the hospital intranet on the research side of things, but still, I’m working at a hospital. Like my dad. And commuting streets in a truck. His old one.

There are mornings I walk outside, open the pickup cab, turn the ignition and make my way to the hospital and I think to myself after all these years I’m doing the exact same thing Dad does. Actually, this happens Every. Single. Morning. When I get to my hospital I sometimes don’t want to cut the engine and remove the key lest the connection between my dad and me is severed. It’s a ridiculous thought, I know, how can a stupid truck affect a relationship?

That’s where hindsight becomes 20/20 and the link between father and son, truck and dog start to become clear.

Looking back, I see that my dad has always been steady and consistent – replacing the old with newer versions only when he has to because he appreciates what he had or has in those things. And yet, he swore we’d never have a dog and that it wouldn’t be prudent to own a gas guzzling truck, the things he has maintained consistently for over twenty-five years now. But to get there, he broke from his ideals – and surprised a very malleable young boy in doing so.

It is the nature of all children to rebel against their parents to one degree or another. I am certainly no exception. I spent my life trying to do all things I felt my parents never did.

But getting up every morning and performing the same routine as my dad, I have a new perspective on things. I’m filled with pride to know that in some small way I’m following in his footsteps.

I’ve come to see that the responsibility and steadfast routine he’s demonstrated ever since I can remember – the thing I’ve probably rebelled against the most – is something I should run to, not from. Because being responsible and consist doesn’t mean being boring and predictable.

My dad broke his credo of no pets and got a dog. He set aside his cost-consciousness and got a truck. He found surprise and change inside his routine. Turns out, father may know best after all.

Eventually he’ll retire, his truck will die, I’ll get a new job and my truck will die. But I know the connection between father and son won’t be broken because some shared routines were. No – these days I’ve realized the connection comes from knowing I’m becoming the man he already is.

And, just maybe, for him, knowing this will be a surprise as pleasant as getting a puppy for Christmas.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.


From L to R: Ryan, Dad, Jenn at the Cell in Chicago

—Ryan Varney