Disclaimer: This story is a story very few know. It is a story I was embarrassed by. But now after losing my dad, and on the one year anniversary of the incident, I feel compelled to share it. Because it is important that as Christians we don’t just share our great moments of wise decision making, but we share our tremendously flawed moments also. To relate we must be relatable, and to be relatable, we must be willing to share our gaffe’s. I am tremendously flawed, but because of Jesus and the Bible, we don’t have to be condemned for our mistakes.
To say my father and I had a certain level of comical dysfunction at times would be a fair deduction. Today I write about a situation that wasn’t funny whatsoever at the time, but a year later to the day, and with losing him in between, it now strikes me as an irreplaceably glorious memory.
On February 20, 2014 my dad was coming towards Syracuse for a medical appointment. We hadn’t seen each other in six months and we were going to meet for coffee. He called me to say that his car had broken down off the thruway, in the parking lot. When I arrived I jumped it and it started right up. As we were getting in the car to go get that coffee, a tow truck driver came up and asked what was going on. My dad explained that he was fine , his car just needed a jump and I gave it to him.
The tow truck driver said something along the lines of “Oh good, glad your car started, but someone here owes me 60 bucks for the service call.” My dad explained that he hadn’t asked for a tow truck, just that a highway worker asked what was wrong and he had told him “I might need a tow, but my son is on his way to jump me.”
Little to my dad and I’s knowledge, the area off the thruway was contracted and was legally part of the thruway, so you were not allowed to jump someone in that lot. But that highway worker didn't explain that to him, instead called the contracted tow truck company, who came out to the lot.
It started as a pleasant conversation, but as my dad and the driver started slowly elevating their tone, I slowly backed away towards my car- with an eager ear, but a non willingness to be involved. Here is a loose transcript of how things went.
TTD (Tow truck driver)
TTD: Well, I’ll tell you what, I was told you asked for a tow, and here is your tow.
D: I never asked for a tow, I told him I was broken down and might need a tow. I didn’t ask him to send anyone.
TTD: Regardless, you are on thruway property and the fact your son jumped you means that both of you broke the law and both of you could be arrested. But someone is going to pay me 60 dollars here for my time, or the police are going to be involved. See the sign! (Points to small sign in the far corner of the lot)
D: Look at where that sign is! I can’t see that far!! You are out of your mind, I’m not paying you anything.
TTD: Well, if you’re not going to pay me then your son better pay me or you both are going to jail.
M: Oh, HI. I am not involved in this, sorry.
TTD: Oh yes you are, the minute you illegally jumped him you became involved.
D: Leave my son alone , this is between you and me. Let’s go Joe, sorry but you aren’t getting paid -you didn't do anything.
TTD: OH YES I AM!
D: (Utters a various smattering of profanities)
TTD: I’m calling the police. ….“Yes sir we have 2 customers that are refusing to pay me for my work (D in background yelling “You didn’t do any work!”) Ya , let me give you their license plates in case they make a getaway
D: Let’s go Joe.
M: I can’t be a fugitive... I just can’t.
I now am standing in front of my license plate because in my mind this guy is a whack job trying to involve me just because he is being terrible. The driver approaches my car insisting I move out of the way so he can give the cop my license number and when he gets within arms reach of me, I gave him a “ Hey I need some space here Hoss” shove. It was like a shove you would give your little brother when both of you are fighting over the last ho-ho as children. It was non-threatening, and for all intensive purposes really wimpy. It is actually the only time I have laid hands on anyone in an uninvited manner other than my little brother and best friend Jim, when we were kids. Not even knowing an even less manly shove than I had just doled out was possible, the driver gave me an even wimpier shove back- and that was it, that was the whole confrontation.
TTD: Officer this man just punched me in my face!!! He punched me square in ma face!!!!!!!
M: Oh come on are you serious?
TTD: I’m gonna go hide in my truck because I’m scared officer!!!
M: Tell him I gave you an ever so slight push away because you were in my personal space, please. Don’t lie.
RTTD: These 2 are lunatics officer
The driver has now barricaded himself in his truck and my dad decided that with the push back at me, the driver had now wronged his son, and well, he wasn’t going to stand for that one iota. It is also important to note that my dad wasn't very agile at this point and had to walk with a cane. He hobbled over from his car to the truck drivers truck, approximately a 100 foot walk, and that is when his cane transformed into something else- a tool for banging on a window.
D: You come at my son? Why didn’t you come at me? Come on out and get some! (all the while banging the cane softly but with a stern message on the window)
Needless to say the driver stayed in his truck, my dad retreated, and I just stood in awe as the police arrived. Out of all of this, I was the only one charged with anything: “Second degree harassment.” Turns out if you touch someone, even with the most feeble and self defensive of touches, and even if they are invading your personal space to the point of smelling the Cheetos from their lunch on their breathe, if that person decides to press charges the police must press them.
The driver backpedaled on his “he punched me in the face” story and admitted it was just a push. I sent an email to my brother and best friend Jim thanking them for never pressing charges for all the times I harmlessly pushed them over the years of our childhood. As I sat in the back of the cop car, the policeman assured me that this is by far the flimsiest second degree harassment request he has ever processed in his 15 years of work.
In the moment and following months afterwards, I was mad at my dad. Partly because he played into the moment and made it worse, and then I somehow got dragged into it. Partly because it reminded me of times over the years I wished he and I hadn’t gone this route of anger in our own arguments. And mostly because I now had to go home and explain to my wife why I got involved in an issue that didn’t involve me and now had to answer for it to the legal system. I wished he had just said something cute and whimsical to the driver and paid him the 60 bucks.
I lied and told my dad it was dismissed, because I knew he would be mad if he knew I actually had to pay the tow truck driver back as part of the plea for him to dismiss the charge (and 300 in lawyer fees, 60 became 360 really quickly). I didn’t want him to get upset, his cane may not have been able to take another incident.
You know, it is funny how when you lose someone stories that beforehand were so negative, become one’s you look upon with a sudden rush of positive emotion. When I look back at that crazy day one year ago today, I see it in a different light now- And I chuckle.
My dad and I had so often argued with each other about so many things. But the last hearty argument we ever had wasn’t with each other. We were actually somehow on the same team in this one, pitted against a disgruntled tow truck driver. ( I later called the driver to ask for forgiveness for whatever part I played. I found myself in his neighborhood some months later and drove by his house to find beer bottles laced along the window sills of his kitchen window. I stopped, paused, realized my mishandling of the situation no matter who was wrong or right, and prayed for this man’s life. It was a moment of humility for how humanly stupid and selfish I am a lot of the time, and how I dropped the ball on a chance to possibly be better than that in front of a person who seemingly had his own struggles, just like I did)
As misguided and convoluted as it seemed at the time, the last time I saw my dad fighting with that feisty Italian fight that coursed through his veins for 67 years, he was fighting for my honor. Your fathers defense of you is incomparable and pure even in the most impure and bizarre scenarios. There is NO ONE that looks out for you more than your parents.
The official police report read, “ Old man was banging his cane against my window daring me to come out.” I didn’t find it funny at all at the time, no less a souvenir to keep forever to remind me of my ever so unique relationship with my father, but today it is a piece of paper I embrace.
I laugh when I look at that report now with an introspective longing for just one more chance to see him even at seemingly our worst of moments. “Old man with a cane banging on my window”, means so much more to me now than what it says verbatim. To me , “Old man with a cane banging on my window”, now will always mean, “My amazing, unparalleled, and perfectly imperfect father going to bat for me one last time.”.....
That day, I would have changed everything about that incident. Today??... I wouldn’t change a thing.