Old country songs competed with the excited chatter of four little boys and the wind. Wade’s left elbow caught the breeze, while his suntanned hand easily steered the truck for home. For the first time since high school, I found myself in the middle. A playful smile stretched across Wade’s face as he rounded curves that slid me closer to his direction. On my other side, my sweet, preteen nephew couldn’t get further from me if I was a snake coiled in the seat. Out the back, two other skinny arms reached up and out the windows imitating their father. Oh, how one short ride can bring a truck load of thoughts.
While some in the world would want to make trucks a thing of the Americana past, I beg we first consider all the ramifications, and I don’t mean emissions or fossil fuels. I mean the Truck as a Rite of Passage for Boys to Men. The Truck: the machine that captures masculine imaginations for generations, the toy that beckons first words of “vroom, vroom!” on the kitchen floor, and the glistening, roaring prize that makes all those hot summers of mowing worth it.
The month of June has me considering fathers. My dad used to drive me to school every morning in an old, red F-150. Rust spots stretched around the tailgate and the passenger door was peppered with dents from the wagging tail of a massive stray I’d fed for a couple of days. I arrived at school before any of my peers, because Coach lives by the rule of arriving first, and that “you’re never ready for anything if you’re rushed.” As he’d navigate winding roads cut through the hills of eastern Kentucky, he’d talk to me about the birds and crops, or how things like defrost and gearshifts worked, and the origins of time changes when we’d suddenly start going to school in the morning dark. Mostly, we’d sit in content quiet sprinkled with a safe-driving tips.
Perhaps every generation has had its sort of truck. Not so long ago, it was a horse. Fathers sat their little girls atop a pretty pony and led them gently around the yard, talking to them about blooming dogwoods and red sunsets. Fathers first loosened the reins and then handed them off to their sons—the reins and knowhow to go somewhere, do something, be somebody. This notable difference isn’t because ladies weren’t or aren’t capable to do the work of men, but because we were created differently. The knight is supposed to ride upon his trusty steed and win the heart of the fair maiden. To win her heart… To be worthy of her heart… That’s what we really want.
What did Saint Joseph pass on to his son? Maybe it was the donkey that once carried Mary, but maybe the torch passed to the Light of the World was simply a loving example of quiet strength. From his carpenter’s bench, did Joseph teach his young son to measure twice and cut once? Did Jesus consider the lesson in Gethsemane when he measured the weight of the world with his own suffering and death on a wooden cross?
What are we teaching our children today? Do we allow our boys the freedom to grow into good men? Do they ride the backroads with their fathers and talk about the seemingly least important things in the world, which are, by the nature of “now,” some of the most important things? Or do we hand little ones a plethora of screens and hope that the example of family and morality will magically seep through all the noise?
To be honest, I was a little chilly with all the windows rolled down, but I wouldn’t dare say. It was heartwarming to be a part of the bouncing conversation, to watch those little hands trying to catch the wind. And I fell in love all over again. His steady hands are tan from farm work and a season of coaching Little League games. The way he leads and loves us reminds me of another: the one whose hands were pierced for our transgressions, and who measured the weight of suffering and agony in the garden, and who deemed us all worth it.
No, I wouldn’t dare tell them to roll up the windows. The moment was too good, too true, too beautiful, and (as boys tend to be) too smelly.