The Day Dad Mansplained the Family
A short story by SG Young
“That’s not true!” All three of us whined it out, like kids do, turning the last word into an ooh that expressed our deepest frustrations.
“Okay, I’ll tell you something now,” he went on, “and this I swear is God’s own truth.”
We all looked each other in the eye, a slight bit of disgust still crossing our hopeful faces. We always had the faces of hope, as all children do.
“You see that, you see that Vanagon?” He pointed out our window, his latest Dream Machine parked ready at the curb. “Well, that VW is a family vehicle, and I’ll tell you why.” It’s important to note here that Mom frequently criticized our father for his predilection of lusting after vehicles she never deemed appropriate for a family car.
“This is the way it works. First of all, it’s got front-wheel drive. The front wheels are the most important wheels, because they drive, they brake, and they steer.” I started listening more intently, because if there was one thing, one thing in the whole world, that Dad actually knew anything about it was how cars work. He could fix almost anything.
“Front wheel drive means the two front wheels always have power. Always. They’re like the parents in a family. Even if your parents are the biggest screw-ups in the world, they still control where you go, who you’re with, what direction you’re gonna be heading.” I was well aware of the power of parental units. I wasn’t learning a thing yet.
“But it’s got what the Germans called syncro, and that’s a viscous coupling, you see.” He was working his hands back and forth—his hands—his hands that were always stained black especially under the nails. “Now, syncro, German syncro, that ain’t like no synchro swimming.” Dad always made fun of the synchro swimmers, their makeup and routines and that. “German syncro only allows the tiniest bit of slippage for the front wheels,” now he held his fingers a couple millimeters apart like we didn’t know what tiny was, “any more than that and it starts transferring power to the rear wheels, so you can keep going through some mud or snow maybe, something that makes the front wheels slip up. But then you got your back wheels to help.” He was working both hands now, in a kind of churning motion.
“Now, here’s the thing. It’s just like a family. Because the front wheels, that’s like the parents, and the back wheels are the kids, you see? And sometimes when the parents might mess it up, when things get dicey, then that’s when the kids they might have to kick it into gear and help out. The kids are like the rear wheels on the VW, they don’t always get to have a say, but sometimes, well, sometimes the family really needs them. When the going gets tough that’s when you got to be ready to help out.”
My brother and sister and I knew this could be true, instinctively we knew it had to be true, because with parents like ours the screw-ups happened every so often on a regular basis, and we did, we did kick it into gear, because there were times when if we didn’t man up, we wouldn’t be eating.
But, not today. Today everything was fine. We had a normal supper, and normal baths and bedtime, and normal everything. Even though we all had the feeling that in the morning Dad might be gone again.
I later learned to have a lot of respect for synchro-swimmers and even for Esther Williams herself, the athletic actress who started it all. For three years running she was the biggest box-office draw on the planet, but that’s not gonna fit in here.