This weekend one of the items on our to-do list was turning off the outside water for my mom and mother-in-law. Since Haley needs more freeway driving experience, we decided to do it this morning before church, early-Sunday-morning traffic being especially non-existent around here, so she could drive.
But first we had to stop for gas.
Because Kendell was in the front seat being the driving instructor, he got out to show Haley how to put gas in the car. As they talked about opening the gas cap and which way to slide the credit card, I thought about how I learned to put gas in my car as a teenager.
My parents had this thing: My mom preferred it if my dad kept her car filled up with gas. At least, I remember them having "discussions" about him making sure her car was full. So maybe that's why my dad didn't teach me, because girls didn't put gas in their cars? Or maybe it was just assumed that putting gas in your car wasn't a skill anyone needed to teach you; you just pulled up to the pump and knew what to do. Still, I remember a boy-who-was-my-friend (but not a boyfriend) teaching me. Especially helpful were his instructions on paying for said gas, since I didn't know if you paid first or pumped first. (Remember those pre-credit-card-at-the-pump days? And how you'd have, like, $3.57 of gas money to put into your car, and most of that was loose change you'd pilfered from the couch cushions, the bottom of your mother's purse, or your best friend's pocket?)
It's odd, the times that grief smacks you in the face, but it did then as I sat in the back of the car, remembering the person I was just as as I was beginning to be a person, listening to my husband teach our daughter how to pump gas. He talked about octane levels and making sure to not put in diseal and I realized, once again, that my dad is gone. He's gone, and he took his father's knowledge with him. He taught me to water ski and to love reading and to listen to music and to be a good person, but he didn't teach me how to change a tire, throw a football, mow the lawn. Put gas in the car. Since he's gone I cannot confront him; I can't ask him why, or who he thought would teach me, or if maybe he just thought I could go through life without knowing what a wrench is for or how to use a hammer. I can't ask him what he thought of me when I was my daughter's age, striding out into the world with that unrepeatable blend of confidence and nescience. Did he simply believe I was smart enough to figure it all out on my own?
Because grief has a long trail, I wept looking backward at my old self and how much I didn't know and how perhaps I would have been less deep-down anguished if he had paid more attention. And I wept forward to the future when Haley is the woman weeping for her dead father.
When she is that woman, she will have that memory of her dad giving her a piece of life's basic knowledge. I'm certain that, in those moments, there will be things she questions about her dad's parenting, as there are things I question about my own. But hopefully knowing he involved himself in her life—even in the little things like pumping gas—will give her a certainty that he loved her. I know my dad loved me, and was proud of me, but I don't know if it was me he loved or the idea of me. I also sometimes wonder why he didn't talk to me more. Why we never laughed together at the gas pump, trying to get the numbers to stop right at $36. Why I am, at nearly 40, the woman who weeps in both hope and confusion: hope that my children will feel they received enough love from their father and confusion at why, this old and this late, I don't.