Get Off the Couch
Kayleigh Fetherston; Harford County, MD: My father owns a ’68 Firebird. This car has been in our garage since I was 2 years old, and I will turn 16 this June. My father wants to get the car running again, but he never has time. The summer of my graduation in 2013, he wants to drive it cross-country from Maryland to California, as his gift to me. I’ve been into cars since I was a little girl. I don’t know how to get my father back into the garage so he can work on his (my) car.
When was the last time you saw any Pro Street car with fender skirts? It sounds weird, but on this T-bird it works in an odd sort of way.
Jeff Smith: It’s great to hear that you’re really into cars, Kayleigh, so let’s see if we can help you motivate your dad. You’ve already taken the first step by writing to what let’s hope is still his favorite magazine after he reads this! As a father back when my children were younger, it seemed like there were often other demands on my time that took me away from my kids. Now that they’ve grown and are living their own lives, I realize it would have been fun to spend more time with them. Since you share a great common interest, I suggest choosing a time when your dad is home and just going out to the garage by yourself and starting to do something. It doesn’t really matter what you do—it could be just cleaning the garage so you and your dad have a pleasant place to work. Don’t re-arrange anything—remember, this is Dad’s garage. You could remove any junk that might be lying on the car or around it, air up the tires, clean it inside and out, and generally get it ready to be worked on. Your presence in the garage without him should motivate him to at least come out to find out what you’re doing. If he does, don’t say you’re tired of waiting for him to get motivated. That’s a negative response. Make all your communication with him around the car a positive experience. Just say something like “I just thought it would be fun to come out here and start cleaning the car. It would be great if you wanted to help me. I have a lot of questions about what we should do first.” That probably sounds corny, so you can restate it anyway that sounds more like you.
If working out in the garage when he’s home doesn’t motivate or shame him into getting off the couch, don’t get frustrated. He might think this is just a one-time thing. Next, talk to your mom about when it would be a good time to bring up working on the car with your dad. What you’re doing is enrolling both your parents into this project. Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a big enthusiastic response. You are embarking on a long-term project. You might ask if your mom will come out and help you. Then there would be the two of you out there in the garage. If nothing else, your dad will probably have to come out to the garage just because everybody else is occupying what is normally his space.
Consider all this an ongoing process. At various times, you can ask your dad if he has a plan about what things need to be repaired on the Firebird to make it roadworthy. Get him to talk about the car and what needs to be done. My wife has learned that if she needs me to do a major project, she begins the process a few days before by asking me about the best way to get it done. She’s getting me thinking about the project. With this approach, more than likely your dad will start thinking about the car at work or when he’s with his friends. Another subtle thing you can do is to begin the process of enrolling your dad’s car-guy friends into the project. This is a very powerful tool because they will be less subtle with your dad than you have to be. If you can enroll one of your dad’s best car-guy friends to come over and help you work on the car, your dad will be forced to be there. If nothing else, his buddies will shame him into it, but I don’t think it will have to go that far. I think that after just one fun session doing something that’s simple and easy on the Firebird, your dad will realize how much fun it is to work on the car with his daughter. Pretty soon he’ll look forward to having wrenches in his hands.
Of course, once you start this process, you must invest your time as well. This is not the time for you to go off to do something else and leave him there all alone. If you are going to plant the seed with the intent of driving this car across the country, it will take some effort and lots of hours out in the garage working on the car. Your dad knows that. But if the seed is planted and you continue to motivate him and honor and thank him for his efforts, this will keep him motivated. This is your secret weapon. Dads are huge on acknowledgement from their children, since they often feel as though their kids don’t really appreciate them. So, let’s say you’ve actually managed to motivate your dad out into the garage and he’s working on the car. Stay there with him, ask him questions about what he’s doing and why. Show him you really want to learn about his/your car and that you really care. Every once in a while, go in the kitchen and get him a soda or water or his favorite snack. These are little rewards that are subtle but very powerful. More than likely, this whole car rebuild will require major time and effort, so you two will be spending a lot of time together. Ask him about what he did in high school and the fun he had—maybe with this car. My guess is that this cross-country-drive idea was something he really wanted to do when he graduated from high school but never did. So now he’d like to share that dream with you. If you think about it, that’s pretty cool. All this will bring you closer together and if you make this whole process fun, your dad will actually look forward to getting out in the garage with you working on the car. Think of yourself as the cheerleader on the sidelines of the big football game. You dad is the quarterback of the team and every time he looks over at the sidelines, there’s his daughter cheering him on, believing in him. He’ll know what to do! If all this sounds like it goes way beyond just working on a really cool ’68 Firebird, then you’re absolutely correct.
Many years from now, you might look back on this as one of the best times you ever had with your dad. All this isn’t really about working on the car. That’s almost a side benefit. Strengthening the bonds that you already have with your dad will be of far greater importance than whatever occurs with the car.
Did this just seem like an episode of Dr. Phil?!
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