My father’s Ford manual got me through life


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During my childhood in the 1970s, another era when inflation weighed on household budgets, my dad pinched pennies doing his own car repairs, even the tough stuff that usually sent other dads to the mechanic local.

There were, alas, no YouTube videos at the time to help my father master the maintenance of our family sedan, still a used model. Another strict rule of home economics at home was that we never bought new cars.

Things worked out because Dad, a professional carpenter, was skilled with tools and also a gifted reader. What he needed to know was in the series of Ford maintenance and repair guides at our public library down the street. These Ford guides, perpetually loaned to my father, were his secular bible, consulted as frequently and deeply as the Old and New Testaments he used to prepare his Sunday school lessons.

Maybe I think of those Ford manuals and Holy Scripture in the same breath because the cosmology of combustion engines seemed just as complicated to me as Divine Scripture. As he sat on the rocker in his bedroom with the latest Ford Tutorial on his lap, my dad entered into a private rapture, contentedly immersing himself in the nuances of the intake manifold tightening sequence, automatic linkage adjustment or an exploded diagram of a carburetor that appeared, like a variant of the Big Bang, to stretch out into space forever.

Dad was such a fan of Ford Guides that in 1977 a personal copy of the latest edition became one of his most prized possessions. Maybe he splurged on the book itself, or maybe one of my crafty siblings gave him a copy as a gift.

After Dad died of a heart attack in 1978, which was taken from us on the eve of Father’s Day, his Ford textbook and his Sunday School Bible were passed on to me. More than four decades later, both books sit on my living room shelf, a daily reminder of how he applied his spiritual life to the practical urgencies of fatherhood. For him, faith was a verb, something that was accomplished in the daily accomplishment of what had to be done. In Ford repair,

he gave me the feeling that most things can be fixed, a possibility that has sustained me in my own life as a father.

The introduction to Dad’s old Ford manual ends with this encouraging phrase: “Trust yourself, you can do it.” »

If there is a better credo for fatherhood, I haven’t found it.

Mr. Heitman, editor of Phi Kappa Phi’s Forum magazine, is a columnist for the Baton Rouge Advocate.

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