There are a few key items every dad has to check off his dad list and perhaps the most important one is changing a flat tire on the side of the highway with your family in the car.
And, as of this weekend, I have checked it off.
I don’t want to oversell it. Yes, it was after dark and we were on the side of a busy highway in Orlando, but it wasn’t raining or anything. Though, the ground was quite damp!
However, I was pretty new at all this. The closest I had come to a tire change was when I was a freshman in high school. My mom was driving our van home from a high school tennis match with me and several of my teammates in it. We were on I-95 when one of the tires blew out. We swerved around violently for a moment before pulling to a stop. My doubles partner, a senior who was mechanically inclined and, coincidentally, went on to be a fighter jet pilot, was able to change the tire and get us on our way. The rest of us were completely useless. My mom idolized that guy from that day forward.
Perhaps I knew that my moment would come one day. Or perhaps not. Either way, it did. And boy did I answer the call.
I put the call on hold first, though. For about an hour, I think. Or however long it took me to read the flat tire section of the car manual a few times and fiddle around with the compartment where the jack is stored. And then there was the getting the spare tire loose from under the car part.
The one thing no one tells you about changing a tire is that it is physically very difficult. Specifically, getting the spare tire off is darn near impossible unless you fully commit to the procedure. For the first hour, I lacked commitment. We were going back and forth about calling roadside assistance. So, after I lowered the spare from inside the trunk, I only gave a half-hearted effort when I tried to pry it free from underneath. That wasn’t cutting it.
After waiting a bit more and getting in and out of the car a lot, I finally decided it was my time. Roadside assistance was taking too long. I laid out on my back and shimmied underneath the car. I was face to face with the spare. My back was soaked, but that was okay because I’m rugged.
I grabbed the spare with both hands and pushed it up like I was bench pressing it. This seemed like as good a thing to do as any. The idea was to get some slack in the metal rope thing that was holding the tire up, so I could slide the flat metal piece on the end, which I believe the manual rather rudely called a winch, through the hole in the center of the tire. I randomly pushed up on the tire for five to ten minutes, holding one side up with my elbow while trying to maneuver the winch through with my free hand. After ten minutes, I understood why they called it that.
Finally, after much grunting, we had a breakthrough. The winch went through the hole somehow and the tire didn’t totally fall on my face. Just kind of grazed it. I figured if there was a scrape, it would only add to my ruggedness.
From there, it was pretty much smooth sailing. Well, once I figured out what a jack was, that is. And which direction to orient it. I asked my wife if I should set it up parallel to the car. I tried to explain what I meant with detailed hand motions. It was clear she didn’t completely understand my reasoning and knew whatever my reasoning was it was wrong, so she responded with a simple “OK.” Based on that, I set it up the opposite way and that turned out to be right. Anyway, I eventually cranked that baby up with some more grunting for good measure, popped the flat off, attached the spare, grunted a little more, lowered the jack, tossed it in the trunk, and off we went.
As I slid back into the driver’s seat, I felt pretty thoroughly drenched with water and accomplishment. It’s nice to be good for something, even when it’s a thing you’re objectively terrible at.
And, really, isn’t that what parenting is all about. Being good for something even when, for most of us, working with children isn’t our greatest or most natural skill. You just have to do the best you can, grunt a lot when you hit rough patches along the road, and maybe, if you’re lucky, check a few items off the accomplishment list along the way.
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