“Hi, honey,” I heard my husband’s voice on my phone. “Just calling to say I’ll be late for supper. I’m going to the auto store to get a new filter for your car.”
“OK. Glad somebody keeps track of that stuff,” I cheerfully responded. “Thanks, Roddie. See ya.”
I admit it. My car would have fallen apart years ago if I had to do anything more than gas-it-and-go. I know there are tons of requirements to keep up a vehicle, but I get distracted with life. I also have a child with a disability, Miss Heidi, our beautiful 27-year-old daughter with Down syndrome and autism.
When our family was still young, I knew it was helpful for Rod and me to have a “division of labor” in the garage. Together, our clan made a good pit crew. The four girls and I took care of the cars’ exterior washing, plus vacuuming the interior. Once a year, both cars got a nice waxing (usually on Labor Day), and Rod took care of the rest.
At one point in my busy life, I recall being asked to be a local Boy Scout merit badge councilor over communication.
“Me? Boy Scouts? Oh, I seriously think I am not the gal,” I said. “The closest thing Rod has to a son — is our old tomcat, Cheeko!”
Finally, I agreed, knowing boys need to be taught communication skills, too.
I began preparing my little talk on communication techniques, focusing on how to effectively persuade someone, sharing an experience or gimmick to help nail your message. As I thought about “my” Scouts, I decided that two of their most favorite things were cars and eating. I then recalled a creative analogy between car maintenance and food choices.
The time for me to teach arrived and the boys sat in a semi-circle, and looked official in their Scout uniforms. In an instant, I was proud of them (and their parents).
“For the first year of our marriage,” I said, “my husband, Rod, was really absorbed in college, paying bills, and building his business career. He was rarely concerned for his physical health. He stayed up late studying, skipped meals, or ate way too much junk food. On the other hand, I was self-conscious. My slender figure had shifted, due to cheap groceries, too many sweets and pregnancy.”
I further told the boys that I had to find a way to reach Rod’s male mind — to convince him that we both needed to eat better, drink water, and reduce sweets. Now, I knew that most guys worship cars. Well, Rod had an old green Ventura that he just loved and babied. I hoped to convince him, using his car, to help him set better health goals.
“So one day I said, ‘Roddie, what happens when someone dumps sugar into the gas tank of a car?’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s a terrible prank! Sugar can ruin your whole car!’ ‘Really?’ I said. ‘Oh, so sugar has the capacity to do that?’ He said, ‘Elayne, it’s so toxic to the system. Some folks think they can put any grade of fuel in, never change their oil, or air filters, never replace the belts and hoses, or buy fuel additives.’”
I looked at the Scouts and winked.
“Of course I jumped on that. ‘That’s true! How can anyone not equate bad maintenance on their cars with bad mileage?’ I said, ‘Hmmm. Do ya think our body is like that? Are we looking at our food choices? That’s our fuel you know. We can wash and polish our car and it will look great, but, Rod, the real key to our investment is that we truly take care of our engine, because what’s under the hood is what really counts.’ Eventually, he recognized the analogy, and began setting wise limits. He even started taking vitamins as fuel additives for his energy level.”
The boys were in my palm.
“Can you see I didn’t have to nag him? Calm communication helped Rod take a look at his poor habits with perspectives which resonated within him. He naturally came to the conclusion that he needed to take better care of himself.”
The young men nodded and seemed to understand.
“I’ll never forget when he drummed his fingers on his abs and said, ‘Yep, Laynie, I’m getting a little paunchy. I think I’ll give up soda pop for starters.’ Then he reached over and affectionately patted my very pregnant belly, and smiled, ‘If I don’t, I’ll look pregnant, too!’”
The Scouts chuckled and some leaned back smiling. I felt they had also learned the lesson.
Rod is in his 60s now, and gratefully, has maintained a slim, healthy body. I’m so glad he treats himself as good as he treats his cars.
And speaking of treats, with Halloween coming, I hope we’ll all beware and be wise. For all you other dads of special-needs children, please take care of yourselves — we need you! God bless.
Pearson can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org