The Powerless Car and the Powerful Dad

Brad Dell avatar

by Brad Dell |

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(Photo by Lisa Dell)

I parked outside a library, where I’d planned to work for the day, at 7 a.m. in freezing 40-degree weather (I was raised in Hawaii). The library wouldn’t open for four more hours, and I was too tired to drive elsewhere, so I turned on my car’s heater and drifted off to sleep, lullabied by bird chirps.

I woke up to a tick, tick, tick, tick — the sound of my car battery dying. Inexplicably, my power windows rolled down as my car went to sleep. I guess it was jealous of my dozing.

Without power, I couldn’t even roll up the windows or open the trunk. This sucked — especially because my car was packed with bulky items I’d picked up for friends as a favor. I couldn’t leave the car unattended because I’m not that sucky of a friend, but I also couldn’t carry those things with me.

I waited for a car to park near me to jump my battery, but as I said, the library wouldn’t open for hours, so the area wasn’t exactly bustling. Another problem: My car hood gets propped up by hydraulics instead of a bar. But as my hydraulics are worn, the hood doesn’t stay open. I began to wonder how I’d even jump the car.

Side rant

My pet peeve is when “futuristic” technological gimmicks become inconveniences. What’s wrong with manual roll-up window thingies? Or a trunk that you open with a key? Or a simple metal rod that props the hood? Does anything cause more anxiety than failing technology?

OK, back to my story

Hours later, to blow off some steam, I jogged (praying no one would steal the stuff in my car) to a hardware store I’d found on Yelp 1.2 miles away to buy a plank of wood that could prop open my car hood. Turns out, “Restoration Hardware” is actually a furniture store? I couldn’t buy a piece of wood for less than $360.

I returned and found two cars parked on either side of mine, blocking anyone else from parking next to me to jump my car. I prayed the owners would return soon. They didn’t.

I remembered at 2 p.m. that I have a dad. He lives in Hawaii now, but took my call and gave simple, calm solutions: If the drivers of the cars parked to either side return, hold the hood open while someone revs my car. Or call AAA for help.

Oh. Duh.

That’s Dad in a nutshell. He has simple, quick solutions, unlike technology gimmicks that make everything too complicated.

(The AAA guy was very friendly.)

Flashback time

When I was deaf and dying from sepsis, my doctors in Hawaii said I’d need to move to California to get considered for a lung transplant. It was my only chance at life, and the odds were slim that I’d pass transplant evaluation. But Dad immediately replied that my family would pack our bags, despite having worked so hard to retire in Hawaii, in paradise. His goal was simple, and he was calm: “Get my boy some new lungs, then I can return to Hawaii for my dream retirement.”

Later, I melted down into a panic attack, sobbing that I didn’t think I’d get the transplant. I had lost all hope after several transplant centers had rejected me. Through my tears, I saw Dad looking at me, then he typed on a phone (due to my deafness), “We will get the transplant.” Simple as that. I cried some more, then wiped my tears with all confidence restored.

Dad sold the house and moved us to California, then sorted out the money, timing, and myriad other logistics necessary to giving me a fighting chance. He seemed to do it with ease.

I got the transplant. Now he’s back in Hawaii, but still ready to help me.

Dad on Saddam’s throne. (Courtesy of Rick Dell)

For Dad, maybe transplant logistics seemed relatively easy. He served with the Army in Iraq for three tours, orchestrating logistics for thousands of troops.

Dad’s the ideal caregiver and a superb father. He is calm under the most intense pressures, and he will do whatever it takes to accomplish his missions. I used to accept that as simply being his character, but his childhood friends tell me the … funniest … stories about him, so I now know that a lot of his discipline is from his military days. Most life challenges are probably small fry to him in comparison to war.

As a kid, I thought that I wanted to be a veteran like him one day. Maybe I am one now but of a different kind of war. I’ve had more than a taste of suffering and death. Which made me wonder, on the day of my car failure, why everyday challenges aren’t always “small fry” to me.

I wish I weren’t a veteran. But now, I do want to be a father like Dad one day. One who is calm and in control, because I’ve been through a lot worse.

I drove my car through some hills at sunset and started laughing. I almost died two years ago, completely deaf, yet I nearly let a dead car battery ruin my day. I’m breathing from new lungs and can hear again — thanks to Dad. Priorities, dude. Perspective.

I’m already as awkward as him. We tried putting our arms around each other at the same time. (Courtesy of Lisa Dell)


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barb avatar


This was such a real, honest depiction of this mans mountains. Very proud that you have a real man to emulate like your father.
You will be a great dad someday also. Keep the faith. Loved the article.

Tom McKarns avatar

Tom McKarns

Thanks for posting this, Brad. Well written and very interesting to read. What a great tribute to your Dad! I hope things continue to go well for you. Like your Dad, you are already helping others through your writing.


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