We knew it was a gamble that we’d make it to South Bend, but we didn’t plan on breaking down right in the middle of the toll booth.
My family and I were on a 4600-mile loop through the upper Midwest and into central Canada, and when you take a trip like that with seven children, a box trailer, and an 11-year-old van, you expect to have some unscheduled adventures. This time, it was a failing alternator on a cold and blustery Saturday four days into our trip. As bothersome as a toll plaza breakdown may be, what made it worse was that we had just replaced that alternator two days before, in a truck stop parking lot in North Carolina. We were about to meet our third and fourth tow truck operators within a week.
Occasionally I have to remind myself of a simple rule from the golf course– You play the ball where it lies. On the course, it means that even when the ball has gone where you wish it hadn’t, the game goes on. You can complain and make excuses and point fingers all day, but eventually you either continue the game or give it up. It’s better if all your drives are straight, long, and true, but sooner or later you’ll have to recover from a sand trap or some other hazard. Figuring out how to recover is part of the game.
I find I have to apply this rule to my daily life on a regular basis. Being an engineer by training, I tend to analyze things to death, and sometimes I can get distracted trying to find the explanation (or fix the blame) for a problem. Granted, if a problem keeps repeating in your family, you do need to get to the bottom of it. If the family car always seems to have an empty gas tank after a certain teen borrows it, that’s a cause-and-effect problem which needs a remedy!
But more often, the important thing for the moment is not who’s at fault or even what went wrong, but rather, how we get past the immediate problem and keep moving forward. Sitting on display in an Indiana toll booth, I had to make some decisions. Maybe we made a mistake when we installed the first alternator; maybe there was a manufacturing defect in the new part; maybe something else entirely was at fault. The important point there on the outskirts of South Bend, though, was getting the van and trailer out of the traffic lane, and then repairing the alternator. And that’s what we did.
Later, we might look over what happened and whether it was something that could have been prevented then, or possibly some way to avoid it in the future. At the point of the crisis, though, it’s time to play the ball where it lies. We dads need to keep that in mind ourselves, and we need to demonstrate it to our sons.