Recently, while visiting my dad in Ohio, I was in a car accident. Nothing serious, thankfully. My dad and I were casually chatting as I was backing out of his driveway, on our way to visit an old family friend we hadn’t seen in quite some time. A blue four-door Honda Civic was parked on the street opposite the end of the driveway, but that wasn’t unusual as there was often a car parked there. This time, however, right as I should’ve been turning my steering wheel in order to avoid the parked car, I was briefly transported elsewhere by the conversation. And then “thud.” The gentle impact of the corner of my bumper hitting the parked car brought me back to the present. Damn.
There was a brief moment of disbelief as the reality of what happened hit me, and then I felt myself fill with anger toward myself for being so careless, and annoyance at my dad for talking to me when I needed to pay attention. My dad quickly dropped into his familiar place of negativity—bad things always happen, the day is ruined, etc. Moments before we were on our way to a relaxing afternoon, and now we were mired in a tangle of stress.
Whenever my dad becomes negative, I get triggered. Why does he always have to be so pessimistic? I snapped at him to please stop talking and to go inside as I parked the car on the side of the street. I collected myself the best I could, and then went inside to get a pen and paper with which to leave my contact information for the owner of the empty vehicle. My dad interjected, “I guess we’re not going anywhere now,” which made me double down with, “Yes, we’re absolutely going.”
With my note now under the Civic’s windshield wiper, we were on our way again. As I drove in silence, my dad put his hand on my shoulder to comfort me. He repeatedly apologized, saying it was his fault for talking to me while I was backing out, and for not helping me as I did so. His eyes welled with emotion. My own irritation and anger melted as quickly as they had come as I saw the pain behind his eyes, and the empathy that he had for me.
I saw the gentleness of a loving father who would do anything to take away pain from his only child, who he loved more than anything or anyone in the world. I turned my head toward him and told him to let it go. He wasn’t to blame in the slightest—after all, I was the one driving. And as far as accidents go, this one was about as small as they come. No one was injured, the damage wasn’t terrible, and our day was back on track.
As we sat around the small dining table of his friend’s home and began to settle in with the Turkish coffee and coffee cake that were served to us, my dad was once again overcome with emotion. His eyes were moist, and he struggled to speak. It was clear that he still blamed himself. My dad has had a difficult life, and because of that, he holds an underlying belief that things generally don’t go well and that at any moment something bad might happen. I’ve long been annoyed by my dad’s negative disposition, but at that moment, seeing the sadness in my dad’s eyes, something within me softened and shifted.
As intense as my anger had been the moment I struck the car, it was a distant memory now. The woman whose car I hit had called me, and she could not have been more pleasant and understanding. My insurance company, credit card company, and car rental company would sort things out between themselves, and in the worst case, my insurance premium would increase. What felt like such a big deal at the moment seems so long ago now. I was reminded that all things are temporary, and not to attach to the moment. But that wasn’t the biggest lesson.
Through the experience of this accident, I saw my father through new eyes and witnessed anew his tenderness, unconditional love, and compassion, as well as the suffering that he wears like a well-worn set of clothes. He felt empathy for my pain, amplified through the lens of his own suffering, and for that, I loved him even more. I feel such deep compassion for him and renewed gratitude for being blessed with such an amazing father. Thank you, Dad.
There are no accidents.