By on September 13, 2016

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He was delivered to me in a sealed plastic box, a wrinkled three-pound homunculus too exhausted and sick to make a single sound. Handle him with these gloves, they said. Don’t breathe on him. Eventually you can take him out of the box, out of the post-natal ICU, out of the hospital. But not soon. Everything was up for grabs. He’d arrived dangerously early. Thirty-eight states in this union would have permitted me to break his neck the moment I saw him; at just under twenty-four weeks of age, his life was legally forfeit. He wasn’t my son, wasn’t a child, wasn’t a person. He was tissue. He was a choice.

His mother and I made the choice to give him a fighting chance. The rest was up to him.


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John is seven years old now. An army is always best equipped to fight its last battle so I have made painstakingly certain that the sorrows of my childhood are preemptively erased from his. I answer his questions in detail, to his satisfaction. I do not discipline him out of temper and I do not betray impatience or frustration with him. He wants for nothing, rarely has to wait to see a desire fulfilled. He’s ahead of his classmates in most respects but I sure as hell am not going to address this by skipping him forward a few grades so he can be a twelve-year-old high-school freshman.

I am also reasonably aware that children who grow up insulated from difficulty or struggle tend to become feckless jerkoffs who still live off their parents at the age of thirty, so I’ve tried to give John some challenges to overcome. Our shared motto is that we do not quit, whether it’s a frustrating mechanical task or riding a 186-pound 90cc Yamaha dirt bike at the age of six. A while ago, we built a monstrous Lego Technic cargo plane with a multiple-clutch gearbox. I made him do the whole thing himself. At first he refused to do it. Then he complained. Then one morning I woke up late and found that he’d finished a wing on his own.

We’ve gotten a slow start with this karting thing. Not his fault — the noise of the Comer C50 engine really upset him when we started practicing, and he didn’t like the feeling of wearing a full-face helmet with the visor down, but he got over that pretty quickly. No, the issue has been my own race schedule. This is a tough balance for me to strike. I don’t want to selfishly keep having fun at the expense of my son’s driving career, but neither do I want to be one of those karting dads whose unrealized ambitions become a mortar and pestle with which to grind their children’s joy into dust.

We also had a bit of a conflict this year when his mother signed him up for football games that conflicted directly with the first six races of the season. He loves football and he scored three of his team’s four touchdowns in their last game. No way I’d make him stop doing that to race a kart. So when all was said and done, there were just two races left in the year for him. Sunday was the first of those.

We’d been to the kart track several times to practice, but this was his first time sharing a practice session with the 11-year-olds in their Sportsman karts. I spent ninety minutes fidgeting and hopping up and down every time some hot-shot kid in his Birel came up on John’s plodding TopKart, twenty seconds a lap faster, like me in a McLaren 675 running down yellow-groupers in their Bimmers, or like every media trackday in which I have ever participated. But the kids were good to John and John was courteous in response.

There were no other 50cc karts at the race. The initial plan was to put John at the back of the Sportsmen and run a mixed-class race but the organizer had some concerns about that. “He’ll have to race by himself,” I was told.

“If that’s the case,” John snarled, “then I can just go home, because a race against nobody is not a race, Dad, just in case you didn’t know.”

“Easy there, killer,” I laughed. “You can run against the clock. Some grownups just race against the clock. They call it time trial, or rally.”

“That can’t be true,” John griped. “It’s not real racing if there’s nobody on the track with you.” I ruffled his hair. Then we put on his Armadillo rib padding. This was my mistake. We’d never used it in practice. It didn’t occur to me that it would be a problem to try it the first time on the day of the race. Stupid fucking me. He couldn’t breathe with it. He got claustrophobic. It interfered with the steering wheel. At one point during the laborious fitting process he he threw his neck brace and stomped away from the kart, trying not to cry. But he came back and after thirty minutes’ worth of adjustment we got him settled into it.

His final practice session was with the adults in their 206cc monsters, running 51-second laps against John’s 1:20. It was all I could do not to run out on the track and call a halt to it, but John kept track of the karts behind him and yielded the racing line without difficulty.

laps

Finally it was time for his race. He ran three times; two six-lap heats and an eight-lap final. He got faster every time.

 

His last lap was within striking distance of the “Predator” karts driven by some of the older kids. We could have run him in the mixed class. Next time we probably will. Then we’ll start looking for a bigger field in which he can compete.

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His final race attracted an unusual spectator: the fellow who would go on to muscle his way to the win in the adult 206cc final. “I like his lines… he’s not pinching the kart on exit. This is a learning process for both of you, I bet.” At the end of John’s eight-lap final, the man waited at pit out to shake his hand and congratulate him on finishing. Then John and I went up to the stands and watched that dude bully and bump his way to a decisive win over some much more expensive machinery. “His kart is totally epic,” John said. “It’s all black and looks really mean.”

“That’s because he’s rattle-canned it,” I said. I did not tell John that the reason the guy’s kart was rattle-canned was that he’d clearly knocked all the paint off all sides of it abusing the wealthy suburbanites in their TonyKarts.

“Rattle-canning sounds cool. I want to rattle-can my kart.” I guess its okay, if he wants to do that. I’m slightly annoyed that his new racing hero is a guy from Circleville instead of his own father who has, you know, dozens of wins plus a podium at Sepang, but we’ll take our heroes where we can find them.

 

We went to lunch at Dairy Queen afterwards. John brought his trophy into the restaurant with him. He met the goal I set out for him; he continually improved and made no major mistakes. The rest is up to me. I need to get his motor rebuilt, find him some competitors. I’ve been looking at karts online. Next year he can choose between the 50cc kart or the 100cc Junior Sportsman class. I think I’m going to buy a Margay 100cc kart and secretly assemble it over the winter. I’m devoting a lot more thought to this than he is.

checkers

I’m a late arrival to fatherhood. I didn’t know if it would be for me. I didn’t even know if John would survive long enough to make our combined story anything but a tragedy. It’s alright now. The past is gone. He’s no longer just tissue, no longer just a terrified animal wincing with each shallow breath. The future can only get better. The rest of the choices are up to us.

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67 Comments on “Trackday Diaries: And He Shall Not Depart From It...”


  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Nice story!

    I wonder now if I’d had the Internet/YouTube as a child, and -known- kart racing existed as a thing for young people and expressed interest – if my parents would have bit and got me into it. They were always wanting me to show interest in something because I wasn’t into sports. The only thing I had was scale model cars (and computer stuff a bit later). My dad has always loved fiddling with small lawnmower/etc. engines too.

    Too bad it was 1992.

    • 0 avatar
      True_Blue

      I was a scale model builder as a kid, too. I had a vast collection of 1:72 aircraft – around 60 or so – 1:24 and 1:25 cars, and 1:700 ships.

      Reading directions, following intricate instructions, and visualizing components became a major part of my life later, and having the names of parts (“starter motor, paint aluminum/satin black”) helped later on when I started wrenching. Scale models taught patience, attention to detail, and pride of accomplishment. Didn’t hurt that I was a night owl and could stay up to 4AM finishing a SOHC Cammer.

      I haven’t built a model in a few years (last project was a pair of Bf-109 “Gustav” Messerschmidts) but I wouldn’t trade the knowledge it imparted on me. I think scale building is an important skill to learn. Don’t be sorry you did it!

  • avatar
    thattruthguy

    Jack, did you catch yourself writing “driving career”? That won’t be a job when he’s 18.

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    That lead photo: Jack’s resemblance to Brian Quinn (Impractical Jokers) can not be denied.

    That’s all I have.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    Uplifting story about fatherhood.

    But it just kills me sometimes I only have daughters that could care less about anything regarding motorsports.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      I have a son who doesn’t care a whole lot about motorsports, and I race and run a racing simulator company. For whatever reason it’s just not what he’s into. And that’s fine. We produce music together instead.

      And even if he didn’t share a single one of my interests, even if he decides his goal is something utterly alien to me like shoe design or gymnastics, I’ll fight like hell to give him every opportunity to progress and prove himself. You don’t do what Jack is doing because your kid likes what you like, you do it *because they’re your kid*, and you do whatever the hell it takes for them. The moment they begin life, *that* is your job, not anything else.

      Follow your daughters’ passions with them, as I will with my new girl, and you’ll be just as heroic to them as any racing driver to any child.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Eh, kids like what they like.

      I’ve tried to get my older son interested in my interests, and my success has been… Limited. He can’t be bothered to ride a bike or swim, and he still assumes that red cars are faster than gray cars. He doesn’t obsess over the technical details od airplanes or cars the way I do.

      But, he’s nearly fluent in Spanish and plays the piano — and those are all him; neither mom nor I have those skills. That’s all him, and I’m honestly really impressed.

      He decides what he’s interested in and, just so long as it’s basically respectable, I remove some of the obstacles.

      I’m still working on getting the younger son interested in cars and airplanes. He’s showing signs of an engineer’s mentality already — but I’m under no illusions about my ability to shape his interests in my own image.

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      Same here, two daughters, both are in a competitive dance company. Yes, that’s a thing, see “Dance Moms”. In any case, there are no guarantees, I have three cousins, each of which have two boys, none of which were interested in racing, even though all six of their dads raced.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      http://www.cracked.com/blog/5-things-we-should-all-remember-this-fathers-day/

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      FWIW, I have two daughters in their mid-20’s now. I tried very hard with my older daughter to get her interested in motorsports, but soccer and volleyball were her passions. My younger daughter was way more into Anime and soccer than anything else.

      But when they were old enough to drive, I taught them the basics of car maintenance, so they won’t be the stranded ones by the side of the road.

      They do share with me a love of all things automotive, although my knowledge dwarfs theirs. But, they’re their own people by now, I can no longer change that. Nor would I want to.

      They’re the perfect mix (or imperfect mix) of their parents, and would love them with all of my heart and soul no matter what happened.

      We can’t live vicariously through our children, no matter how appealing it might be.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      My oldest son loves anything automotive whereas my youngest could care less. It doesn’t matter to me since it is all about nurturing them and helping them grow. I could waste my time forcing my youngest to do what I like but then he wouldn’t be playing piano or singing. “dads whose unrealized ambitions become a mortar and pestle with which to grind their children’s joy into dust”. I’ve seen that with hockey, BMX, MX and virtually every sport or past time.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    Thank you for sharing, Jack.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Great story, Jack. From a hail Mary NICU stay to pursuing some excellent interests at only 7, that is a remarkable journey. The NICU’s hard, if you could just catch the faintest glimpse of who they’ll become it would relieve so much terrifying uncertainty during those weeks.

  • avatar
    NoID

    Fatherhood is the best, but it undoubtedly has its challenges. I find myself at the opposite end of the fatherhood/age contonuum as my own father (I was born when he was 39, my eldest son was born when I was 18) but coming against the same problem he had when it comes to realizing the dreams of our children:

    There’s just too much month at the end of the money.

    If there’s any hope for my sons it will be utilizing the work ethic I’m trying to build in them to do it on their own as they reach the age where they can make a buck. If there’s any hope for me, it will be like the guy who rolled his Micra in another story from some weeks back, IE I’ll get into it later in life when the kids are grown and I’ve climbed higher in wage and lower in debt. Hopefully without rolling my car…

    I’m in a good place to learn though, working for a performance division. Lots of wheelmen here with a wide spectrum of experience.

    Good on you for helping your son realize his dreams, and as a fellow father of a child who we were told wouldn’t make it, congratulations and bless you for fighting for your son and giving him a chance to fight. They’re resilient little buggers…

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      A colleague and I were recently talking about family, the housing market, politics, all over lunch. He’s in his 50s – making 20 grand more a year than I, his wife is in administration too, his kids are from 2nd year of college to still in middle school.

      He said: “If only we could start life with the kind of money we make by the time we know what we would have done with it.”

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      You sound like a good father.

      Not that I’m a parent, but I’ve observed that the overwhelming majority of parents will do whatever they can to best-position their children for the real world…even if it winds up being less about nurturing a child’s passion and more about teaching the child how to earn money and finance that passion.

  • avatar
    EMedPA

    Great story, Jack. He seems to be a great kid.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    $hit, I’m crying.

    Roughly as late to fatherhood as Jack. Currently in the potty training stage with my two year old.

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      My Son and Daughter In Law both race Motos competitively , when my Grand Daughter was 2 -1/2 she said ” Daddy , I want my own Moto ” ~ he replied ‘ O.K. Princess, as soon as you’re potty trained, I’ll buy you a Moto ‘ .

      Two weeks later, guess what ? =8-) .

      Her new Moto (and safety gear) was under the Christmas tree that year .

      I have difficulty imagining a three year old riding a Motocycle but she does.

      -Nate

  • avatar
    bludragon

    Nice story. Congratulations on a successful first race weekend.

  • avatar

    Sounds like fatherhood’s workin’ out well for you, Jack. Great story. Hope John becomes cart champion of the world.

  • avatar
    Balto

    My dad was a gearhead for most of his life, from hot rodding 3 window fords in the late 50’s to performing backyard engine swaps on air cooled vw buses. He had me when he was 50, and promptly gave up wrenching for fatherhood, which I respect and appreciate, but at the same time I always wish that we could have had father son time under a hood or on a track. I’m slowly teaching myself now, but nothing can replace learning early. Good for you for taking that time to spend with your son, he’ll almost certainly thank you for it later.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    This isn’t the first time I’ll say this:

    You need to bring him to East Lansing this weekend. There’ll be 6-8 other Kid Karts. The track is excellent and has been since 1961. Kevin puts on a good show.

  • avatar
    Scout_Number_4

    Jack, your first two paragraphs got me by the heartstrings–thank you (and John’s mom) for choosing life and I’m glad fatherhood has been good for you.

  • avatar
    ThirdOwner

    >so I have made painstakingly certain that the sorrows of my childhood are preemptively erased from his.

    What beats me is this: if one is capable of grasping this, and fulfilling this, why didn’t his own parents do the same?

    Yeah, I know – different age, different circumstances, and so on. But still, is this too much to ask from every parent?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      when you grow up in a dysfunctional environment, that “dysfunction” becomes what you perceive as “normal.” it’s very difficult to come to terms with the fact that it *wasn’t* normal, rise above it, and force yourself to break the cycle.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I didn’t realize some of the oddities of my own childhood, relatives, philosophies of child raising, until I got out into the wider world and got to know other families.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      Sometimes you just can’t. There’ve been times in my life where I knew I wasn’t being the best parent possible, but I just wasn’t strong enough to do a better job. Circumstances change, and now I am. But you look back and wonder how it was possible for things to be so different, and just because I’ve fixed it doesn’t mean everyone can.

      Then there are things that are truly outside one’s control – it doesn’t take many strategic mistakes to go from financially comfortable to destitute, and destitution will always take its toll on children. That doesn’t make it any easier to fix when it happens.

  • avatar
    FormerFF

    Are you sure he wants to race, rather than you wanting him to race?

    If he loves football, make that a priority. The day will come soon enough that there will be no more football to play. Most boys aren’t talented enough to make their high school’s varsity team. He can do motorsports for decades after that.

    • 0 avatar
      PeriSoft

      “If he loves football, make that a priority.”

      This is one thing I disagree with. Track? Swimming? Tennis? Golf? Soccer? Sure. Football is the one sport where playing it as intended will *certainly* result in permanent brain damage, to some degree or another. If it was the only sport in the world, maybe it would be worth it, but it’s not, and it isn’t. If you wouldn’t haul off and hit your kid in the head with a baseball bat every other month, don’t put him on the football field. It’s the same damn thing.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      That was the choice I faced with my kids. They liked cars and racing because of me (and my FIL who also raced), but it wasn’t their thing.

      Somehow I realized (credit whichever deity you like at this point) that kids are interested in what kids are interested in. My kids survived soccer pretty well and considering that I coached my younger daughter’s teams for most of the time, I would not give up the time with her. They were some of the most important times of our lives.

      If they get truly interested in racing later on, bonus! If not, no worries. You still have your time with your kids.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      Not my business, but… the kid has missed 6 races because of conflicts with football games. Read the story before … then still don’t try to tell someone how to raise their kid (unless it’s abuse.)

  • avatar
    Whittaker

    Queer business this parenting.
    Johnny will never remember his first few weeks.
    Jack will never forget them.

  • avatar
    CoastieLenn

    As a parent, I can’t imagine the feelings you had those first few hours, Jack.

    My parents must have had the same feelings as you- I can also relate to this story on your son’s level.

    I was born 8 weeks early, with 65% developed lungs, 3 lbs. 9 oz., and almost instantly contracted pneumonia after birth. According to my grandfather, while in the NICU (where I spent the first two months of my life), there were two occasions where thru the glass viewing windows, the team of doctors and neo-natal specialists walked away from my tiny self laying on a table, shaking their heads. Apparently I was a little fighter though. Now at 33 years old, I can’t fathom the feelings that must have been involved.

  • avatar
    andyinatl

    No interest in politicizing the discussion. But this statement makes me tear up:

    Thirty-eight states in this union would have permitted me to break his neck the moment I saw him; at just under twenty-four weeks of age, his life was legally forfeit. He wasn’t my son, wasn’t a child, wasn’t a person. He was tissue. He was a choice.

    His mother and I made the choice to give him a fighting chance. The rest was up to him.

    How many potential talents, great inventors, engineers, presidents, CEOs, leaders have we lost in this country because nobody was willing to give them the fighting chance.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      In the interest of accuracy only: A prematurely ***born*** child is covered by federal law once it’s out of the womb.

    • 0 avatar
      phlipski

      I’ll give you the counterpoint since you’ve brought it up.

      My twin daughters were born at 32 weeks and spent 7 and 9 weeks respectively in the NICU. The NICU we were on was an old “open” floor meaning we didn’t have private rooms – the incubators were 6 feet apart, 8 to a bay, 4 bays to the floor. The only privacy is a cloth shower curtain that visually covers your but acoustically is wide open. The baby next to us weighed 1.8lbs at birth (38) weeks to an 18 year old who apparently didn’t want to tell her dad she was pregnant (or didn’t know) until it was way too late. A baby across from us was born to an alcoholic mother at 30 weeks who was banned from the NICU by CPS after two weeks of showing up drunk.

      I would get angry thinking about these crap-ass parents who clearly didn’t want kids yet chose to bring them into the world while we had to lay out cash for fertility treatments. My kids were lucky – no real problems, just early and they’re fine (and 4 years old) now.

      So you’re right that there are some babies that are never given a chance. There are also plenty of babies who never asked to be born and are brought up in shitty circumstances. In this modern age there is no excuse or reason (in my opinion) to be having babies unless you’re mentally and physically capable of caring for them.

      The NICU was the scariest, most stressful and most scaring experience of my so far priveledged life. I don’t wish it on anyone.

      p.s. 24 weeks is miracle baby territory….

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      I don’t know how many great people the world has lost because no one gave them a chance, but I recall at least two instances where “hopeless” newborns were given that fighting chance and the world is richer for it.

      One is of a young girl who was almost certain to be severely handicapped for life, even if she did live. Twenty some years later, she was a world class orchestra musician.

      Another is the story of a Japanese author who son was born with Down’s, IIRC. He contemplated running away to live by himself, and to avoid the whole situation. But after much contemplation, he decided to stay with his family. Today, his son is a world class electronic musician/composer, and the two have a close and rich relationship.

      In my own life, my son was nowhere near as gravely affected, but he did come home needing a green light “bili” blanket for a couple of weeks, to allow his liver to begin functioning normally. That alone was scary enough, even for a child whose birthweight and head size were way above the 90th percentile.

      Fast forward to pre-teen years. Pop Warner football. Toughened him up. Learned to read offensive plays like a book, in the midst of hardcharging action. Learned to never back down from anyone because of size.

      Then he got his bell rung four times in a three month or so period. None “serious”, with loss of consciousness. Two on the football field, one in sandlot football, getting knocked over backwards as he was passing, and one landing on his back doing a wheelie on a (non-motorized) scooter.

      Although none of them were severe, the neurologist said that due to their proximity to each other, there was a significantly increased chance that a more severe concussion might have a greater chance of severe and/or long-lasting effects. Recommended no more football, at age twelve, just as he was getting good enough to be one of the best players on his team.

      When I reluctantly broke the news to him, his responses were two: “I can still play basketball, and I like that better” was the first.

      When I asked him why then the great love for football, he humbled me when he said “because you said it would be good for me, that it would toughen me up, and it has.”

      It was then that I first learned that he had been practicing basketball after school with a diligence that would be the envy of many an older athlete, and that he was already quite good at it.

      So basketball turned out to be his next, and even better, challenge. And he has repeatedly learned what his weaknesses were at each level, and then methodically set out to eliminate them.

      Ten year on, he is trying out this year as a first year walkon for a local college basketball team. According to a former assistant coach of a prominent college team, that school gets a lot of top national college athletes who flunk out of big name schools, and come back to NJ to play for local two year colleges. Matt isn’t fazed. He recognizes the odds, and that someday there will no longer be a way to step up to the next level. But he is doing the same thing he has done for a decade: setting challenges for himself, and doing what it takes to meet them.

      And every minute of time that I have gotten to spend with him has been a joy, and in some cases, a learning experience as well.

      I had a good career, not the best, but one many would envy, but the best job I ever had was the opportunity to be Matt’s father.

      Sorry you have to coordinate John’s activities with your ex-. That was one of the reasons my wife and I struggled to get through the difficult years when we realized that we loved each other so much that we would have to make compromises with each other if we wanted to last. And neither of us were accustomed to having to compromise. But in the end it both allowed our love for each other to strengthen, and it allowed us to remain on the page of what was best for Matt, without our struggles affecting him.

      Don’t worry about John having a new hero, Jack. Parenting him the way you do, you will always be his first and best hero, even if he seldom articulates it. But it is also important that he realizes that his father is not the only hero worthy of his admiration. It is through his having more than one hero that he can learn that there is more than one way to be heroic. And since he will never be an exact clone of you, he must have different heroes as well, in order to form a concept of the type of hero that he can and will identify with. It will have a lot of you in it, but it will require a lot of new material as well, as he is clearly a young man with an already good grasp of some of the complexities of life.

      Great piece of writing. I’d like to point you in the direction of Harry Crews, not so much for his fiction as for his biographical essays of his origin and his family. I assure you you will find it worthwhile reading. If you can’t find his work in a library or some bookstore, I will lend you my copy if you’d like. Some of the best writing I have ever come across, regarding father-son relationships.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Great story. Myself, emerging from the far end of parenthood (youngest is 25; oldest is 35; all girls) I will agree that you’ve got the basics down: there’s no substitute for face time with the kid and the best thing you can tell a kid is “never quite” not “you’re smart” or “you’re good at this.”

    I have to agree with Perisoft about football. I was a big guy 6’3″ 185 as a freshman in high school. I had no hands but could run. But I did something to my knee as a JV player that eventually forced me out of the sport that I excelled at — rowing — after having won two national schoolboy championships, and a bronze and a silver at the collegiate level in my freshman year, and an invite to the Olympic training camp in ’68. 20 years later, the state of the art in arthroscopic surgery fixed it right up and I started rowing again.

    At least it was my knee, not my head.

  • avatar
    gasser

    Great story on fatherhood. The specifics of a sport, trade, hunting are not as important as the lessons of patience and sticking with something until it’s done. Just the message that spending time with your kid brings …hmmm if Dad is with me so much, I must be a priority.
    Time with your kids is the best investment you will every make.

  • avatar
    threeer

    My eldest child (my son, now 25) could not have cared LESS about cars growing up. When he graduated from the Air Force Academy as a bright, young pilot he steadfastly held onto the 1997 Toyota Tercel we gave him in high school, which he still owns as it cruises past 230k on the odometer. While other pilot-buddies traverse the ground in Corvettes and Mustangs, he blissfully parks his near-20 year old beater right amongst them. Oh, how I tried to get him to express an interest in cars, but it wasn’t to be. Instead, he’s a C-17 pilot and about to make Captain next year, so what do I know!

    My newly-adopted daughter (niece, long and tragic story about her first ten years on earth) was amazed to find out that I could name any car on the road by sight alone, so she continuously quizzes me on just about every car that passes us by. She recognizes the easy ones like Mustangs and Camaros and seems to have a like for most things muscle car (given, that she spent her first ten years in Detroit), which vexes me a tad as I grew up in Germany and love smaller, lighter cars more in the Bimmer and Porsche vein. Still, there is hope that at least one of my children shares some small part of my passion for cars, so I encourage her to try to stump me every time we get in the car. Now if she’d only learn to instantly recognize the Roundel on certain mid-80s 3-series BMWs!

  • avatar
    Fordson

    Great story and thank you. You captured a lot of fatherhood in this piece.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Thank you for choosing life for your son. *Tears in eyes*

    I like the tension you have on John’s bridle: loose enough for freedom and exploration, tight enough for a measure of protection.

  • avatar
    docoski

    Great writing. Thank you.

  • avatar
    Robert

    After deciding I don’t care for not being able to sleep, or sit, or stand, or much of anything without pain, I’m steering my kids (and myself) away from motocross and towards karting and cars as fast as possible. But the lack of rollover protection in the karts scares me too.

    Jack – is exposed head + rollover a real concern in karting?

  • avatar
    Hamilton Guy

    I have never had children but Jack’s story was very touching and has generated the most interesting and insightful comments, with absolutely no trolling that I have ever read on TTAC.

    Bravo to Jack and to the Best and the Brightest

  • avatar
    bill h.

    This is a nice read, and I thank you for sharing. Best wishes to father and son for your future together.

    My older son is approaching 26, and like his brother was fortunately born healthy and with no issues, so we count ourselves lucky. No motocross interest, though he was a decent swimmer in middle/high school. Now he’s a production line engineer with FCA, after they invested in providing him a manufacturing internship and a Master’s degree at the University of Michigan. But he still tells people (including the Chrysler recruiters when he was in college) that some of his early memories were squatting in the garage next to his old man as he rotated tires, changed brake pads and fluid, and changed oil. That those memories helped to shape the start of his adult career proved fairly decisive to the HR folks, it seems.

    Even now he’s a pretty decent wrencher on his classic Saab 900 SPG that’s the same age as he is, and has far surpassed his dad in those skills. We can all hope that our sons will exceed our achievements, in whatever fields that stir their passions. I never expected that he would choose this path, but I’m glad that he’s doing something that still makes things in the USA.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    Any kid who can do 1300-piece Technic sets on his/her own at that age will probably turn out alright.

  • avatar
    njr

    As someone who remembers being a nearly friendless 12-year old high school freshman (I’m 37 now, and much better), you’re doing the right thing. Sadly no karts in my childhood, but an odd coincidence today, two articles with personal significance – my family’s first car when I was a kid was a late-70s Buick Skyhawk. Grenaded its transmission around 1985; by that point we had replaced it by ’82 and ’86 Suburbans whose mediocre reliability, particularly in the electrical department, swore my parents off GM for good.

  • avatar
    Matt Foley

    Whoever loves a son will chastise him often,
    that he may be his joy when he grows up.

    Whoever disciplines a son will benefit from him,
    and boast of him among acquaintances.

    Whoever educates a son will make his enemy jealous,
    and rejoice in him among his friends.

    At the father’s death, he will seem not dead,
    for he leaves after him one like himself,

    Whom he looked upon through life with joy,
    and in death, without regret.

    Great piece, Jack.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    Beautiful story.

    Also “children who grow up insulated from difficulty or struggle tend to become feckless jerkoffs who still live off their parents at the age of thirty”.

    JB for president?!

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    Both of our kids were premature and spent some days in the NICU. Both are ahead of their class in most things and our daughter (14) has a good chance of getting a full ride on a music scholarship.

    A few weeks ago we went electric karting and they run the cars by speed class based on the age of the people driving. When our son (6) ran we had to run in the medium speed yet fast enough to slide (they thought he was older than he is) and he stayed ahead of my sister and niece for several laps until he ran wide and kissed the wall. My daughter won that by taking my line. The other race with him there were technical difficulties and he was a half lap ahead of the rest of us and we never caught him. He drives a good line and has a significant weight advantage over the rest of us who were duking it out which slowed us a bit also. The highlight of that race was my daughter going sideways, three wide in the middle to make a pass.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Thank you Jack for sharing you words and life with us.

  • avatar
    andrethx

    by-and-large, a nice column. however:

    “Thirty-eight states in this union would have permitted me to break his neck the moment I saw him; at just under twenty-four weeks of age, his life was legally forfeit. He wasn’t my son, wasn’t a child, wasn’t a person. He was tissue. He was a choice.”

    i understand that you’re trying to be funny. but your willingness to conflate abortion and infanticide for the sake of a joke makes you a fanatic or oblivious. your previous writing has never struck me as fanatical so i’m going to go with oblivious.

    IMHO if you’re going to make jokes about sensitive topics (abortion, 9/11, etc.), they’d better be DAMN funny and this joke falls far short, it’s just annoying.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      “but your willingness to conflate abortion and infanticide for the sake of a joke”

      Not sure what you’re getting at here.

      My son was born at a fetal age where it would have been legal to abort him in thirty-eight states.

      That’s not so much a joke as it is a statement of fact.

      • 0 avatar
        andrethx

        “My son was born at a fetal age where it would have been legal to abort him in thirty-eight states” is a statement of fact, absolutely, but that isn’t what you wrote.

        “Thirty-eight states in this union would have permitted me to break his neck the moment I saw him; at just under twenty-four weeks of age, his life was legally forfeit.” this is not a factual statement, in no state in this union is it legal to break the neck of your newborn, no matter how premature he or she is. i’m kinda concerned that i seem to have to explain this.

        • 0 avatar
          Bunter1

          So andrethx, if I hire someone to do an act for me, say Jack has a doctor break the kids neck, that is totally different than doing it myself? Not sure Jack is the one slow on the uptake.
          And perhaps your not familiar with the fact that in some abortion techniques “some disassembly is required”.
          Jack is demonstrating clearly, from personal experience, that what some folks would indeed refer to as “tissue” is really a human being.
          Defend these actions as you wish, but defend what really happens. Own it. Stop defending the media skewed rubbish that does not represent what actually happens in an abortion.
          Enjoy.

          Dennis

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Well done as always Jack .

    Being a good Father is the most important job you’ll ever have and it’s clear you’re taking it very seriously .

    I am also enjoying the collective Father stories here =8-) .

    My Son is a better/faster (?safer?) Driver/Racer than I ever could be, he also teaches me so much about almost everything .

    I’d hoped he became some sort of rich professional talent but in the end he’s another Journeyman Mechanic like me albeit on modern vehicles .

    He races like John, *very* determined and focused .

    Scary sometimes .

    Keep up the good work and stories too .

    -Nate

  • avatar

    Thanks for relating this story, Jack. I am moved for reasons to numerous to mention or admit. My dad is no longer here – congestive heart failure. Back in the late 50’s the go-cart thing was big in our area of IA, perhaps everywhere. Most guys built their own cart, powered by a 2.5 hp Clinton or maybe up to a 7 hp McCullough. Some guys had chain drive; others belt. I remember seeing a few carts with 2 or 3 Clintons sitting on the rear end. On the short tracks those were more of a liability than advantage to my young mind, but they were COOL! It seemed every town had a race night. Where I grew up it was Friday (I think). A local put it a small oval in the empty lot next to his house on the west side of town. Always well attended. The whole thing trickled down to us kids. One of my friends built a cart which was nothing more that a slab of reinforced plywood, 2.5 Clinton, throttle on a cable and the steering was done by foot – no brake, seat or roll cage protection. He took it out on “new” 30 before it was open and, man, did that thing fly! I drove it for a ways, but the lack of everything it lacked made me a bit nervous to go too fast. (I’m a weeny.) My dad built a cart and put in a small oval in one of the fields on my grandfather’s farm just outside of town. My brother and I had great fun driving that thing around. I remember one time driving around the out buildings where I came around a corner and put the cart into a slide. Problem was I was sliding straight towards the tongue on a farm implement which was propped up at exactly head height. Fortunately the tires finally caught and I steered out of harm’s way.

    I sincerely hope you and John get to go the distance, so to speak. Enjoy the ride.

  • avatar
    Bunter1

    Thanks Jack.
    Kids are amazing. I’m 57 with a 13 year old ballerina (now on pointe!) and a 10 year old ski rocket (we also hammer each other in forza 4. They keep me young(ish).

    Man, you made the right choice! Seriously, if you find yourself up at Gingerman again let me know ([email protected]). Love to touch base.
    Time to wipe the tears away and get back to work.

    Cheerio,
    Dennis

  • avatar
    pyro

    I have daughters too. And they’re both almost middle age now in there 40’s. I’ve always been a car nut and bikes too for that matter. When they were younger,well girls will be girls. But they gave me grandchildren and very soon great grandchildren and when it’s all said and done that’s more then enough…

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