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January 2012 Dr. Vern

Posted in Features on January 1, 2012
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Contributors: Dr. Vern

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. I went kicking and screaming in reaction to this latest turn of events. “I’m too old for this,” I said to myself and anybody who’d listen.

For a bit of background, I had recently reached the blue plastic bin stage of my Jeep experience. Very few guys ever reach this glorious phase. I’m not talking about those big plastic containers you pack full of who knows what and then stack in the garage. They sit constantly in the way, never to be opened again. No, I’m talking about those handy little hardware bins; the kind that clip on special wall brackets, as seen in a dream garage. No more nuts and bolts haphazardly overflowing from random boxes or jars. Any time I needed a particular fastener for my latest Jeep project, I only had to grab the appropriate bin. I was now the guy with the shop that made others jealous.

My dream garage didn’t stop there. After putting up with a wheezy air compressor that got winded filling a bike tire, I now had one powerful enough to inflate a blimp. There was no tangle of hoses anymore, because permanent steel lines ran to all corners of my shop. If that wasn’t enough for an über Jeep workshop, there was a lift in the works, too. It was going in over by the sandblast cabinet, which was next to the parts washer.

If there’s any drawback to such a fantastic Jeep workshop, all these big-boy toys aren’t exactly safe for little kids. Shouldn’t be a problem, now that my kids are grown and more or less on their own. Even if they try to move back, despite my preemptive plan to fill their rooms with concrete, they are old enough not to hurt anything (or themselves) in the shop. Not so with my grandson. No matter how carefully you try to explain it, a toddler just doesn’t understand the “don’t touch” concept. It’s as frustrating as trying to explain a “Shirt and Shoes Required” sign to a magazine editor. (Editor’s note: I still think if a restaurant required pants, the sign would say so.)

When I got married recently, I picked up a few more wonderful kids in the process. No complaints there. My spare son had his own son, but in a less-than-ideal situation for a young dad, he was scheduled to ship out with the Navy. You’ve probably heard that if the military wanted you to have a family, they’d issue you one. To make a long story short, my wife and I eventually found ourselves raising one more kid.

It’s not all bad, of course. I’ve taught him how to claim whiplash after burping. French fries work great for pretending you have walrus tusks. (For overachieving parents who insist on healthy food, I suppose carrot sticks would work.) Of course, he loves the Jeep and frequently asks to go for a ride. But you don’t get much chance to work on the Jeep with a toddler around, even if it was somehow safe to take your eyes off him.

Not much gets done because toddlers possess a certain property that inexplicably alters the laws of physics. Supposedly an object at rest remains stationary until acted upon by an external input, etc. Whoever came up with this grandiose theory obviously never put a child in a car seat. Soon as you get that last buckle fastened, you suddenly remember the diaper bag back in the house. No matter how quickly you return, said child will now need a diaper change before you can back out of the driveway. Meanwhile, your young charge will wait until he’s buckled in again before screaming for his juice box, which was sitting next to the diaper bag—back in the house—repeat the process upon arriving at your destination, and then again at both ends of your return trip. Before you know it, a quick mission for Jeep parts turns into an all-day event.

If that were the extent of my reluctance, you’d be within your rights to tell me to get over it. The Jeep can wait, but not so with a little guy in need of a home. (Cue the sappy music.) But then something deeply philosophical hit me, hopefully well worth the price of this magazine. With his dad reluctantly so far away, I’m the only man in this child’s life. (I know, the poor kid is doomed.) My wife has the motherly, nurturing thing down pat, but when it comes to those rare times of laying down the law, only a dad will do. There’s no need to raise your voice. Sometimes you only have to state blatantly obvious things like, “The flamethrower is an outdoor toy only.” Other times you have to say stuff that you wish was just as obvious, such as, “You may not act like that.” Looking back at my own dad, and then at myself with my own kids, I can now see how this solemn duty takes a little piece out of you each time. If it comes easy to you, I don’t think you’re doing it right. I’m not sure how many more little pieces of me I can spare. They don’t seem to grow back. Well, there’s not much time to think about it right now. There’s a little guy I’ve got to wrestle into the car seat in the back of the Jeep. Wish me luck.

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