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At the age of 16, for my birthday, my dad bought me a 1983 Pontiac Brougham.
We called it the Bro-Ham.
It was money green with mirror tint on the bottom, and had close to $12,000 worth of stereo equipment in the trunk, which had to have been stolen—the car only cost $2,500.
I was in heaven. The car was old. We had to fill the radiator with water every morning and the front right tire was a spare (or as we call it, a donut). We also had a second donut in the trunk in case of an emergency.
I would ride around with my friends, blasting music. It was a reward for always keeping my grades up and doing well in sports. Though I was a good kid, I still have a checkered past. This particular blotch on my record happened the night of Winter Formal during my junior year of high school.
We went as a group: myself, my girlfriend, my cousin, and his date, my best female friend from school. We loaded into the Bro-Ham in our Sunday best and headed to the Winter Formal.
I don’t remember much about the actual dance as it was uneventful. When it concluded, we headed to a buddy’s house for the after-party.
My girlfriend and I decided to sneak off into a room and be naughty. About 15 minutes later, someone banged on the bedroom door, yelling, “Her mom is here!” She put herself together as much as she could and scurried to the front door where she was immediately ushered to the car.
I was pretty pissed off and didn’t want the night to end, but the after-party wasn’t any good. No one was really having a good time. It wasn’t planned and there were limited libations to indulge in.
I looked at my cousin, grabbed a bottle of tequila, and began to devise a plan. We were to take a few shots, hop in the car, and drive to Los Angeles to the Arena.
For those who don’t remember or have never heard of it, the Arena was an underage club, 15 and up, to be exact. Yes, you heard that correct. A night club that didn’t sell alcohol but had no security, where young kids could party as if they were in their early 20s with older teenagers.
Horrible idea, and I can’t believe the city of Los Angeles allowed the existence of this place.
We both took another shot of tequila. As we were devising our plan, we were also rolling two blunts (for the uninitiated, this is marijuana in a cigar leaf). Another friend listened in and asked if he could join us. “Of course!”
We got done with the prep work for intoxication and loaded up in the car. As I drove on the 110 freeway, hot-boxing the blunt (smoking with the windows up), the front right donut blew. I wasn’t driving erratically and I didn’t hit anything. I had just been riding on this donut for six months. It was time for it to go. As I slowly pulled over to the shoulder and down the off ramp, only 200 feet ahead, two police cars were finishing giving someone a ticket.
“Gimme the blunt,” I demanded. I took a hit and put it in the ashtray. I made a slow left turn into a parking lot and brought the car to a stop to change the tire.
Before I could put it in park, sirens were blaring, lights were flashing through the back windshield, and their guns were drawn. They yelled, “Hands up!” I knew I was caught. I was so caught. And it didn’t even kill my high.
My dad always told me that if I get caught for doing something and I was in the wrong, there’d be no need for me to be rude to authority. I complied with every demand.
As I opened the door, smoke came billowing out of the car like a Cheech and Chong movie. I told the cop I’d had a few shots, there were blunts in the ashtray, and that I was intoxicated.
He gave me a field sobriety test (I thought I did pretty well), and his partner began to search my car. The officer and I began to chat and actually become pretty friendly. At one point, while cuffed, I asked for a cigarette, to which he responded, “You’re 16. You’re not even old enough to have those!” We laughed about it.
My cousin and my friend were put into another squad car and actually driven back to Pasadena to their respective homes. I was taken to jail.
I sat in a holding tank with three grown men. One was passed out drunk, another belligerently intoxicated, and a third was talking to himself and pacing in circles. I was scared sh*tless. I was still a baby, here in jail, at midnight.
Around 3 a.m., one of the officers came in and told me they would release me to my parents. They asked, “Who do you want us to call?” I responded, “Call my dad, please.”
The thing was, my mom had already been contacted by my cousin’s parents, and she was waiting on the call from the police. They brought me to the lobby, behind the counter, and cuffed me to a chair. Forty-five minutes later, I heard tires screeching in the parking lot. Oh sh*t! My sister opened the lobby door with a big grin on her face. My mom followed her through the door, already yelling and screaming, disappointed beyond belief and rightfully so.
Then my dad walked in, stoic, without a single expression. And he’s a big guy.
He walked directly to the counter and unlatched the door to come behind it. The officers were so nervous they stuttered, “Sir. Sssssir,” as they put their hands on their pistols. All I could think was, “I am handcuffed. I can’t even block what is coming.”
As I braced for impact, my dad walked right over to me, lifted me up, looked me dead in my eyes, gave a loving hug, and asked, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, Dad. I’m okay.”
He walked back into the appropriate part of the lobby and stayed quiet while Mom continued.
I was released, and as we drove away, my mom still scolding me, I just kept my head low. Now, being cool with the officer paid off. Since I parked the car in an appropriate slot and since I showed him respect, he decided not to tow my vehicle. About five minutes down the road, my mom yelled, “Where is your damn car?”
“I don’t know, Mom.” We had to go back to the station, get the location, and retrieve the car. We got to the parking lot and my dad helped me replace one donut for another. He told me to ride with him as he drove my car home.
On the way home, he said nothing, until he asked, “Want a cigarette?”
“Yes, thank you.”
As we got back to Pasadena, he opened his mouth again and asked, “Are you hungry?”
He took me to Del Taco and got me chili cheese fries and a green burrito with extra green sauce.
When we got home, I headed to my room and went to sleep. That was one hell of a night and I was stunned by my dad’s response, but it didn’t surprise me.
He had the compassion and foresight to think outside of himself and see the bigger picture.
He has been in and out of prison himself, but even if you haven’t, you could imagine what a young man at 16 could be feeling in that moment: scared to death. He knew there was no amount of yelling, screaming, lectures, or hitting that would compare to the trouble I was already facing.
I was now a part of the criminal justice system. I was going to lose my car, my license, pay a fine, have to take classes, get special insurance, and possibly face jail time. I also wanted to play college ball, and with the parents of the other guy I was with planning to tell the school, I might have ruined my future.
What my dad saw was someone who had been through something tough, at a young age, who needed to be loved. We could deal with the other stuff later.
In that moment, what I needed and what anyone else would need, was to be asked if I was okay.
Did I want a cigarette? Was I hungry? I will never forget that day and those responses from my dad.
The next time you find your child or friend or loved one in a serious situation, take the time to look at the bigger picture. Think about what that person actually needs instead of how pissed off, disappointed, or upset you are. They know what you’re feeling about their mistake. I knew I had messed up royally.
I needed love.
I needed to be recognized as someone who just went through a traumatic experience with more to come because of the consequences of my actions.
You may disagree with how he handled the situation or nitpick at the fact that he offered a 16-year-old a cigarette and food after a D.U.I., but you would be missing the point.
How you feel, when a traumatic situation happens to someone you love is irrelevant in the moment.
You need to be thinking about how they feel and what they need in that moment, from you. You will always have time to have the other talks later.
Thanks, Dad. I love you!