“Move this damn car or else you’re gonna be sorry!”. An emotionally distraught old man got out of his car in the middle of traffic to yell this at me with my wife and 17-month-old daughter in the car. This happened yesterday and it made me think about what my threshold is for violence as a father and protector.
My wife and I had the day off when we decided to take our daughter for a car ride to run a few errands in the afternoon. For reasons unknown, it seemed that at every turn there was blocked lanes, road construction, and annoyed drivers. I don’t know if it was the rising price of gas ($4.30/gal where we are) or because Valentine’s Day just passed and now the love is gone so everyone has the power to act like a complete douchebag.
Our whole week was blocked lanes: it started with our taxes last weekend where we found out we made “too much money”, to our daughter’s second ear infection in three weeks – oh and the pharmacy we have been going to issued the wrong dosage per the doctor’s script. Thanks, Westlake Village Pharmacy. We won’t be going to you again since you can’t figure out the difference between teaspoons and milliliters. You could kill someone like that.
So we are driving at about 1:30pm on Friday, I exit an offramp and proceeded northbound on a busy road where traffic seemed to generate due to construction and a visible major accident in the upcoming intersection. About 30 seconds into our dead stop, I was ready to go into mushroom-cloud-laying motherf*cker mode.
A little background: we live in the west suburbs of Los Angeles that is the border between Ventura and L.A. County. Nothing ever really terrible happens here – in fact our neighboring city, Simi Valley, repeatedly appears as the one of the safest cities in America. However, that didn’t stop an 80-year-old man from getting out of his car to threaten me and my family.
How It Went Down
Our vehicle was forced into a position where we partially blocked a driveway of a large, popular shopping center. It was not a legal intersection and there were circumstances beyond our control that prevented the normal flow of traffic. There was a nasty accident in the upcoming intersection of Lindero Canyon and Thousand Oaks Blvd. where it was now controlled by a police officer directing traffic and there was construction going on which blocked off a lane in both directions. We sat there in a dead-stop for about 15 seconds before we noticed a car wanting to turn left (into us) to enter the parking lot.
The 80-year-old driver inched his way forward, recklessly wedging himself between the two cars in the lane next to us. I turned my head to see the old man behind the wheel, desperately attempting to make eye-contact with me to try and force my position to an uncomfortable distance within the car in front of me. I motioned back to wait a minute and that there was very little space in front of our car to move. He didn’t care and attempted to more aggressively explain that there was more room than I was comfortable to pursue.
What seemed like 8 seconds of this exchange passed, he then hastily got out of his car and proceeded to walk in front of our car to give us a measurement like a football referee, calling out the distance to a first down after a 1st and 10 chain measurement. I gave him a casual shrug with the ‘Where do you expect me to go?’, gesturing to the back of the truck that was close in front of us.
He was not satisfied with my reply.
The old man with Maryland plates, now standing in front of our car, came up to my driver’s side window and gave me the official ruling, “You have one foot of room in front of your car, move your car up now!”. I explained to him that I was uncomfortable moving my car to such a distance, that there was an accident up ahead in the intersection and where if he just waited a few more seconds we would all be able to move.
My calm response only seemed to agitate the old man even more. I kept apologizing repeatedly and explained that this was my car and I’m uncomfortable moving it forward to be within inches of the car in front of us. He was visibly upset at this point, shaking, mocking me, skipping/fumbling over words… deep down I started to feel sorry for the guy and was rightly confused as to why he needed to get into this shopping center 15 seconds faster than he would have if he just calmed the f*ck down.
He proceeded to yell, “My daughter has cancer and just had surgery to have her breasts removed! Move this damn car or else you’re gonna be sorry!”. He stormed to his car 8 feet away, got back in and started driving toward our rear quarter panel – pumping his brakes harder with every inch he moved while his old wife sat in the passenger seat.
Turns out he did have enough room to maneuver between the car behind us and make it into the shopping center. Traffic started moving 5 seconds later as he pulled into the driveway where he was stuck in a congested parking lot.
What I Wanted To Do
There’s a scene in the movie High Fidelity which perfectly illustrates what played out in my mind as this guy approached our car.
When we got home after our errands, I had total Seinfeld “Jerk Store” fantasies of what I would’ve done differently; how I would have just completely wrecked the guy. I fantasized about casually unbuckling my seatbelt and opening the door just way too fast and just level him. I thought about getting out of my car and taking a bat to his headlights, slashing his tires, beating the windows in, etc.
It was my daughter’s little face that saved me from any form of retaliation. I’m not so sure that I would’ve flipped my sh*t regardless, but it was close since he managed to sufficiently scare my wife into thinking that he was acting crazy enough to have a gun.
How I Benefited From This Situation As A Father
I’d like to say I do all kinds of stuff amazing now that I have a child, but that’s just not true. What I have done is I’ve expanded my heart with more love for another human being than I ever thought was possible, I’ve gained patience in understanding for other people’s motives, I’ve sharpened my intuition and I think more.
I think about my life and how I have to stick around for my child’s future. How I have to be a leader and teach her about other people who are good, bad, or just misunderstood – how reactions have consequences and when to stand up for your family and fight.
In the end I’m still an ever-changing man. I still learn and apply growth to my emotional intelligence, but what I’m about to say is what saved me from going to jail.
The most important thing I’ve learned is how to be calm in the eye of the storm.
The resonating feeling that you get in your ear drums when your first born is hysterically crying for more than 10 minutes feels exactly like an earthquake. Repeat this about 20 times and you’ll break under pressure and cry in a bathroom. I know, I did. It’s initiation into parenthood, it’s a hazing process – training for first-time parents. As painful as it is to hear your child scream bloody murder, it’s good for you. It makes you stronger and more confident as a human being and it prepares you for situations like this.
I hate to do another Star Wars reference but I totally sensed the dark side controlling this old man. I could tell he was out of his element, and that it wasn’t his fault. I didn’t take his frustration personally because it could’ve happened to anyone that was in our situation.
Being a father totally paid off yesterday. I was able to manipulate a frustrated person’s voice into noise where I was able to maintain the poise and level of a zen f*cking master. That old man was so full tilt, I’m positive he didn’t even look or see our daughter in the back seat through the non-tinted windows.
Little did he know that she was my small secret weapon.