‘Your daddy won’t have to…’

Published 8:14 pm Saturday, December 6, 2008

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I spent 13 hours – twice, once each way – driving from North Carolina to the home of my wife’s mother in Mississippi. I made the first part of that trip, the one from here to there, by myself because Sherry had gone earlier by air so she would be there to help her mother – who is 87 years old now – get ready for the 30 to 35 people she feeds every Thanksgiving (and Christmas… and Easter).

I kept myself awake both ways, but especially on that first part, by listening to a lot of Fox News and CNN, to some Elvis and other music of that era, to some C&W and to some comedy – especially on the Blue Collar Comedy channel. Thank goodness for satellite radio.

One piece I listened to on the Blue Collar Comedy channel had an effect opposite the intended one. It made me cry.

The routine – and I don’t remember the comedian’s name – told sarcastically about a father who told his teenage son (the comedian) not to drive, but rather to call him (the father) to come get him if he ever went out drinking.

I told my kids that, too.

And one night one of them did.

My youngest daughter, while she was in high school, began dating a kid for whom I had little use. Andy had long hair and couldn’t look you in the eye when he talked to you. I don’t remember much else about him.

Anyway, after Leah’s mother decided I was too devoted to my job and left, I sold a pretty big house and moved to a much smaller house with a big deck on a cliff overlooking Canyon Lake near San Antonio, Texas. Leah, somewhat against her will, was living with her mother, still in the same town, but in much different circumstances.

Late one night (or maybe early one morning), the phone at the house on a cliff rang and after some hesitation, I answered it.

It was Leah.

“Daddy,” she said, obviously in tears, “don’t be mad, but I’m drunk and don’t need to drive.”

I asked her where she was. She told me she was at a convenience store. I asked how she got there and she said, “I drove, but I had to. Andy hit me.”

The deal was that Leah and Andy had gone to a party and both, though underage, had too much to drink. Andy wanted to do something Leah didn’t want to do, Leah said no, the situation escalated and Andy hit Leah. She left the party, got in her car and drove away. The first pay phone she came to was at the closed convenience store.

I told her to lock herself in her car and know that I was on my way.

Then, before I got into my car, I called the police department in the town where Leah was and told the dispatcher what was going on. I asked the dispatcher to send a car to the closed convenience store where Leah was parked until I could get there.

It was about 25 miles. I did it in about 15 minutes. I buried the speedometer needle on the right side and never saw it again until I got there.

When I did get there, a police car was parked beside Leah’s car. Leah was still in her car. When the officer had arrived (complete with blue lights and siren) and knocked on her window, she rolled the window down just far enough to tell the officer her daddy told her to lock the door and not to unlock it until he (her daddy) got there. The officer told her that was good advice and exactly what she should do.

They talked through her slightly opened window while they waited for me.

In the course of that conversation, she worried that if Andy showed up, “my daddy will kill him.”

She remembered the officer’s response and told me later. The officer said, “Leah, if Andy shows up your daddy won’t have to.”

That’s been many, many years ago, but I still appreciate that officer more than just about anyone else I can think of.

And my perspective is much, much different from that of the sarcastic comedian.

David Sullens is president of Roanoke-Chowan Publications LLC and publisher of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald and the Gates County Index.