Dad’s van

1985 Plymouth Voyager LE

Unaltered image. CetteUneVoiture, Wikimedia Commons. CC license.

My Dad was the proud owner of a Plymouth Voyager minivan. She was a sweet ride, seating for seven, “suburban dad brown” color with only the best wood paneling appliqué from bumper-to-bumper. It truly was the best 1987 had to offer.

At the time, I had a stepbrother and stepsister along with my full-blooded sister (not sure if that’s the politically correct way of saying sibling, but that’s what I’m using in this case), so he needed the room. We had assigned seats on family trips; I sat behind my dad in the first row but sometimes I got lucky enough to sit in the “way back” where there seemed to be a little more freedom.

Eventually the need for the extra room went away, and it was just my dad, my sister and I once again. The one constant throughout the life’s upheaval was the van. I know it seems weird, but there was an odd comfort getting into that van. Through trips to baseball practice or heading to the hospital after separating my shoulder during a freshman football game, I knew we’d get there in one piece because of that van.

That van even saved my dad’s life when a drunk driver ran a red light and t-boned the van right in the paneling. Dad was sore, but he is still with us in part because of that van.

As I look back, that van was a big part of our family’s life. We grew up in it. We learned to drive behind the wheel of it. It helped us move four times and made more than a few trips to Mount Pleasant and Kalamazoo to ensure my stepsister and I (and our stuff) got to college safely.

Sadly, after nearly 400,000 miles, the van died quietly in a parking structure in downtown Detroit as my dad was out of town on business. It was better that way. And because of its legendary status, and I think some respect, my dad’s coworkers adorned the van with flowers and an RIP chalk outline fit for a vehicle that saw a family through some good times and some rough times.

Looking back on it, I think the van was a four-wheel-badge of honor for my dad. Being a single dad for most of the van’s existence, it became proof that he put my sisters (both full-blood and step) and me first. He didn’t need the latest vehicle to prove his worth, he had a van with a rocking seat and hatch held up by a two-by-four so his kids didn’t go without.

That van became a symbol of the sacrifice Dad made for our family. He did without so we could have what we needed to succeed. Our family has grown through the years — new members, new generations — and they learn the legend of the van, but they also learn why and who made that van so special because it was so much more than a van.

My dad has turned into Poppie to my girls and my sisters’ children, and he’s still putting his family first. He leads by example and he has made me a better dad than I ever thought I’d be, and for that I’m grateful. And who knows, maybe I’ll get my own “van” someday.

– Jim Pesta is a Parenting Program participant and father of two girls.

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