Rudolph “Don” King Jan. 22, 1930-Jan. 2, 2016
My dad joined my family when I was a kid. He brought with him two teenage sons, creating a blended family of five kids: four teens, and 9 year-old me.
He never referred to my brothers and I as his step-kids. To him, we were his sons and daughter. Period. That’s the type of man he was from the very beginning. To me, he was “Dad.”
I loved cars from the time I was a small child. I blame it on my Detroit DNA: my mom and my biological dad were both born and raised in Detroit, where residents lived and breathed car culture whether or not they had ties to the industry. My maternal grandfather photographed cars for GM when he worked for the Detroit-based Jam Handy ad agency.
Hardly an automotive dynasty, but Detroit blood runs thick and it runs deeply. It doesn’t take much.
It wasn’t until Dad joined our family that I really began to appreciate cars from the inside out. My dad had a high-school education, but his knowledge of engines, design, engineering, science and physics would make a Michigan State engineering grad blush.
We talked about cars. Their design, colors, the intersection of form and function. Since he leased his cars, we had a succession of them in our driveway every two or three years: everything from a blah Mercury Comet to the gorgeous Cadillac Seville that he leased during the boom years in his industry.
The Seville was stunning. I washed and cared for it like it was my own. I was too young to drive it, but that didn’t stop him from rounding me up one Saturday afternoon, taking me to an empty parking lot, and letting me get behind the wheel. I was about 13.
Why not? he reasoned. After all, he was much younger than that when he drove tractors and other farm equipment as a child in Nebraska. Nothing wrong with a kid learning to drive.
I was a serious and responsible kid and never breathed a word to my mom.
Regardless of what life threw in my and my family’s path, my dad and I could always talk about cars.That was our go-topic. I was in my 20s when my dad suggested one day there would be fully electric cars.
I informed him he was nuts.
My apologies to both my dad and to Tesla Motors Inc. Ahem. Mea culpa.
I liked a car with a hearty exhaust growl, and he was fascinated by hybrid technology and became an early fan of the Prius, even though he was a domestic car guy.
When I bought my Volvo, he quickly became a lay expert. He became a diagnostic whiz over the phone.
“Well, Miss E,” he’d tell me, “sure sounds like the RPM sensor is going south.”
“Naah.” I’d counter,” My money is on the MAF (Mass Air Flow) sensor.”
“You’re on.” He’d say. He’d always win.
I called him in tears last year, when my car failed CA’s tough emissions testing, and a second opinion Volvo tech suggested what the first opinion tech had: it was time to retire my old car. Even if I did make the needed repairs, there was no guarantee my car would pass.
No smog certificate, no tags, no car, no joke.
“Well, I think they’re right. It’s time to be free of the old bastard. That smog testing sure is a racket, isn’t it?” He was never one to mince words.
He and my mom were working people of modest means, but that didn’t stop him from slipping me a few bucks when a sudden job loss last year brought me to my knees financially. That and the retirement of my car made for a very crappy year.
My dad stood by me through all of it. He was a risk-taker and wanted me to do the same, to never settle.
He encouraged me to take the leap and to venture into self-employment.
His health had started to decline in the past year, and became more precarious. During the last two months of his life, we had many, many honest conversations about what the future held for him.
We also talked about space, engineering, physics, and cars. Nerdy stuff that only dads and their car-loving daughters could talk about.
I made a mental note to fly out to see my dad once the holiday rush settled down. I’d find the money somehow. He and his doctors figured his health would hold for at least another couple of months.
Shortly after Christmas, my dad’s health suddenly declined, and on January 2, he slipped away from this Earth at 8:40 a.m. I still have a knot in my gut from when the ICU nurse told me over the phone of his passing.
My only hope is that he is now seated at the right hand of all the science and automotive greats that came before him. He’s going to make an excellent dinner companion for them. He will keep them on their toes.
I love you, Dad. May you rest among the stars and planets you held so dear.