Down the Backroads

Posted on Feb 23, 2018


Tim Thornberry

Throughout my life there have been many people who have taught me the art of communicating, not necessarily intentionally but mostly by circumstance. I discovered how to relate to others primarily by listening to the way they were relating to me.

And some of those most important lessons came at the hands of my father when he taught me to drive.

I discovered two primary forms of communications while sitting in a 1962 Plymouth Valiant with a manual, three-speed on the column transmission.  There was the direct-message method which left no doubt about what was being conveyed to me at a specific point in time, and there was the more subtle, roundabout way of an explanation, which I preferred but wasn’t always available.

My father had a firm grasp of both and exhibited them often during our time together behind the wheel.

The first thing I learned was, I did not at that time, nor would I ever know as much about the proper operation of an automobile as my father. He let me know that using the direct method of communication.

The second and possibly the more important thing I learned was, in order for me to communicate well with him, I had to first be willing to listen to what he had to say. I am still trying to teach that lesson to my youngest son.

“Always drive defensively because you never know what other drivers are going to do,” he would say. While that sounds like a strictly tactical driving message, I would find, later in life that statement could relate to any number of subjects.

There were key words in his lessons that helped me distinguish which method of communicating he was using. Words like “never”, “always”, “stop” and “now” were generally associated with direct messaging.

His indirect communications usually came in the form of phrases such as, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” and “This ain’t Daytona and you ain’t Richard Petty.”

The latter of course referring to my negligence of the posted speed limits. I never knew my dad was such a stock car fan until he taught me to drive.

Another thing my dad taught me about communications had to do with urgency. The louder his voice became, the more important the message. And, as a rule, those times when he used his louder voice were the times he demonstrated the direct form of communications, as well.

Somehow we made it through driving lessons with the Valiant intact and a driver’s license in hand. My dad had a few more gray hairs and I had a whole new vision of communicating with others as well as an expanded vocabulary.

Today, getting our messages across to others has taken on a whole new look within our digital world as compared to 40 years ago. But we still do it for the same reason; to convey a message from one person to another.

And in doing so, we should practice the “Plymouth Valiant” method of communication which is to listen as if your father is talking, understand there is more than one way to get your message across, and the louder one speaks the more important the message is, at least to them.

But above all, I have taken one main lesson with me in all that I do, whether it relates to driving or communicating. As one travels down the backroads remember; “This ain’t Daytona and you ain’t Richard Petty.”