That one time my dad taught me about leadership

When I was young, about 8 years old, my family took a road trip over summer vacation. We drove from suburban Toronto to western Canada to visit the relatives, see the family farm, go camping, see a moose, and so forth. You know, Canadian things.

For those who have not driven across the vast expanses of Canada, the prairies have two distinct characteristics. First, they are vast and, secondly, how dull it all is. As this voyage took place in the 90’s, there wasn’t much in terms of distraction for a kid stuck in the back of a van. Entertainment I did have at my disposal consisted of books, sketch paper and pencils, and my sister. That was it. As for group activities, the family sing-along came to an abrupt halt three hours after we left. Faced with a three day drive, I jumped at any chance do something - anything - other than staring at wheat fields. On this road trip that was pumping gas.

The first time we stopped at a gas station, I asked my dad if I could fill the tank. He happily accepted my help. Compared to sitting, it was fun. I began looking forward to the tank running dry. “How much we got left?” I would ask. “We’ll stop in 30 mins or so,” my dad would answer. I willed the needle to drop to E.

Sometime on the second day of the trip we once again needed to stop for fuel. My dad guided the van into a dusty gas station. Before the wheels stop turning I burst out of the van, popped the fuel cap, grabbed the pump handle, and clicked everything into place. The gasoline flowed. My father paid in the shop and everyone piled back into the van. We make it about 5 feet before a loud CLUNK caused my father to slam on the breaks.

I had left the handle in the tank. Nice. As my we pulled away, the hose had ripped free of the pump, flinging gas everywhere. To make matters worse, a small stream of gasoline still flowed from where the hose had torn loose. My father hopped out, muttering something under his breath, and jogged over to the pump. The clerk ran over with some tools and they managed to plug the leak. They exchanged some words and my father got back in the van, stinking of gas. I began to apologize profusely. Probably in tears. I can’t recall. I had let the team down... I had let my father down! It hurt. My incompetence caused the whole affair! My fuel pumping career was over! WE ALMOST DIED!

The next 300 miles was driven in silence. Except for the radio. It wandered between local CBC stations and static. I preferred the static. But life goes on and the fuel gauge again slowly dipped towards E. We took the next exit and pulled into the gas station. The van came to rest. Nothing happened for 30 seconds.

Finally, my father turned to me and said “Well, are you going to fill the tank or not?”