What My Redneck Dad Could Hear

As I promised in my last post, here’s a story about another kind of ear training. 

My father lacked any musical talent whatsoever.  When he repeated the cliche that he “couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket,” he was absolutely accurate.  He had, though, a very well-trained ear. 

Once, when I was about 10 years old, my older sister’s boyfriend drove into the driveway to pick her up for their date.  My father, always on the lookout for something to prove the unsuitability of my sister’s suitors, strolled up to greet the nervous boy.  I had been racing my model cars down our paved driveway and had stood over in the grass, anxious for the guy to get my sister and vacate the driveway so I could get on with my play.  My dad had been working in the shop out back and had a sizable lump in his cheek from a chaw of tobacco.  He wiped his greasy hands on a rag and said, “You need a valve job.”

I could tell it threw the poor guy off a bit.


“Yeah.  You let that engine go much farther sounding like that, you’ll have a real problem.”


“Crank ‘er up.”

The boy looked confused, but he got back in the car and turned the ignition.  My dad said, “Ya hear that?  Open the hood.”

The poor guy didn’t know how to open the hood, so my father let out a heavy sigh, lifted the hood and stood over the idling engine.  I walked over and peered over the fender.  My sister’s date bent slightly at the waist, his hands in his pockets.

Dad pointed at the valve cover on the right side of the V-8 Buick the boy had borrowed from his own dad.  “Right under there, one of them valves is stickin’.”

Then my sister walked up, said, “Oh good grief, daddy.  This is Ron.  Ron this is my dad.”  They shook hands and dad handed the boy his rag to wipe away the residual grease.  Dad closed the hood and spat a brown stream of tobacco juice. “Better learn how to open this hood, boy!”

My sister rolled her eyes, hopped in the front seat, slid over next to the boy and as they drove off, my dad stood there looking after them.  I thought he’d be a bit upset at how close my sister had sidled up to her date, but dad looked sideways at me and said, “Listen to that thing!  Just clickety-clack!  Clickety-clack!”  

There were lots of things that didn’t work in my house growing up, but our cars were always perfect.  Dad could hear the problems coming long before they developed into anything major.  Neighbors would bring their cars over to our house and say to my dad, “Something doesn’t sound right, Dick.  What do you think’s wrong with it?”  And dad would listen and speculate, and he was usually right: because he’d trained his ear.

A lot of that rubbed off on me.  I can tell quite a bit about the mechanical health of a vehicle just by listening – because I had a mentor who opened my ears to those kinds of signals.

Again, this is true for our spiritual lives.  If we haven’t trained our ears to hear certain signals from our souls, we can completely overlook what might be unhealthy in our own lives.  Fortunately, mentors live among us.  Have you ever sought out such a teacher?  It might be worth the search!

About Drexel Rayford

Drexel has been senior pastor of four churches in Kentucky and Virginia, a psychiatric ward chaplain, denominational bureaucrat, and an erstwhile indie singer/songwriter/story-teller and seeker of authentic human vocation. Currently, Drexel is working at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical Center in the capacity of The Support Team Network manager, a hospital-based community partnership aimed at nurturing healing communities for discharged patients. He loves kayaking, road cycling, hiking, and all kinds of photography, but he loves his wife Vicki and blended family of three adult children more. He holds a Ph.D. in the Psychology of Religion and a pastoral counseling certificate from the University of Louisville, Department of Psychiatry.
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