Everything you need to know about Shawn Steil can be summed up in one story.
The year was 2000, and winter was just melting away to spring. Iowa mornings were still cold enough that cars parked outside overnight needed to be scraped, their windows to be cleared of frost. I was the oldest of five kids at home, and though not quite 16, I was the lucky beneficiary of a lenient drivers license policy, as I had a "school license" allowing me to drive myself to and from school and school functions. More importantly, I had a car!
My father's father had recently died, leaving our family his 1986 light blue Plymouth Reliant. Believe me when I tell you that the car had no features - no tape player, no automatic windows or locks. It did have a radio, and most importantly: it had wheels. It drove!
I was a 15 year old kid, with a bunch of siblings, so let's be honest here: I was lucky to have any car of my own. But going to a fancy private school every day, well... an old car kind of stuck out. I know better now, but at the time, I sorta hated the Reliant.
At the same time, my family had two other cars. A mini-van and a forest green Saturn. Certainly I didn't want to drive the Mom-mobile, but whenever I could, I asked to drive our cool car, our Saturn. Saturday nights when my parents would be together? I got the Saturn. My parents meeting us at Church? I got the Saturn.
One morning before school, I went outside to turn on the Reliant, so that it would defrost partway while I went back inside to eat breakfast. I walked out the front door and - oh my Lord in Heaven - the Reliant was missing. I ran back inside, barely being able to get the words out.
"The Reliant was stolen!" I screamed at my mom. She went outside, looked around confused, and opened the garage door. The Reliant wasn't in there, but long after my dad should have left in his Saturn, the green car sat idle - figuratively - in the garage.
I was confused. "I thought dad left an hour ago?" I must have asked my mom. Gradually, I caught on.
My dad left the Saturn for me.
Which meant he took the Reliant to work.
This silly game lasted for days and weeks. I would walk outside to climb in the Reliant, only to find that my dad had left the Saturn for me that morning. Although I sure tried to not get my hopes up, I'm sure now that they were. After weeks - maybe months I'm not sure now - my family got rid of the Reliant, and moved on to a more reliable "kids car". By the time we traded it in, I hadn't driven it in months. In effect, my dad had taken it over and given me the benefit of the nicer, newer and, yes cooler vehicle.
Ok, I lied. This isn't everything that you should know about Shawn Steil, but it's a start. There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of things I'd like you to know, stories I'd like to tell, and maybe someday I will. In the meantime, if you know nothing else, know this: he is the kind of parent that I want to be.
Happy birthday, Dad. I love you.