We’ve all heard the same tired jokes: “Look out (insert name of locale here), (insert name of new driver here) just got his/her driver’s license!” Or, “I’ll be sure to avoid driving in your neighborhood for a while!” As the father of a 15 year-old boy with a brand new instructional driving permit, I now realize there is nothing funny about teenagers getting behind the wheel for the first time.
I think the reason everyone seems to have so much fun with the notion of having a new driver in the family is because humor is a good way to mask terror. Although Alex’s first few driving lessons have gone well, I am positively terrified at the idea of my baby eventually barreling down Highway 63 at seventy miles per hour.
I’m a very good driver. (Insert “Rainman” jokes here.) I make that boast because driving is one of the few skills I actually do possess. You can’t fake being a good driver. I know that I can teach my son to be a good driver, too. Unfortunately, I can’t teach all the other drivers in the world how to avoid killing my child.
I can still remember the first time I drove a car. My mom had driven us south of my hometown of Hannibal and pulled her 1977 Datsun B210 to a stop in the middle of a winding, shoulderless, two-lane road with blind turns and high hills. Although the speed limit was 55, I don’t think I broke 30 MPH. I was scared out of my mind. Rather than simply having me try some starts and stops in a big, empty parking lot, Mom decided to put me in a life or death situation right from the start. That’s how Mom rolled, though. This was the same woman who tried to teach me how to swim by throwing me into the Pacific Ocean. (Spoiler alert: That didn’t work out very well.)
Luckily, I took to driving pretty quickly. I learned the rules of the road, developed an uncanny knack for sensing and avoiding danger, and discovered that I love being behind the wheel of an automobile. Hopefully, with a little help from his old man, Alex will follow in my tire tracks. Thus far, however, he hasn’t shown much interest in driving. That seems to be the case in a lot of young people these days. My brother Taylor, who graduated from Mizzou last month, finally got his driver’s license just a couple weeks ago. I must admit that as much as I liked driving as a teenager, even I waited about four months after my 16th birthday to get my license. But that was mostly born of pure laziness, not necessarily apathy.
I must also admit that if Alex or my other children decide not to get their licenses, I will not be upset. With all of the distracted and drunk drivers on the roads today, I do worry about what might happen to my babies when they no longer need me to taxi them everywhere. All I can do is teach them what I know about being hyper-aware of what’s going on around them, and then trust them to make good decisions.
Alex will become more confident each time he gets behind the wheel, and I will become more confident in his abilities with each practice session, too. Eventually, I will have to let my not-so-little fledgling fly on his own. I know he’ll be great, but parents never stop worrying about their kids, no matter how old or independent (or tall) they are. Alex stands almost 6’3” tall nowadays, eight inches taller than me, but he will always be my baby, and I will always be concerned for his well-being.
The plus-side of Alex driving is that I now have a legitimate excuse to search for another vehicle. Oh, not for him of course. Dad’s having a bit of a midlife crisis. It’s nothing a 1957 Chevrolet can’t fix, though.
by Travis Naughton