We make things a little more serious with this post on driving safety.
My oldest daughter is 16. With her learner’s permit acquired in September, we’ve practiced driving since. I forgot how strange learning to drive was. It’s all coming back.
Nothing teaches you to do something like teaching it to others, and I’ve spent a great deal of time and sleepless nights thinking about driving and safety.
I can’t help it. One third of what’s most precious to me is taking up something that kills nearly 40,000 Americans each year.
Moments after she entered the world, as I, proud papa, beamed over her hospital basinet, she gripped my pinky, squeezing it tightly and not letting go. But we know who was wrapped around whose finger.
Moments of my fatherly failures come back to me now and again. When she was a toddler, she wanted to jump off a cement block. I helped her climb up but walked away in frustration, leaving her teetering there, when she chickened out (Grandma rescued her). And later, when she wanted to learn to ride a bike, I almost threw it in a ditch because she wouldn’t listen to my instructions. I’m not proud. I’m human.
How human have I been teaching her to drive?
Anyone lecturing me on letting go who hasn’t actually gone through it can get punched in the face. Yeah, yeah, yeah, all you can do is teach them to make good decisions. You can’t always be there to guide them. Save your platitudes. Try it first. This isn’t the sideline of some soccer field. There is no you’ll get ’em next time.
And so I speak calmly, soothingly, when the passenger side tires loudly object to running off the road’s edge. “Keep it in your lane,” I coo, “You’re doing great.” I watch other drivers fool around on their phones and drift across center lines. I hear them roar past our house far above the posted speed limit. And the sirens. The volunteer fire department is just up the road. Their wailing trucks scream by several times a day. I know where they’re going. Someone did something stupid behind the wheel. Someone else was minding her own business.
The other day she informed me enough time has passed. She can take the test and get her license any day now. Shortly after that I’ll stand in the driveway watching tail lights and a blinking turn signal, silently and desperately clinging to thin hope.