On Being a Driving Teacher

When I tell my friends that my son has no real interest in driving, the reaction is universally one of surprise. For Americans of my generation, driving happened as soon as it could. Driving represented freedom from parents, access to move theaters, more time with friends and potential partners. Of course, this was the time before cell phones, meaning that it was harder to be in contact with people of our own generation…spending time on the family landline meant waiting your turn, and having the sneaking suspicion that your essential conversation is being listened to by other members of the household.

 Despite his reluctance, Youngest Child is now resigned to spending some part of his life behind the wheel of a car. Which is how I come to be in the passenger seat of my own car, in a parking lot beside my preferred Starbucks, with a teenager nervously gripping the steering wheel, one Sunday afternoon.

 This experience is a microcosm of my experience of being his dad. I became his dad when he was about three, coming in after the hard initial work had been done, taking responsibility for building on what had come before. The same for driving. I had managed to avoid the difficult and terrifying early lessons, and I was coming in to fine-tune what he already knew.

 Like being his dad, being his driving instructor showed me how well he fits into the world and how the world was lucky to have a young person like him coming into adulthood. But, like parenthood, teaching a teenager to drive will always be at least just a little bit terrifying.

My regular reader will realize that I am maybe not the ideal person to be teaching someone else to drive. And this was one of the reasons I had been reluctant to contribute to Youngest Child’s driving education. My driving anxiety has no doubt contributed to his preference for public transport…

 His recent and first solo trip on a bus will maybe leave him with a motivation to get his driving license. Twice, he chose the wrong bus, ending up in parts of town he’d never been before. “I think I saw a prostitute,” he said. And then described the drug deal being done at the bus stop he ended up at. We were back behind the wheel the next day.

 I’ve taken him on quiet roads, on bigger roads at quiet times, and we do a lot of parking-lot driving. As yet, I have resisted the urge to have a little alcoholic support during any of these times. I feel like some medal might be in order.

 I’m pleased to report that, so far, all has gone pretty well. He stays in his lane, sticks to the speed limit, and is attentive. He has some trouble taking directional instructions while also concentrating on the mechanics of keeping us both safe in a heavy metal box surrounded by other, mostly heavier, metal boxes – “Take this left, THIS ONE, that one back there, never mind we’ll get the next one…” – but that comes with practice. This weekend, I’ll be taking him out again, teaching him the essentials. Putting gas in the car (and paying for it), keeping the car clean, maybe a little driving if he’s feeling brave. Baby steps, people.

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