Some things are best left to the professionals
My first (and last) time trying to teach my daughter how to drive
I thought I was the calm parent – until I put my daughter behind the wheel. Truth be told, I am coo-coo bananas lunatic whose Father of the Year sash should be repossessed by whatever group designates such things.
Teaching her to read, how to tie her shoes, how to make tea, how Bon Jovi is never the answer and even how to lip a largemouth bass – these things were simple. Teaching her to drive, however, is the true test of a sober-minded, patient parent (which is to say, not me.)
There will be a time in the not-too-distant future when my nearly 16-year-old will be able to drive everywhere – to school, to band rehearsals, to music lessons, to her cousins’ house. But after our very brief recent driving lesson, I may be content with carting her around until she’s in her 40s. It’s not her driving skills, because those will develop. It’s my dad skills.
It seemed like a good idea to get her somewhat familiar with sitting in the driver’s seat before we sent her out onto the roadways of southern New Hampshire with her driving school instructor. I thought it would help prepare her, so I told her: “I’m going to have you drive down the driveway when we get home. Just go straight, slow to a stop and put it in park. It’ll be easy.”
It felt odd to take my place on the right side of the car and watch her adjust the mirror, buckle her seatbelt and put her hands on the wheel, but not quite as odd as it felt when she started driving up the lawn toward the house. I’ll back up a bit.
As soon as she put her hands on the wheel, I realized I never explained a single thing about driving to her, so I ran down the basics: Which pedal was the brake, which pedal would make you go forward, and how to put it in drive, park and reverse.
“I’m going to leave it in park, but I want you to press down on the accelerator, very gently, so you can see how it responds,” I told her.
The shockingly thunderous sound that came roaring out of the exhaust of my very sensible Subaru probably weakened fault lines along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Sorry, U.S. Geological Survey.
“That’s not gently.”
So we started again. When I felt confident she wasn’t going to drive her foot through the floor of the car, I told her to put it in drive and take her foot off the brake. We started inching forward. Our incomprehensibly slow progress started to veer slightly to the right. I looked at her.
“Steer,” I said, still calm.
The car continued on its deliberate course as it gradually left the driveway and began traversing the edge of our lawn.
“Steer.” I was slightly less calm. “Steer!”
The car crept even further onto the grass and started along an inexorable path up the hill toward the house. This was the precise moment I stopped being AwesomeDad™.
I had her back up onto the asphalt, straighten it out and continue along our 50-foot journey toward the end of the driveway. We did arrive at our destination, but not before I got a glimpse at my parenting deficiencies. I know she’ll do fine, but it might be best if I leave it to the professionals.
Fair’s fair, though. She teaches me how to beat boss levels on Mario Odyssey, and it’s probably just as maddening.
Bill Burke is a very jittery stunt driver/writer who lives in southern N.H. with his wife and daughter. He is also the managing editor of Custom Publications at McLean Communications and is celebrating his 10th year as PNH‘s Dad on Board.