Bringing up Baby Driver

Driving instruction is best left to the professionals – I’m out

If the jockey is nervous, the horse is nervous.

This is what I learned during a recent driving excursion that featured my teen daughter at the wheel, and me, shouting and grasping the driver’s headrest in a white knuckle death-grip from the back seat.

She’s 15 now, almost 16, and it’s time for her to learn to drive. What she doesn’t need to learn is how to communicate with her dad, because two minutes into our trip, she offered up that rather appropriate analogy. Evidently, I was the jockey, and screaming “turn!” and “slow down!” and “this song is horrible change the station!” at every opportunity helps no one – especially the horse.

My personal journey into the heart of darkness started on a recent warm night, when I got it into my head that we would visit a barbecue joint near our house. It’s essentially a tin shack without air conditioning, featuring blues music and amazing food. Total authenticity from the moment you step through the door. After about five minutes, however, two-thirds of our party of three seemed less interested in authenticity and more in keeping perspiration out of their brisket. They pleaded with me to abandon what my wife had renamed “the sweat lodge of food.” I agreed, we boxed up our order and took it on the road.

A few miles into our ride home, I thought it would be good for our teen to get some driving time. I pulled over and we switched places – she got behind the wheel, my wife remained in the passenger seat and I got into the back. I entered the vehicle that night a young-at-heart father and husband with a sunny disposition. The next time my feet touched the welcoming predictability of solid earth, I had transformed into a brittle, shattered husk of a man, incapable of rational discourse and more than a little shaky.

She’s not a bad driver at all; she’s just inexperienced at this point – just as I am an inexperienced driving instructor. And by “inexperienced,” I mean “horrible.” There’s a reason I’m not a driving instructor, and apparently that reason is my paralyzing fear of being a driving instructor.

Luckily, she only absorbed a small amount of my back seat belligerence. My wife offered encouragement in soothing tones, which was a far cry from my jittery jockey technique. With each passing mile, she became more confident.

“I might be the best driver ever.”

“I’m Baby Driver.”

“I think I’m going to be a getaway driver.”

Carting her around for the rest of my life isn’t a reasonable option and shouting at her from the back seat isn’t going to get us anywhere. She starts driving school this month, so I know that one day soon we’ll look back on this and laugh. In the meantime, we’ll just leave it to the professionals.   

Bill Burke is a writer who lives in southern New Hampshire with his wife and daughter, aka Girl Speed Racer. He is also the managing editor of custom publications for McLean Communications.

Categories: Dad on Board