The empty passenger seat

When my daughter gets her license I’m going to miss our time together

I’ve been terrible about helping my 16-year-old prepare to get her drivers’ license. In fact, her mother seems to think I’m actively working against her achieving this milestone.

Bust out the Worst Dad Ever sash, because I have to admit, she’s not wrong.

I’m not a George Bluth Sr./Darth Vader level bad-dad, but I certainly could’ve helped expedite things. Only I didn’t.

To get her license, she has to amass 40 hours of driving practice. Every time I take her anywhere or pick her up from school or play rehearsal or band practice, my wife will ask, “did you let her drive?” And every time I answer, “no.” I claim that I love driving so much that I just can’t bear the thought of not doing it, which is of course not exactly true.

From the time she first got behind the wheel, I’ve had the typical visions going through my mind that every parent has to deal with: the risk of fender-benders, possible speeding tickets, and the unthinkable – what if Bon Jovi comes on the radio and she can’t figure out how to change the station?

All very real concerns, of course, but even that’s not why I’ve delayed things. Here’s the truth of it all: I just don’t want that passenger seat next to me to be empty.

Whenever I get in the car, she’s there. We play Name That Tune. We talk about school and work and family and life. We make plans and talk about her future. We live in the middle of nowhere, so everything is a half-hour away. Her high school, the mall, the movie theater – everything. So if I have to take her somewhere, I get a full hour of her undivided attention. Some of the best conversations we’ve ever had have been in the car.

When she was still strapped into the baby seat she uttered her first song request: “Please put on ‘Dear Prudence.’” When she was in first grade I convinced her that the car’s ignition button actually controlled the ejection seat that would launch her into the woods across the street. While waiting for the bus one day at the end of the driveway she tried to convince me that the name of the NHL team in Toronto was the Fish Sticks.

Once she has her license, she won’t need me to drive her around anymore, those weird conversations will be in the rear-view mirror and that passenger seat will be empty.

There was a time a year or so ago when I complained about carting her around after a long day. A friend, who has a son two years older than my daughter, offered a valuable piece of advice: “Don’t rush it, because you will miss those times.”

And now that we’re on the verge of sending her off on her first maiden voyages down the road, those words are ringing in my ears. Better than Bon Jovi, I suppose.

Bill Burke is a writer who lives in southern New Hampshire with his wife and daughter who only listens to good music while she’s driving. He is also the Managing Editor of Custom Publications at McLean Communications.

Categories: Dad on Board