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Guest Posting: Teaching Kids To Drive: The Curse Continues

 

My father considered it a warning, but it sounded like a curse to me. The only thing missing was a voodoo doll in my likeness with protruding pins.

He was unapologetic, regarding it as an inescapable certainty—“like death and taxes,” he would say. “Someday…,” his curse would always begin, as if the element of suspense was needed to give it weight, “your kids won’t listen to you like you don’t listen to me.” It was a fate passed down to him by his father and, as the legend was supposed to go, I would one day pass it to my own children.

Whether warning or curse, it turned out to be true. I didn’t listen to my father. I didn’t appreciate his wisdom or perspective and, as he predicted, my children have kept alive that dubious tradition. Nowhere has this lack of listening been more prevalent than in the context of learning to drive.

My dad taught me to drive—a fact that seems almost inconceivable now that his driving skills have been compromised by arthritic knees, fading eyesight and slowing reactions. Not that you can measure these things, but he’d be the first to admit he wasn’t the greatest driver in the world. Even at his prime he drove too slowly, sometimes dangerously so. And, like a modern day “Wrong Way Corrigan,” my father always got lost. A simple trip to the corner store could turn into an hour long adventure with my dad.

Despite these flaws, maybe even because of them, he was a wonderful teacher. He had an ability to reduce the act of driving to a series of bite-sized “teaching points,” memorable for their resonance beyond driving into life.

I enjoyed the time we spent together tooling around the streets of Western New York; each lesson an opportunity to show off to the “old man.” I wanted to impress him with my driving skills but was incapable of giving him the satisfaction of admitting that he was responsible for those skills. Even today, my father is one of the most patient people I know and it is a testament to that patience that he never smacked my arrogant, teenage puss.

Instead he let me show off. He knew that a confident driver was a competent driver. My arrogance angered and frustrated him for sure, but he rarely let it show.

He was wise too. He knew that my punishment would come, not then, but “someday” when I was sitting in the passenger’s seat, teaching my own children to drive. As he tells it now, the vision of future me—red-faced, with forehead veins popping—was enough to make him put up with my smugness.

What I didn’t appreciate was that the lessons were only partly about driving.

Through driving, my father was teaching me about life. And like most teens, I didn’t get it.

When we approached a stop sign, he would warn me to stop completely. “Don’t be lazy,” he’d chirp after I rolled then took off again with only a slight pause. He was warning against taking the easy way, or cutting corners. If you take the shortcut when it doesn’t matter, it will be easier to take when it really counts.

And when he told me to creep closer to the corner of an intersection, making sure the road was clear before turning right on red, he was teaching me to make decisions only when I had considered all options and the ramifications of each one. “Don’t make a move,” he would warn, “until you are sure it is clear.”

He taught me to keep my speed up when I changed lanes. “Don’t hesitate and never slow down,” he would say. “Put on your turn signal, make sure the lane is clear, and then GO.” The lesson was to commit once I had made a decision to act. No hesitation or second guessing allowed.

He drilled into me a wariness of others, not because he was negative, but because he was cautious. He taught me to be ready for any eventuality. To him, Driving Lesson Number One was to assume every other driver on the road would act irrationally. The car ahead, now moving along nicely, would stop—suddenly. And the car now waiting for the right of way would go—just as suddenly. He was teaching me that I alone was responsible for my outcomes, not just my actions. Blaming others was an unacceptable response to a bad result, even when blame is deserved. Expect chaos and you can avoid, or at the very least minimize, damage.

So now, in the midst of teaching my youngest daughter to drive, I find myself repeating the same bits of advice my dad dished out. And, true to form, each one is met with rolled eyes and an impatient “Dad….”

The curse has come true.

So tell me, GEM nation… how did you get through it and did you find yourself?

More from GEM:

All Grown Up: You Sure About That Buddy?

The GEM Debate: Is THIS The New Graduation Gift

Ask Rene: My Son Rejected My Religion

John Marchese

John Marchese is an attorney, writer, imperfect father and husband of a perfect wife and mother. He is a shareholder at Colucci & Gallaher, P.C. in Buffalo, New York and a frequent contributor to The Disney Driven Life. John may be reached, followed or ignored at jjmarchese.com and on Facebook and Twitter.

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