My Teenager Drives

A Dad's Point of View by Bruce SallanI put off enabling my son to drive for as long as I could, but he passed the driver’s test on his third try and succeeded in getting his grades up to our agreed-upon level. I couldn’t delay it any longer. He now drives.  As a native Southern Californian, I grew up in a car culture and time when we got our licenses literally on the day of our 16th birthday, or the Monday after, if our luck was really bad.

Thankfully, it isn’t that easy anymore. Driving, in this dad’s humble opinion, is wrought with more dangers than ever, though the cars may have more safety features than ever.  Safety features, however, don’t fully account for foolish choices, increased traffic, and drunk drivers. Nor do “safety features” account for the sad reality, again in my opinion, that young men and women are not maturing as quickly as we did. I think kids today are spoiled, allowed to remain kids much longer, and may just not be ready to drive at the tender age of 16.

There’s a common saying about getting older that goes something like “50 is the new 40” and similarly for other major age milestones. I would assert the reverse with teenagers and declare, “16 is the new 14.”  Consequently, with this belief and many parents having the same belief and fears, more and more young men and women are not getting their driving licenses as quickly anymore.

Another major change is that “Driver’s Ed,” formerly a course available in all high schools has gone the way of art classes, shop classes, and so many other courses that have disappeared due to funding issues in our schools.  Now, it’s done in the private sector and the driving schools in our area are absolutely overwhelmed, and getting the required training is a scheduling nightmare.  An adjunct of this change in courses offered at our high schools is the diminution of what we used to call “trades.”  Not every kid should be college-bound.

Nonetheless, we got were able to finish the Driving School requirements.  I left it to my son to make the appointments, knowing (and hoping) he’d procrastinate.  He did.  I didn’t anticipate that passing the DMV written exam would require three efforts or that the driving exam would take two.  All that just conveniently delayed his getting a license, to my ultimate relief.  The delays allowed us to spend more time in the car together and to assure me that he was indeed ready to be trusted with over a ton of moving steel.

My son finally got his driving license shortly after his 17th birthday.  We began allowing him to borrow one of our cars.  Later, when I bought my wife a deserved new car, we actually had an extra car that my son could use.  It’s not his, but it’s quickly becoming his, by virtue of his getting his first job and my relief at not having to schlep him everywhere.

There are many passages that parent’s experiences that bring on strong emotions and melancholy.  While it may not be PC (politically correct), I think women have more of these feelings, generally, with such events as a child’s first day going to school.  Of course, many parents suffer many emotions when their children actually leave the home, to attend college, and hopefully, if they’re lucky, not to return to living at home.  Statistics indicate that something like 85% of college graduates are returning home because they either can’t find a job or can’t afford to live on their own, due to our present poor economy and unemployment figures.

This driving passage for my son was my emotional reality check that “my boy” was not a boy anymore.  It was “driven” home recently with an innocuous event that I only thought about afterward as significant. I met my son for lunch at a nearby restaurant.  The logistics were such that we drove separately and met up at the designated restaurant.

We ate lunch and talked, and it could have been a peer, an adult friend, or anyone other than my “little boy.”  Afterward, we shook hands and hugged, and walked to our respective cars.  As I walked alone to mine, it struck me that this had never happened before!  The simple act of meeting my son for lunch dramatically drove home the beginning of his full independence. This is how it will be, later, when we’ll likely meet this way, when he’s living on his own — sometime in his late twenties or early thirties. Just like grown-ups!

“Well, he came home from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
“Son, I’m proud of you, can you sit for a while?”
He shook his head and said with a smile
“What I’d really like, Dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?”

(Lyrics from “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin)

I’m not ready for this!

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