Driving Lessons

I thought I had put a real dent in our relationship. Then Dad showed me he was made of stronger stuff than his truck.

Life was going to start at 16. No more having Mom drop me off at dance practice or chauffeur me on my nights out. No more watching older sophomores jingle their key chains as I stepped off a sputtering bus. I was going to get my driver’s permit!

Sure, I would have to drive with an adult in the car, but it was the first step toward freedom. Since age 12 I had been bugging my father to let me practice, but Dad always refused. I still remember the lecture he gave me on the eve of receiving my permit.

“The car is not a toy. Blah, blah, blah. Driving is a serious thing. Blah, blah, blah. People get in car wrecks. Blah, blah, blah.”

I sat in the living room, arms folded, listening quietly. But there was a gleam in my eye. I was ready to hit the road. When Dad put the keys in my hands, I felt a surge of power. Life had begun!

So think of my surprise when driving turned out to be infinitely more difficult than I’d imagined. The road looked so small from the driver’s seat. I could never shake the feeling I was overlapping into the next lane. Every time an oncoming car neared me, I swerved to get away. What’s more, I had lived in the same town all my life and never paid attention to how to get anywhere.

Now, if these had been the only crises of my driving career, I would have probably reached 17 unscarred. But I had to face another obstacle on a daily basis—our driveway.

Our driveway was five times as long as a normal one and had an uphill curve right at the end. It might have been manageable going forward, but Dad insisted we back in. He said he liked to pull out onto the road and see what was coming at him.

It was nearly impossible to negotiate the thing in reverse. To make matters worse, Dad always parked his truck right on the other side of the driveway. It was a big truck that left little room for error. And the truck was Dad’s pride and joy, a sitting duck in a bad location.

One fateful day, after I’d finished trying to find my way through town, I failed the driveway obstacle course. Dad was sitting in the passenger seat yelling his usual directions at me, “Okay, take it slowly. To the right. To the RIGHT! You need more gas. Turn it left now. LEFT! Straighten it out. Straighten it! Straightenstraightenstraighten! STOP!!!” Crunch.

My father leaped from the car and surveyed the damage. The truck had an ugly, ugly dent. He was furious.

“Why didn’t you straighten the car out? Why didn’t you stop?”

I had tried to stop, but I had pressed the gas instead of the brake. I didn’t tell him though. I went in my bedroom, and cried. Life had ended.

A while later, a knock came on the door. I opened it, and Dad stepped in.

“I owe you an apology,” he said. “I’ve always believed people are more important than things, but that’s not how I acted just now. I’m sorry.”

I was too amazed to say much. I had just smashed his truck and he was apologizing to me. He was really sorry. It was a lesson I would remember long after the other driving sessions had faded from recall.

Three days later, my younger brother noticed the dent. We were about to get in the car to leave for his soccer game.

“Wow!” my brother gasped. “What happened to the truck?”

“It was a hit and run,” Dad said calmly. Which in the broadest sense was true. I had hit the truck and run to my room. My brother didn’t notice the half smile Dad slid to me. I smiled and got in on the driver’s side.

“Okay,” I said cheerfully. “How do we get to the soccer field?”

[illustration] Illustrated by Roger Motzkus