My oldest son got his learners’ permit last week.
Yesterday he was driving a yellow and red plastic car around the yard, terrorizing potted plants and sprinkler heads.
Today he’s sitting behind the wheel of a steel Volkswagen Jetta driving around neighborhood streets and avoiding trucks, bikes, and joggers.
I wish I hadn’t blinked.
It’s impossible to sit in the passenger’s seat and not remember my own experience at the same age learning to drive with my father.
My dad gripped the sun-cracked door handle on our Dodge Hornet like he was strapped to the outside of a rocket headed to the moon.
Probably a good call on his part—I wasn’t the most careful driver.
Looking in life’s rearview mirror, my dad was what you might call a narrating instructor.
“You’re doing nicely.”
“Stay in your lane.”
“Check your speed.”
“You’re drifting a bit to that ditch on the right.”
“Son, you’re going to fall into that ditch.”
“Dagnabit, Jason! Get out of the ditch!”
Such good times.
There were, of course, countless lessons woven into those miles.
Years later they come at me like bright billboards on the side of life’s highway.
Be kind to other drivers—We have no idea what’s going on inside their car or what obstacles they’ve had to navigate. And always look for those with car trouble. After all, aren’t we just trying to help one another get safely home?
Pay attention to the signs—Sometimes they’re on the side of the road; sometimes they come from heaven. It’s dangerous to ignore any of them.
Speed kills—There’s a time to go fast and a time to go slow. Learn which is which. Then never forget that if you go too fast for too long, you might end up out of gas on the side of the road.
Trust your lane—Know which lane you’re supposed to be in, but don’t be afraid to change lanes when the right opportunity comes along. And when you do, be courteous of those around you who might not necessarily want to change lanes at the same time. Respect agency.
Happy sigh. There were so many lessons.
As my mind and memories move from that old Dodge to today’s Volkswagen, I finally recognize those lessons were as much about life outside the car than in it.
Back then at the end of the lessons, I was the one handing the keys back to my dad, my instructor, the guy who would drive us home.
Today it’s my turn to collect the keys from my student driver.
Back then I wished more than anything that I could have driven us back to the house.
But today? Oh, how I wish Dad could have driven the entire trip.
I hope my son is listening when I tell him to pay attention, gain confidence, learn the lessons, and trust his instructor.
Because as much as I might like to, I know I can’t drive him all the way home.