One morning last week, Daughter, on one of my telecommuting days, after rising at the ungodly hour of 10 a.m., came into the room where Wife and I work and turned on one of the cable channels that was showing Father of the Bride Part Two. This is the one where Steve Martin's character, George Banks, lives through both his wife and daughter being pregnant.
I am a sucker for both of the FOB movies, in which Martin reprised a role originally played by Spencer Tracy back in the 1940s or 50s. We are also big fans of the adorable Kimberly Williams Paisley, who is married to Country Singer Brad and lives here in Nashville. She plays the daughter's role that was originally done by Elizabeth Taylor.
Anyway, it did not take long for Wife and me to turn our eyes toward the TV and start sniffling at the poignant moments when both of the women give birth and George Banks simultaneously becomes a father and a grandfather. We could not help but think back on our own three times in the delivery room and all the passages through which we have come since those times.
One of them has just happened. Younger Son has taken to the streets behind the wheel of a car. Out of the three in our brood, Younger Son probably reminds me the most of myself. He loves life and approaches it with enthusiasm, but with a healthy amount of caution.
If there is a pillow on my bed that has a label that says, "DO NOT REMOVE UNDER PENALTY OF LAW" that tag will remain on that pillow for its life. If the carton says, "OPEN THIS SIDE ONLY," that is the only side that will be opened. When the computer screen has read, "YOU HAVE PERFORMED AN ILLEGAL ACTIVITY AND WINDOWS MUST SHUT DOWN," I have considered going to the local authorities and turning myself in.
When Younger Son turned 15 in October of 2007 and we offered to take him to get his learner's permit, he declined. When pressed, he finally confessed that he did not feel ready. This is different from his older siblings who were at the door of the DMV on their respective 15th birthdays.
Wife and I decided not to push it. She took him to a big parking lot a couple of times to let him get the feel for it, but the desire just was not there. More than that, there was on overriding fear about operating a car.
I decided that, just because the law states that a person in this state MAY start learning to drive when he/she turns 15, and become a licensed driver at 16, there is no law that states one HAS to. And Lord knows I don't want to make him do something with such potential danger that he does not want to do.
Yet at the same time, a couple of things concerned me. First, I know teenagers and I had a feeling that once peers started driving, his desire would kick in. Secondly, I did not want fear to prevent him from learning something that, sooner or later, he would want and need to do. I made him go get his learner's permit last summer just so he would have it when he became ready.
His 16th birthday came this past October. Unlike his older brother and sister, there was no acquisition of a driver's license on this date. We did the parking lot thing again a few times but he was adamant that he would not drive in traffic. Friends began driving, including his closest hanging-out buddy, but he stood firm.
Finally, in early December, I approached him again. I told him that I would be home about two weeks straight over Christmas and, if he wanted me to, I would devote a big part of that time teaching him to drive. He looked at me thoughfully, thanked me for my offer and told me he would think about it. A few days later he said he thought he would like that.
There are two big mega-churches near our house (one of which is ours) that have connecting parking lots which, combined, account for a number of acres of asphalt. The day after Christmas he and I went and got started. We stopped and started a lot. We went forward and we backed up. We parallel-parked and angle-parked.
His fists clinched the steering wheel and his lips were pursed together. Once again, the fear thing, which has been such a big part of my life, gripped him. I told him quietly and slowly that we could take all the time we needed, that I had nothing else on my calendar and we could drive in circles as long as it took for him to get comfortable.
At one point I told him I was going to get out of the car and watch him. "That's illegal!" he retorted. "I can't drive by myself!"
I assured him that the local police would not take an interest in his driving a car in a parking lot with me three feet away. Again, he's so much like me.
By the end of our second session I began to sense a little bit of relaxation and more confidence. I could tell he was getting the hang of it.
I had told him it would be a week or more before I even suggested driving in traffic but, on Day Three, I told him I thought he could drive from our house to the church, less than a mile away. He protested a bit but I urged him to take this step. The minute he felt too fearful, I told him, he could stop and let me take over.
He made it to the church parking lots just fine and we did our normal routine. After an hour I asked him if he woud like to drive home. He did. From that day on, we drove on the streets and I began to see the fear leave him, replaced by an ease and confidence that literally brought tears to my eyes. This was about so much more than driving.
He began to drive with Wife, Older Son and me whenever he would be with one of us in the car. He began to ask to drive and then began to ask, of course, when he could drive alone.
In March he took Driver Education on Saturdays and passed the driving portion of the driver's license test in April with flying colors. Wife and I told him, however, that we were not ready to let him drive alone, that he simply had not yet had enough practice.
He did not like it but he understood. We have had numerous conversations over the past couple of months about choices you make and the consequences of those choices, reminding him that his choice not to drive when he was of legal age had resulted in his not driving on his own just yet. I might add that I made this particular speech with an enormous amount of parental sanctimony that only a mom or dad could love.
Last Thursday night there was a party celebrating the last day of school. Wife called me earlier in the day and asked what I thought of letting him drive. I told her I thought it was a splendid idea. When she sprung it on him he was thrilled, but Wife said there was still a hint of fear which, for a 16-year-old about to drive by himself for the first time, is not altogether a bad thing. It's all about balance.
He was already gone when I arrived home. I had done a fair amount of praying throughout the day, once again turning over to my Heavenly Father this 200-plus pound baby, asking that He please have His angels accompany him each mile he would drive that night.
In typical fashion, he called us at 10:30 p.m. to say he was starting home. He arrived 15 minutes later, safe and sound. He looked older as he walked in. I hugged him as if he were coming home from war.
He looked at me quizzically and all I could say was, "You'll understand one day."
And another passage takes place.