Side Seat Driver

I have a confession to make, one that I’m sure I share with quite a few people. It’s also not really a secret. You see, I make a lousy passenger. It’s true. I know there are people out there who love to be chauffeured around, free from the stress of watching for jay walkers or wondering why the idiot in front of them with the turning signal on for the past five miles hasn’t turned, yet. I am not one of those people, however. Ask my wife and eldest son. They’ll tell you. I’ve tried. Really, I have. However, without a strait jacket and gag, I drive the one behind the wheel crazy in a short amount of time.

“You’re too close.” “Why are you so far back?” “Why do you wait until the last minute to hit the brakes?” “What’s taking you so long? Go!”

I know. It’s a sickness.

I’ve even tried diversions, such as reading or trying to write while they drive. However, nothing keeps my mind from going bezerk wondering how on earth the man at the DMV could have bestowed upon these people a license. My mom is just as bad, so I blame her. Growing up, she told story of when they went on vacation and her side seat driving shifted into high gear. They traveled in a black and white Ford Galaxy back in the seventies and the horn was a metal ring inside the steering wheel. Theirs must have been loose. Finally, my dad had had enough of my mom’s constant advice and finally shouted, “Do you want to drive?” “Yes!” “Fine.” He jerked the silver ring out and shoved it at her scaring five of the typical nine cat’s lives out of her, because she thought he had yanked the steering wheel off. Now she was side-seat driving and yelling at him for breaking her car.

People like me don’t mean to do it. You see, we just can’t help it. We need to be in control, because we know what we’re doing. Other people, on the other hand, may not and that scares our hairs to attention.

The girls say I’m just as bad when it comes to the kids. I have a bad habit of side seat driving there, as well. We’ll get a phone call or hear some news on a visit about some scheme they have going and, as soon as they’ve left, I’ll look at the girls and start muttering. “Why in the world are they doing that? It makes no sense.” And then I go through a long diatribe of what they should be doing, instead.

“And you did what your parents said?”

I looked at them like they were crazy. “No way. My parents didn’t know what was going on. I do.”

They just nod and fix me some popcorn.

It’s a give and take situation. They need to learn to make decisions, and so, we have to give them those chances. My son and I experienced this in a very simple matter just last year. We were going to one of Orlando’s theme parks and Nathan had Googled the directions. I hear that’s big with people nowadays, asking the computer to tell you where to go. I’ve been doing it for years, telling people where to go, so I don’t know what the big deal is. I looked at his sheet of paper and said, “But I’ve been making this trip for thirty years. We take I-95 to 528 and turn west on I-4.” I even told him what exit we were to get off on.

“But this way is faster and will save us toll money,” he said. So, always willing to save 75 cents, I told him to lead on and I would follow. To be honest, it was tough for me, sort of like allowing them to carve the Thanksgiving Day turkey, but part of a dad’s responsibility is to give their children a chance to lead. Of course, I was still in the car behind him muttering under my breath. “Why is he going so slowly?” “How is this way faster?”

It seemed to be taking longer with his directions, and soon I was lost. Finally, we pulled into a convenience store and Nathan came over to me, shaking his head. “I don’t understand it. The directions say make a u-turn at this street and in two minutes we would be there.”

“A u-turn?” I asked, looking back the way we had come. He just nodded. “But that would put us heading back the way we came and we were on that road for five minutes. I didn’t see the park.”

With a sheepish shrug of his shoulders, he merely said, “Neither did I.” He got back in the car and followed me. Twenty minutes and seventy-five cents later, we were paying outrageous parking fees to get into the park - and I didn’t say, “I told you so.” I was happy to be able to hold the wheel again for a little while.

However, I can’t stay there. I can’t live their lives. Oh, I can give advice, and I am quite free with it. Yet, the choices are theirs and even if I see them making some of the mistakes I made growing up or heading in a direction I know is not going to end well, all I can do is give warning and be there to help them back up of they make a wrong turn. Some lessons have to be experienced, and some just have to learn things the hard way. We have a couple of kids like that, and I mutter and the girls feed me more popcorn and I wait, sitting impatiently in the side seat of their life. Eventually, I get the phone call. “Hey, pops, I don’t understand how it happened. I need your help.”

Sometimes I want to scream, I know how it happened! You didn’t listen to me! But I don’t. I just say, “How can I help?” We’re there for them, the girls and me. We’ll always be there. I can’t imagine a parent not always being there for their child, no matter what, because sometimes sitting in the seat beside them allows us the best opportunity to remain a guiding force in their lives.

It wasn’t easy for me to turn the wheel and slide over, but it’s been an exciting ride that I wouldn’t have missed for anything in the world. The kids are good drivers and I have no doubt they’ll steer through life with great success. They should. How do I know? Because, I’m the one who taught them how to drive.

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