I’m holding onto the shoulder harness above my head with my right hand like my life depended on it. I’m fretting over every slight move of the car; how close we are to the middle of the road; how close we are to the edge of the road; every start and stop.
My head is a on a swivel, watching out for cars and pedestrians that might surprise us and cause us to crash. We approach a busy intersection. I step down on my make-believe, passenger-side brake. I push down on it again. And again. We’re getting closer and closer to the intersection. Nothing’s happening. We’re not slowing down. I push down a fourth time and yell to my son that he might want to think about using his brake. Yes, the brake. Any day now. Any time. And finally, he brakes and we come to an abrupt stop-on-a-dime halt.
I let out a sign of relief. I try to hide that I’m a mental wreck, while also doing my best to encourage and offer a few insights to my son that might help him the next time he gets behind the wheel. Yes, my son has his learner’s permit and is learning how to drive.
In fairness to him, he’s doing a great job, way better than me when I was the same age. He’s very calm behind the wheel, makes sure to double and triple-check before pulling out in traffic and puts safety first. He’s going to be a great driver.
Stepping aside for others
Later when I’m back in the comfort of our home, I think about why the experience is so uncomfortable for me, especially since he’s been practicing frequently with his mother and seems to know what’s doing. I know it’s a rite of passage for the both of us, him experiencing the freedom that comes with driving and me handing over the keys to my car. I never thought of myself as a controlling person, but sitting in the passenger seat has taken me out of my element. I’m no longer in control. My safety is in his hands.
I groan at the mere thought. Ugh.
Since that particular road test, my son and I have gone driving a few more times. I’m trying to make sure he has experience in all types of weather — rain, snow, fog — and conditions. I’ve found that I’m learning to live with the feeling of being powerless, but it doesn’t come natural for me. I’m sure I’ll get used to it in time. It’s just going to take time — a long time.
The moments that challenge a father’s soul
As I get used to my son driving, I’ve been thinking about how most people, me included, fool ourselves into thinking that we’re in control of our lives. I make decisions all the time about work, home, kids, family. The list goes on-and-on. But am I really in control?
Besides driving, I’ve been thinking about other experiences that I’ve faced over the years that have slapped me in the face with how little control we have over our lives. Some of those experiences have included: the birth of my kids; coming down with an appendicitis at the worst possible time in the middle of a meeting with my boss and coworkers; and watching my kids’ ups-and-downs in the classroom and on the playing field and knowing that the best I can do is to encourage and pick them up when they’ve fallen.
Playing tricks on you
We really do have very little control. Life tricks you. It sneaks up on you. It makes you think you’re in control and then, poof, it steals it away. It says go right, when you should go left.
In the end, though, we have no control.
I could hold onto the steering wheel forever if I’m so inclined, never letting any of my children have their own experiences, but I’ll never really have complete control. I’ll only be fooling myself. God’s the only one in control. The only one really in the driver’s seat.
I sit in the passenger seat once more and think about that concept for awhile. Right when my son completes a near perfect park job, it hits me that control isn’t everything. In fact, seeing him beam with pride from his accomplisment, I’m reminded that when we stop trying to tinker with everything and learn to be in the present, we find happiness and joy.
And we help prepare a young driver for the real world.
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