“Can I Drive, Dad?” - A Story of the Teenage Years

By Albert Stern / Special to the BJV

The Scene: My son, Eliot, and I are in the car, in a parking lot, about to drive at night after dinner. He is 16 years old and has recently obtained his learner’s permit to drive. I have given him my car keys.

Me: Eliot, just be careful. The last thing I need right now – the last thing – is to get into a car accident.

Eliot: I’m a good driver.

Me: I’ll admit it. You make me nervous. Not because I think you’re a bad driver, but because I’m not used to driving with you yet. So just be…what are you doing? You’re going in reverse! Why are you going backward?!?

Eliot: I’m backing up.

Me: Don’t back up! Just go forward!

Eliot: Can I go forward that way?

Me: Why not!?!

Eliot: I don’t know!

Me: Go forward! Jesus. Alright. Take a right. Then the next right – no turn on red.

Eliot: I see it.

Me: Good. Be careful. [Engaging in mindful deep breathing.] Alright, take the next left. Indicate that you’re changing into the center lane and then…carefully…get into the turning lane…good, and…OH MY GOD THAT CAR COMING AT US IS TOO CLOSE! DON’T MAKE THE TURN! STOP! STOP! GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHD-DAMNIT!

Eliot: Dad! Why are you yelling?

Me: Because the car was too close and coming at us too fast and you should have waited!

Eliot: I could have made it!

Me: I could have been crushed in the passenger seat if you didn’t! And I’m letting you drive – I’m teaching you to drive – and I said you shouldn’t have made the turn. So don’t tell me what you’re doing right or wrong – I’ll tell you!

Eliot: Mom lets me drive! Mom doesn’t get nervous when I drive!

Me: Well, I’m not Mom, I’m me. By the way, is that the same "Mom" who fell asleep at the wheel on the MassPike and crashed both of you into a guardrail?

Eliot: [Silence.]

Me: Goddamn it. Just…just…just, goddamn it.

Eliot: It’s the same thing with Frankie – he likes to drive with [his mom] Andrea because she doesn’t freak out. [His dad] Tim freaks out just like you do when they drive.

Me: So what you’re saying is that I’m acting normal? Like a normal father, right? That there is nothing abnormal about the way I’m acting – that this is the way other normal fathers act, right?

Eliot: No, I’m…

Me: No to you – what you’re saying is that I’m not a uniquely flawed person, that I’m just acting like other normal people do when riding around with their kids who are learning how to drive, right?

Eliot: No! No! Tim stopped getting all freaked out after the third time they drove together!

Me: Okay, Eliot – how many times have we been driving together?

Eliot: [Pause.] Um…four.

Me: Four. Okay, Eliot – so maybe I’m still the normal one here. Normal and just a little…bit…sloooooooooow.

[Silence the rest of the ride.]