By NICK CHILES
Nobody told me it would be like this. Sure, I knew that when my teenage son got his license and we put together enough pennies to get him something with four wheels and a running (hopefully) engine, that I would lose a certain amount of control over the boy’s movements. After all, up to this point, I was the official Dad Taxi, responsible for carting the boy to and from football practice, and the job, and his friend’s house, and even to and from the mall or the movies with his girlfriend of the moment.
I complained bitterly about my taxi duties to anyone who would listen:
I’ll be glad when this boy can drive himself because I’m tired of being the taxicab!
Just when I thought I could rest for the evening, the boy needs another ride somewhere!
Little did I know how much and how quickly I would yearn for the Dad Taxi days. With stunning rapidity, I have discovered how much my life has changed with a teenager who drives. I knew in an abstract way that his mobility would cause me worry because of all those horrible stories and statistics of teenage driving fatalities. We live in a county in Georgia that has horribly deficient, practically non-existent public transportation, with no plans that I’ve ever heard about to rectify the situation anytime soon. So for a teenager to hold a job or do anything outside of the house besides travel to and from school, there has to be a car involved. This necessity leads to the troubling inevitability of teenagers having accidents. It seems like every year, a teenage boy (or girl, but it’s usually boys) at one of the local high schools perishes in a crash. So there’s always that worry in the back of the mind. But that’s not even what I’m talking about. What I didn’t expect was how disconcerting it would be for me to know that the boy is out there in the world, doing whatever it is that he is doing from moment to moment, and there’s barely a damn thing I can do about it.
At first I was Inspector Gadget, peppering him with questions about his movement, checking the football practice schedule on the school website several times a week, frequently eyeing his work schedule at the pool where he’s a lifeguard, trying to catch him doing something he’s not supposed to be doing or being somewhere he’s not supposed to be. I even caught him lying a couple of times, much to his chagrin and embarrassment—his boy told him that I was like a CIA agent. But recently something dawned on me: no matter how hard I tried, it was impossible for me to know where he was and what he was doing every second of the day. And with that realization came another one: if I couldn’t know what he was doing at all times, I was going to have to chill out a little about his whereabouts or else give myself a stroke. I was going to have to have a certain amount of trust in the idea that we did a pretty good job raising him, instilling values and judgment and decision-making skills, and from this point, just weeks from his 17th birthday, it was pretty much up to him to make his way safely in this world.
Of course, I was haunted by the memories of how much my life changed when I got wheels as a teenager—memories of things I did that I shouldn’t have been doing. My momma might be reading this, so I won’t go into further detail. (It was nearly 30 years ago, so I’m sure I would get all the details wrong. Okay, Ma?) But I guess I turned out alright after all, and those teenage days, even the crazier ones, all contributed mightily to my path and the choices I came to make over the years.
So as I watch him load his lineman’s bulk into his Jeep and take off with a wave in my direction, I know that we have crossed a major milestone in the parent-child relationship. Without control over his movements, I have relinquished a great deal of my authority. It is now in his hands, the power to make his own path. All I can do is sit back and watch. And breathe another deep sigh of relief with the sound of his squeaky brakes pulling back into the driveway.
About Our MBB Contributor:
Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of six books, and the editor-in-chief of the travel magazine, Odyssey Couleur.