Driving Instructions For Me and My Daughter's Sweet 16
By Scott Beller
I couldn't wait to get my driver's license. Officially, I got it on my 16th birthday in the spring of my sophomore year, after acing a whole semester of driver's ed classroom instruction and studying for my test. But I was driving on my own even before I got my learner's permit four months earlier. Since I had access to a car but was often without access to a parent who could ride with me or to give me a ride anywhere I needed to go outside my neighborhood (they had recently divorced), my underdeveloped 15-year-old mind viewed it as a necessity.
I don't really remember my mom or dad ever taking me anywhere to practice. I finished my behind-the-wheel hours after a handful of sessions over a couple of weeks with a private instructor that simply had each student drive to pick up the next student until the car was full. Whether that student lived 5 miles or 15 miles away, we all got the same 1-hour credit.
Getting my license gave me more than just a sense of tremendous freedom, accomplishment, and responsibility. It made me feel like an adult for the first time.
But, honestly, until I became a dad (at 38!), I didn't know what being an adult really meant.
This week was our oldest daughter's 16th birthday. For the past few months, she's been eager to take the driver's seat and practice her skills. And I've eagerly taken up my place in the passenger seat to not only suggest new driving routes and give her pointers on technique and safety, as needed, but also to watch her prepare to fly.
All part of my ongoing letting-go process.
After a few practice outings, I realized I was spending more time with my teen than I had in months. She was asking me questions and letting me give advice and share my experience with her without perceiving it as a boring lecture. I was providing her with positive feedback, perspective, and encouragement on her performance, especially when she got frustrated, was being too hard on herself, and felt like her technique wasn't "perfect." This offered a moment of mindfulness and insight into my own need to be more patient, particularly while driving in the DC area.
Most of all, our driving lessons, once again, allowed me to be the dad I wish my father had been. Being there for my children at important times in their lives is one of the biggest reasons I couldn't wait to become a dad.
It truly has been a sweet 16 years hurtling down this long and winding road learning together with the one who made me a dad.
While riding with my daughter (she's been doing an excellent job, btw!), I've found myself passing along useful and memorable axioms that should serve her well once she hits the open road without us. Funny how most if not all could easily apply to my own parenting efforts:
Don't beat yourself up. Everyone makes mistakes...learn from them and move on.
Look ahead, let your eyes be your guide, and anticipate what may come at you. Some things will come out of nowhere and you can never be fully prepared for those, but be ready to adapt and make adjustments on-the-fly.
Check your rearview regularly...but don't linger on it. Use what you see to inform what you can/can't or should/shouldn't do next.
Be aware of your surroundings and be sure you can see where you're going.
The more you practice, the better you'll get. A lot of it is just getting the feel... and only way to do that is to drive. Trust yourself and your abilities.
Sometimes you gotta go for it or you'll never get anywhere (e.g., getting through a busy intersection).
Slow down when you need to. Sometimes that means hitting the brakes. But often it just means taking your foot off the gas.
Take the responsibility seriously but you don't have to always take yourself so seriously.
Avoid the jerks (pass them if you can or just move aside and let them go on their way) and try not to be one.
Use your turn signal.
As we all know, being a parent doesn't come with an instruction manual or have a proper "behind-the-wheel" class. We observe others we think are doing it "right." Ideally, we seek out advice, when needed. But, basically, we all learn as we go. Thankfully, the key to dads "passing the test" is for us to show up regularly and always do our best. Simply being there goes a long way to showing our kids they are important and they are loved. Of course, every now and then, you might ask them their opinion about how you're doing with that.
Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, imperfect husband of a rock-star mom, truth teller, time traveler, driving instructor, purveyor of banned books, Editor of the Daddying blog, and Director of Communications for DCG and D3F. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 30 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.