The excitement, exhilaration, and nervousness of taking the car out of park and letting it slowly roll for the first time. Today, as a father I had the fun and slightly scary opportunity to take my 14 year old daughter out driving for the first time. The look on her face when I told her that we were headed to the empty auction overflow lot was priceless! She couldn’t believe that not only was she about to drive, but actually drive DAD’s car! A V6 3.5 liter full sized sedan is not the ideal first car for most teenagers, but like my dad said to me almost 18 years ago “This car has more character than your mom’s 4 cylinder 1.8 liter.”
As she slowly and reluctantly moved the gear shift from park to drive, my heart pounded. It pounded not only because the car moved forward. It pounded harder because my little girl, my oldest of 4 children, was driving. It pounded because I had flashbacks of this much younger princess in her room, resembling my current other 6 year old little girl. It pounded because of the thoughts before high school, before movie dates with friends, before boys liking her, she was so dependent on me and her mother. She is becoming an independent young lady. Oh God, am I losing my little girl?
Will she get her license, become so engulfed with school, work and friends and forget that I even exist? As I am caught in a whirlwind of thoughts, she is so intently focused on not making a mistake. “Put my turn signal on. Break slowly around the curve. Don’t hit anything. Just a little gas, not too much” she whispers to herself. I tell myself “she needs me, stay focused!” Alright sweetie, you are doing a great job! Just continue to be cautiously confident like you are doing, and you will be just fine. After watching her drive for about 45 minutes and guiding her on how to park and make a 3 point turn, she was getting the hang of it! She looses her edge, and begins smiling and laughing! Between several exchanges of “good job” and “it’s okay, you will get it right the next time”, my heartbeat slows.
Something tells me, “This is what you are supposed to be doing. Keep doing your job dad.” When it was all said and done my daughter looked at me, smiled and said “Thanks for taking me out driving and believing in me. I feel much better now.” On the ride out when I was back in the drivers seat, I asked “Do you want to go to the store and get a few things?” She said a resounding Yes with a big smile! I knew at that moment that I had not lost my daughter at all. Just because she is growing up, doesn’t mean she is going off. Just because she has friends, doesn’t make me or her mother any less important. Just because she has a life, doesn’t mean she doesn’t want me as part of it.
This was a defining moment for me. This is not only because she drove successfully. What makes these moments so sweet is the fact that God gave them to us as opportunities to teach our children and mold them into model citizens. It is important for my children to grow up to be safe drivers. You never know, that could save someone’s life one day. For me it was only a test drive, 45 minutes out of my day. For her it was a confidence booster, a chance to let her friends know “Hey, I know how to drive too! I have done it with my dad.” Most importantly, it is our kids saying “Hey dad, thank you for trusting me enough to take the risk of letting me grow up”. Think back to when you were 14, and it will all make sense.