Driving My Daddy

I put on my left turn signal as I pulled up to the light outside the gate of my children’s school. In the midst of after school screams and carpool meltdowns, the act of flipping that blinker triggered a memory almost twenty years old.

I was clenching the steering wheel of my Dad’s 98 Oldsmobile so hard my knuckles were white.

“Turn on your blinker,” he said as I merged into the left turn lane.

My heart was beating in time with the blinker and I had to remember to breathe. I slammed on the breaks a little too hard, slinging my father forward in his seat. He braced himself on the dashboard and I released the steering wheel, letting blood rush back into my fingers as I let out a sigh, “I hate this.”

“Hate what? Driving?” He asked.

“No, I like driving— I hate turning left across four lanes of traffic. It’s so scary. I’m always afraid I’m going to hit somebody.”

It wasn’t my first time behind the wheel. My parents would take me to an abandoned airport and sit in the passenger sit with no cell phone to play on, no internet to surf and let me drive until I got bored. On Sundays I always ran to get in my dad’s car after church because I knew two things: 1) We would take the long way home, and 2) He would let me sit in his lap and drive.

He’d pull over on the side of the road, back his seat up as far as it would go and I’d climb onto his lap. I’d drive his tank of a car while he worked the gas and the breaks. My legs weren’t long enough to reach the pedals until I was almost 13 years old. He wasn’t in a hurry to get home, we’d cruise down side streets and our long potholed driveway at a comfortable five miles per hour.

But I finally had my learner’s permit and it was time to hit the open road.

“Light’s green,” my dad prompted me.

I hit the gas a little too hard and we screeched through the intersection, I flinched as other cars turned on my right hand side, certain that they would hit us. My shoulders relaxed and my grip on the steering wheel loosened as I straightened the wheel with relief. I was so glad that was over. We approached the next light.

“Put on your blinker,” he instructed.

“Huh? Why? Where are we going?”

“Put on your left blinker and get in the turn lane.”

I was incredulous but did as I was told. After another left-hand turn I glanced at my father. He pushed his wire-rimmed glasses up on the bridge of his nose, “Do it again.”


“Left blinker.” He said.

“Why are you doing this to me!? I told you I was scared of this!”

“Exactly. Do it again.”

With tears welling in my eyes I put my left blinker on and made the turn. At the next light I didn’t even wait for his instructions, I put on my left blinker, merged into the lane and turned.

What was wrong with him? He was supposed to protect me and help me, not terrorize me by exploiting my greatest fear. We traveled around my hometown for hours that afternoon, one left-handed turn at a time.

With each turn my anxiety decreased and by the time we got home I was more irritated at my father than I was afraid of driving.

As a parent myself, I can now recognize the gift my daddy gave me that day. He made me face my biggest fear while he was sitting beside me talking me through each turn. He took the opportunity to stand with me while I conquered a fear instead of letting me face it alone.

The sounds of my children in the back seat interrupt the rhythm of the blinker and my daydream. As I turn left across four lanes of traffic, I think of him sitting in the passenger seat determined that I could do anything without being afraid.

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  1. says

    The first time I tried driving, my dad sat down beside me in the passenger seat, and said, “Don’t worry, Neal, it’s just like those car driving games you play on the the computer. Or like bumper cars.” Neither of which was smart to say, because

    1. One of my favorite things to do in a driving game is to see how high I can flip the car, and

    2. Bumper Cars?! Why would you suggest to your kid to model their driving after bumper cars?

    Anyway, suffice it to say that I ended up with all four wheels on the lawn of our neighbor, but stopped before I hit their front door. He turned to me without blinking, and said, “Alright, what do you think you did wrong there?”
    neal recently posted..This is just a tribute . . . to dads

  2. Heather says

    WAAAARRRR EAGLE!!! Your dad has great taste in football! I hope they lock the turd Harvey Updyke up! Great story btw!!

  3. Elizabeth collins says

    Good memories! I can remember driiving on my dads lap, cruising all over town!
    Ahhh, back in the days of no seatbelt and car seat rules!

    I have very vivid memories of at lest 10 of us piling in our dads cars for carpool to Park school!

  4. says

    That was great. My dad taught me to drive too and because of that, I am a much better driver than my sister who was taught by my mom – aka the most defensive driver on the road.
    alaina recently posted..Date Up.

  5. Kim says

    I, too, remember getting to sit on my daddy’s lap and “drive”. It was my mother who first let me really drive the car…it was on a dirt road out in the country in MO, near the farm where she grew up. But it was my dad who really taught me the finer points of driving.

  6. Gena says

    Such sweet memories. My dad also taught me to drive at an early age along country roads. I think I was 12 when I got to sit in the drivers seat alone. I don’t think I’ll start teaching my kids that early. I don’t have the privilege of knowing all of the police officers personally in my home town.

  7. says

    I remember the first time I got a flat tire on my car. I went inside the house to get my father for help. He came outside, got the tools and spare tire out of the trunk, and said “Now pay very close attention.” He proceeded to jack up the car, take off the flat, put on the spare, and put the car back down again with lots of comments and instructions interspersed throughout the procedure. When he was done he asked “Were you paying attention?” Being the snotty teenager that I was I said “Yes, yes of course.” I was really thinking, “Oh, just hurry up so I can go hang out with my friends!”

    He then said, “Good, now it’s your turn!” He then jacked the car back up, took the spare off, put the flat back on, lowered the car, and made me do it myself. I remember being pretty pissed at the time, but when I got my next flat and he wasn’t home, I was glad I knew how to change it!

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