By Brad Stevenson
So the other day I was talking to my 17 year old son who is taking driver’s education over at the high school. I asked him if he wanted to go get some driving experience over at an empty church parking lot on Saturday. With little emotion, he agreed. He currently doesn’t have a driver’s license, and this has perplexed me on a couple different levels.
I can remember growing up in the ’70’s and ’80’s in southeast Washington. I was, what I thought, a typical 15 year old boy who did mediocre in school, played with mediocrity on various sports teams, and worked part-time after school and on weekends cooking AWESOME pizza (… but with mediocre enthusiasm). Looking back, I would self-diagnose myself as A.D.D. (Attention Deficit Disorder)… almost surely because of my lack of motivation and direction.
With all the mediocrity and talk of A.D.D., I will tell you that none of this factored into when and how I got my driver’s license. I needed no help focusing on or getting motivated to register for driver’s education (… after all, the local car dealership had loaned a new red ’84 Chevy Camaro to the schools’ driver’s ed program). I was not dragging my feet on this; I wasn’t waiting for Mom and Dad to direct me on how to go about it or when to get it done. It was “all me… all the way”! I had scheduled with Mom, a month prior to my turning 15 1/2 years old, to take me down to the DMV office exactly when it opened. Driver’s licenses, driving, and cars were something I’d talked about with school and neighborhood friends all year. If anything I was hyper-focused on taking care of business.
Additionally, I grew up in farm country and had the opportunity to spend lots of time out in the fields moving irrigation pipe, plowing, planting, fixing things… and did I say, moving irrigation pipe?! My best memory of the farm was being able to drive at the age of 12. I started out on fat-tire mini-bikes we’d ride across the fields. And then, although initially limited, I learned to drive and became fairly at ease behind the wheel of the truck and tractor. I remember speeding down the dirt roads at 50-60 mph, and then down the county roads at 70-80 mph (… although not fast by today’s standards, it was fast for a 14 year old with no supervision back in the “old” days). As a young kid, this was wicked awesome fun! This made all the hard farm work bearable. Once back home and settled into a new Junior High School year… this made us gods. All the young city-slicking kids weren’t allowed to drive and here we were, 12 years old and driving. Ok, there were a few others that were driving,… but illegally, and certainly not with their parents’ permission.
At the age of 16, my first really good paying job was driving wheat truck during wheat harvest. My brother and I bought our first car (’74 Silver Mazda 303) with wheat harvest earnings. At 17, I got a summer job driving pea combine… Driving a vehicle that goes no faster than 5 mph, and then only goes 2.5 mph most of the time isn’t what I’d call thrilling. I ended up quitting before the end of harvest (… refer back to my A.D.D. diagnosis and the fact, I wasn’t driving more than 2.5 mph on a regular basis throughout my work shift). But anyways, this was all a part of my teenage driving experience.
Back to my son, who doesn’t have his driver’s license. On Saturday, I got a clear picture as I talked with him, initially jerking back and forth, in my ’91 Honda Civic 4-door. We talked about cool cars and what kind he was eventually going to drive. For him, he prefers the ’69 Dodge Charger… but would settle for a new sky-blue Dodge Charger. For me, a new charcoal gray fast-back Ford Mustang with black mag-rims will do. After what seemed to be a fairly short hour, my son was settling into driving and becoming more at ease, and clearly having fun driving a car.
At this point, I feel responsible. I haven’t put him behind the wheel and allowed him to feel the vibrations of a running motor in his control. I haven’t talked and gushed about my adolescent driving experiences. I haven’t fostered that kind of enthusiasm. Sometimes we expect our kids to automatically feel what we felt. But I’m finding we need to bring the feelings to them. We need to take them out driving. We need to take them out to the car shows and racing tracks. We need to give them something to talk about and become motivated. I am finding it’s all not automatic.
My son and I clearly agreed that getting a driver’s license and driving was something I should have insisted on and forced him to do. He wondered why he had waited so long to do what seemed to be so much fun.
My thanks to my good friend Brad Stevenson for sharing this article with us.