ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

GETTING BETTER WITH TIME

Our eldest child, AmyJo, will turn 30 in a few months.  She and I have a great relationship (at least, we did until I published that last sentence).  We talk, we laugh, we hug, we do all the stuff that fathers and daughters who love each other do. I think I can safely say that we have finally fully recovered from her driver education experience 14 years ago.

See?  I’m not even twitching like I used to.

It wasn’t that AmyJo was a bad driver.  Well, OK . . . it WAS that she was a bad driver (sorry, Honey, but facts are facts).  But I’m willing to concede that her driving ability – or inability, as the case may be – may have had something to do with the fact that I was sitting in the passenger seat next to her screaming: “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!”

Stuff like that can be a little disconcerting to a new driver – you know?

Thankfully, my wife, Anita, stepped in and took over AmyJo’s driver education before either of us was seriously injured in a traffic accident or in hand-to-hand combat.  This worked out so well that she handled the driver education chores for Joe Jr. (who, truth be told, was probably driving almost as much as I was even before he got his license), Andrea (who was always more interested in singing along with the radio than actually paying attention to the roadway in front of her) and Beth (who PROMISES she never actually wrote text messages on her cell phone while she was driving even though her little brother suggests otherwise).

From what I can see, they are all good drivers today – even AmyJo.  So I assumed Anita would continue to supervise driver education for our youngest child, Jon.  The way I see it, the system is working, and I’m a big fan of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” parenting.

But for some reason, most of Jon’s student driving time is taking place with me sitting in the passenger seat.  And so far, we seem to be managing.  Yes, I tend to white-knuckle the emergency brake stick, which is located between the bucket seats of our car.  And I’m wearing a hole in the floor mat where I grind on the imaginary brake on the passenger’s side.  But I haven’t sworn yet and I’ve only occasionally shouted (last night’s “NOT YET!  NOT YET!  NOT YET!” comes to mind).

Of course, it helps that Jon is, by nature, more cautious and less impulsive than most student drivers (the main instruction I have to give him is “go faster”).  It probably also helps that he has heard the stories of AmyJo’s student driving experiences from AmyJo herself, and he has been terrified into carefulness (in which case those early days with my first child behind the wheel serve much the same function as those awful, bloody “Mechanized Death” movies in high school Driver’s Ed classes – you know, the ones during which I passed out when I was a high school sophomore).

But the main difference between my experience with Jon and my experience with AmyJo is . . . well . . . me.  I’m calmer than I was before.  More patient.  Less demanding.  More understanding.  Less fearful.  Which is not to say that I’m a bastion of any of those traits, because I’m not – not by a long shot.  I’m just better at them than I was 14 years ago.  Which makes me a better driver education helper – and a better father.

And that’s OK, I guess (although I feel kind of bad for my older children, who were stuck with a rookie father who loved them, but who – let’s face it – was sort of a dork).  If time and experience don’t help us to get better at the things we do – both professionally and personally – then what’s the point?  Life is a school, and the learning doesn’t stop as we grow older.  For some of us, it accelerates.

Especially if AmyJo is driving.

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— © Joseph Walker

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