Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Driving Lessons

My first ride with Dad. 1957

My dad is sad. He has been told to surrender his license. Step on the brakes. Yield to younger folks. Reverse engines. Stop driving.

My dad is eighty-three. These are difficult directions for him to follow.

Here are driving lessons I learned from my dad.

Lesson 1: Safety & Security

When I was very small, I was allowed to ride in the front seat of the car, with my head cradled in Mom’s lap and my legs stretched all the way across to Dad’s lap, as we drove home on late Sunday nights after visiting with friends. Sometimes Mom would stroke my hair or Dad would hold my chilly feet. Being nestled between my parents felt like the safest place in the world to me and I would fall asleep happy. When we arrived home, I would pretend I was still asleep so that Dad would pick me up gently and carry me into the house and to my cozy bed.

Seatbelts? Not yet invented.

Lesson 2: Adventure

Every summer, my parents packed up the camping gear and took my sisters and me on a three-week holiday. Dad drove endless hours so that we could see Disneyland, cousins, Expo 67, grandparents, mountains, hillbillies, oceans, hippies, Green Gables, friends, North America. He drove in all weather and at all hours. He steered us onto sluggish ferries and into Los Angeles freeway chaos. We made it to the top of Pike’s Peak and to the edge of the Grand Canyon. With route maps folded and creased and highlighted, Mom navigated and Dad tried to find his way.

Fights? Of course.
Ready for a drive. 1963

Lesson 3: Cooperation & Consequences

During our three-week holidays, my sisters and I rode in the back seat together. We had books and dolls and games and open windows. We filled the floor with sleeping bags and pillows. We could sprawl out and relax. We could also argue. And argue. And argue. Dad would tell us to leave each other alone or he would put us out to walk. And I would continue to torment my big sisters with silly songs and sayings. I would turn the dolls’ heads inside out. I would whine about the heat. I would kick and squirm. Dad would give another warning. And I would ask how much further we were going and when would I get a turn to sit by the window. My sisters would get madder and madder and finally Dad would screech to a stop and put us out on the side of the road. We were in a scorched desert in Arizona. Or we were on the bald prairie of Saskatchewan. Or a bear-filled forest in British Columbia. And he would drive away. Three girls left. I would cry and my sisters would tell me to smarten up and together we would trudge down the gravel shoulder till Mom and Dad’s car was in sight, waiting patiently for its disgraced occupants. For a while, the ride would be quiet and I would think about my bad behaviour. Then I would fall asleep, knowing that Dad would keep driving in spite of us!

Effective discipline? Apparently.

Lesson 4: Defensive Driving

Dad taught me how to drive. He drove me around the peaceful hospital grounds where the speed limit was no more than ten miles per hour. Other vehicles were almost non-existent. There were two stop signs and a few slow, predictable pedestrians. I concentrated on turn signals and slow accelerations, knuckles white as I gripped the steering wheel. I got my license on the first try! So Dad let me take the car solo to drive a block away. I immediately sideswiped a guy and totaled his car. Dad comforted me and enrolled me in a defensive driving course. He continued to let me drive. And I never had another accident.

Sixteen year olds are ready for independence? Sometimes. With support.

Dad with his new Dodge Monaco. 1969

Lesson 5: Sharing

Dad shared his driving expertise with all of his daughters. He let them use his cars, even the sporty ’74 Charger! He taught several widows how to drive, left stranded when they lost their husbands. He picked up lonely hitchhikers. He drove the truck for the food bank. He delivered Meals on Wheels. He accepted backseat drivers. He rescued belligerent, embarrassed teenagers from wild parties. He walked to work, leaving the car for others. He transported his mother-in-law’s ashes across the country to rest beside her husband’s grave.

Generous? Yes.

And so it is sad for my Dad to stop driving. It is frustrating to stall. It is difficult to yield. But the driving lessons learned are not lost. I’ll take the wheel now.

Thanks Dad.

Father’s Day 2012

©Conni Cartlidge, 2012


  1. Driving is the control and operation of a land vehicle, such as a car, truck or bus. I am fully impressed with this post.
    Driving School

  2. You’re right. Even though your dad has already stopped driving, the experiences he had and the lessons he imparted to you will always stay with you. This is what I love about driving. Even though it’s an everyday routine, it teaches us things that help us grow. And, the only way to learn these things is through experience. You’re so lucky to have a father like him, Conni!

    Mia Patch

  3. The best things that I learned from driving are being responsible and patience. When driving, you have to be responsible, not just for your own safety, but for the welfare of other drivers as well. Control your speed and be aware of your surroundings! Also, I have to keep my temper while driving to avoid any misunderstandings. Relax and drive safely always.

    -Marvis Carswell

    1. Patience, awareness and relaxation...more valuable lessons learned!