‘Because I Said So’ column for The Commercial Appeal
July 31, 2014
Son’s road test sends dad down memory lane
The moment my first child was born, I stood for a moment in disbelief. “I’m a father,” I said over and over in my head. There were other thoughts going through my mind as well; it was a virtual white-noise machine of worry and elation and wonder in there.
Walking the hallways of Baptist Hospital-East, I nodded at other new fathers in recognition and wide-eyed amazement at what we’d just witnessed and at what we’d suddenly become.
There have been other milestones over the years, of course, now having four children in the stable. There were first days of school, where the parents looked more frightened than the kids. There was the first time riding a two-wheel bike when pride swelled us up to near bursting. There was the first trip to the emergency room and the fear that we’d somehow damaged our child.
Last week was another milestone as I took my son to get his driver’s license. It was, like that first day of kindergarten, a moment when I wanted to take his hand and usher him through each step. But I was only there to sign any necessary paperwork. He filled out forms, answered the examiner’s questions and, finally, took the keys from me and went out to the car, alone.
I waited in the lobby. I could see him there, behind the wheel, awaiting the examiner to join him. I looked away, unable, or unwilling, to watch him back out of that tight spot and begin the road test. When I looked again, the car was gone. Somewhere, out on Summer Avenue, he was driving — nervous, anxious, excited — as the stranger beside him checked off boxes and made notations on her clipboard. Such anxiety and expectation is a rite of passage in itself.
Meanwhile, I stood in disbelief as I had that day in the maternity ward where it had all begun. The other parents and I raised our eyebrows in acknowledgment that we, too, were experiencing a sort of rite.
“I’m a father,” I thought again. In the time he was out on the road, my mind flew back to the beginning and his birth, that first trip down the block on his bicycle, that visit to the emergency room and his first days of school. I saw him again as a baby, a toddler, a little boy running with his siblings and frightened at night of the dark. That government building on Summer — that cramped, nondescript bunker — is not much of a place for an emotional slideshow, yet I’m sure it’s had its share.
It wasn’t too long before Calvin and his examiner returned. His poker face is such that I couldn’t read him at all, had no idea how it had gone and, once again, I wanted to take his hand and ask if he was OK. But this was his moment and embarrassment need not be a box checked off the road test.
It wasn’t until the examiner told him to step in front of the blue cloth to have his picture taken that he exhaled and the color returned to his face.
I’m wondering when I’ll be able to exhale. It’s been 16 years of worry and elation and wonder, and every day I’m amazed at what these kids are capable of and where, on the road of parenthood, they’ll drive me next.