When I Stopped Driving My Daughter, I Lost Purpose as a Dad
As my time as a chauffer came to an end, I realized how much I cherished our time in the car together.
This Narrative Belongs To:
"I passed!” My 18-year-old daughter texted me, and suddenly, she could drive. I was relieved because she had failed the test twice and was getting increasingly cranky about it.
I was also relieved because I have spent the last 18 years as the primary child-conveyor/transporter/sherpa. When she becomes friends with someone on the other side of the city, it is me who transports her tiny and then less tiny and then full adult-sized body to the doorsteps of the friends who also, over the years, have increased in height. If she is performing in a play in the suburbs, it is me who drives 45 minutes suburb-ward and then sits in the parking lot until the suburbs are done with her to transport her back to her rightful home with all the cats, because driving another hour-and-a-half round trip is even more unpleasant.
Squatting in a suburban parking lot (or, if you’re lucky, at a suburban Starbucks) is, as you’d imagine, a somewhat tedious way to spend the waning years of your existence. You gaze across the strip mall at the SUVs and you may ask yourself, like David Byrne, “Well, how did I get here?” You may turn to your daughter and say, “This is not my beautiful Prius!” And she’ll respond, “…” because she’s not paying attention to you. She’s on her phone.
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My Daughter Had Some Setbacks When Trying to Get Her License
Since David Byrne asked, I can say that I do know broadly how I got here. First, we had a child who was adorable and tiny and largely unable to get herself around on her cute, pudgy, but initially largely vestigial legs. Then, we distributed various household tasks—my wife agreed to make more money, provide health insurance and shop for pleasing apparel for the incipient human. And I agreed to get the duly clothed critter to whatever clothed-critter activities should arise over the next roughly decade and a half.
Initially, we thought this was a 16-year or so commitment. But—as you probably guessed, since my daughter is 18 and not 16—there were complications. Our city makes it difficult to get your license right at 16, but we gave it a good shot. She had driver’s ed. She had driving lessons with professionals who were not us. She had her permit. She was practicing and I hadn’t actually had a heart attack when she drove the car that close to the parked cars on my side—oh my god you’re too close pull over OH MY GOD!
Where was I? Oh, right. No heart attack, nope. Right on track to the DMV.
Then, COVID hit. The DMV closed. We spent all day, every day sitting in the house staring at the dog rather than sitting in parking lots staring at SUVs. And I like the dog better than SUVs. But still, it was a setback.
Then, as a setback to the setback, my daughter went on a trip to a friend’s cabin and said friend (perhaps on controlled substances of various sorts) tipped the canoe, leaving our daughter’s phone and her permit in the phone case at the bottom of a lake.
Said friend was sincerely sorry, and we did not reprimand them because we like them and kids, what can you do? But now we had to go to the DMV and get a permit before we could do more hair-raising driving practice and then take the driver’s test. The additional step proved too much for us for…well, a good long time.
A good long time also being coincidentally the exact distance between our house and my daughter’s various extracurricular activities. Also between our house and the home of her significant other. How could you even find a significant other who lives that far away when you’re in high school? “What happened to dating the girl next door?” I asked her as I stared at the very large SUV looming over our Prius.
“…” she said, because she was not listening to me because she was on her phone.
It was the significant other who finally did it, though. I do occasionally have other things to do with my life (like drive my wife places, for example), whereas my daughter wants to spend her summer with her significant other literally all the time because she’s a teenager and that’s what teenagers want to do. Thus motivated, she got her permit, took some driving lessons and headed to the DMV. Then to the DMV again. And finally to the DMV and passed so she never has to go to the DMV again, thank god. She is driving now without us in the car, so we do not see her when she almost hits things, which is not ideal but maybe better than being in the car when she almost hits things, overall.
I Enjoyed the Time I Spent With My Daughter While Driving Her Around
At last, for the first time since I lifted the small creature with the vestigial legs and transported her from bed to crib, I am free. She is self-propelled and needs me no more. Huzzah!
Well, sort of. I don’t relish sitting in Starbucks parking lots for hours on end. But on the other hand, when you lift the incipient human and she blinks and screws up her face and then spits up on your shoulder before settling down, you do feel like you’re serving a useful function. I may not exactly want to stare at the back of an SUV creeping toward the home of my daughter’s significant other, but when David Byrne asks, “How did I get here?” I have a ready answer. I got here because I love my kid and I want to make her happy. If I’m going to waste my remaining years, that’s not a bad way to waste them.
Driving the child has other upsides too. It’s true she has a powerful ability to ignore her chauffeur and concentrate on the latest text from that significant other instead. But the Prius is quite small and she is trapped with me in there. At home, she can emerge only briefly for food or to open the door for friends before skittering off to her basement, like one of the cats escaping but with less floof.
But in the car, sometimes, despite herself, she’s got no choice but to interact with me. Recently, we got to talk about what an awesome drummer Chris Frantz of Talking Heads is, for example. She tells me what she’s reading (Jules Verne, most recently. “Is it good?” I asked. “Sure! It’s Jules Verne; it’s got energy!”) She bubbles about a production of Marlowe’s Faust she and the significant other and the friend who drowned the permit and some others are planning to put on. Talking to her is fun. Even better than when she used to spit up on me (though not necessarily than when she used to cuddle up afterward).
It's great when your kids become more independent and need you less because then you can heave a sigh of relief and go back to your own pursuits—like contemplating the empty hole in your life left by the fact that your kids need you less. First, she can crawl to the next room; then, she’s taking herself to the park; and finally, she’s out of her room and out the back and out of the garage and into the whole world. You wave goodbye. Then, you get ready to walk the dog. Good dog. You still need me.