Riding Shotgun

Originally published 11/3/2010

I remember when I learned to drive. My father gave me my first lesson: How to Start the Engine. He was a big believer in baby steps. The car was parked in the driveway and in we hopped. I was in the driver’s seat for the first time and my dad, of course, was riding shotgun.

“Today you’re just going to start the car and then you’ll back up a little bit and pull forward a little bit. Back and forth, right here in the driveway and that’s it. Okay. Go ahead and start the car.”

“Where’s the button?”

“What button?”

“You know, the on button.” (Evidently I was a visionary…both of my cars now start with the push of a button)

“There is no on button. Put the key into the ignition and turn it.”

I did as I was told, the motor started and I started screaming at the top of my lungs.

“WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU? WHY ARE YOU SCREAMING?” my dad bellowed over my shrieking.


“How did you expect it to start? Never mind. We’re done for today. Shut the engine.”

That was my first lesson. It took my poor father a good while to muster up the courage to get back into the car with me, but eventually he did. There we were again, parked in the driveway with me in the driver’s seat and dad riding shotgun. I readied myself for lesson number two, checked the mirrors and adjusted the seat.

“Do you remember how to start the car?”


“Okay. Get comfortable and go ahead and start ‘er up…and no screaming or we’re done.”

“Okay.” I started the car without incident.

“Very good. Now, put your foot on the brake and shift the car into reverse. Look in the rear-view mirror, and turn and glance behind you to make sure the way is clear.”

I did as I was told.

“Good. Now ease off the brake and gently press the gas pedal. Good. Good. Now stop.” And of course I slammed on the brake and we jerked to a stop.

“Okay. Not bad, but you don’t need to slam on the brakes, just tap it.” And it was at this point that my dad looked at me and noticed I was sitting with my left knee up by my ear, my foot resting on the dashboard.


“What? You said to get comfortable.”

“That’s it. We’re done.”

At that rate it was a miracle I ever learned to drive, but I did. Fast forward 30 or so years. My youngest son, Jared (sniff, sniff…my baby boy) is learning to drive and now I am the one riding shotgun. Although there are times I wish I could grab the wheel and take over as we make our way about town, I cannot. My job in riding shotgun is to prepare Jared so that when the day comes for him to hit the road alone, he will be ready. It’s not easy riding shotgun, especially when you’ve been in the driver’s seat every minute of every day for the better part of your baby’s life. It’s not easy when you’re used to charting the course and leading the way. It’s not easy riding shotgun.

The principal of my son’s high school gives the same advice to parents of freshman at the start of every school year, “Your job,” he says, “is not to prepare the road ahead for your children, but to prepare your children for the road ahead.” It isn’t easy, but I will suppress my urge to grab the wheel, to steer the course. It’s hard to imagine my driving days are over, but I am thankful because at least for now, I’m still riding shotgun.

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