What’s a Car-Loving Dad to Do When His Son Doesn’t Want to Drive?

I was expecting my son to share my sacred tradition. But, hey, rebellion is part of the game.

by Thomas Courtney
A dad and his son under a car looking at the different parts of the car and fixing it

I never told my dad that the reason the suspension gave out on my 1978 Toyota Corolla Sportcoupe was because my friends and I drove it through the cornfields where Grand Terrace High School currently is located. But that’s besides the point. The fact is I wanted to drive, damnit.

I was 16 and I spent every Saturday and Sunday at Floral Fantasies just so I could drive that maroon, mag-wheeled sport coupe. It’s a flower shop by the way, so do get your mind out of the gutter. And it may not have made me too popular with the ladies to match bow colors to carnation corsages or sell top-shelf chocolate truffles out of the humidified glass case, but I did learn a lot about how to write an apology letter that could fit on a 2x3inch card.

How many times did that come in handy? Again, beside the point.

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You see, as Metallica sang in ‘92, nothing else mattered. Working meant I could have a car. And that meant that Friday night I was taking that sport coupe to Colton High School’s football game, and we were going to talk trash to San Bernardino High, get chased back to the car where I figured I had an acceptable 97% chance it would start. And on Monday I was parking it by the architecture building because that was where I could see it when I walked to drafting class. If it would start without a jump at lunch, me and the boys were going to the drive thru for Mickey D’s dollar menu and passing the walkers there and back. And of course, driving it home and laughing at all the suckers on the bus was how you ended a high school day in style.

Yippey Kay Yay!

Because that was the sacred bond of brotherhood between manchild and metal, between boy and braun, between a dude and his ride.

Franz had a baby-blue VW Beetle that we parked on hills for push-starts.

Chris had a poor man’s Porsche that had a tennis ball for a clutch handle.

I had the sport coupe. And thanks to radio shack and 79.99 me and the fellas even put a cassette tape player in there so I could listen to Depeche Mode’s Black Celebration while the wind blew through my rayon shirt and around my new wave hair-do.

We were free.

And because Tom Cochrane told me Life Is A Highway back in my senior year, I decided quarantine was the perfect time to invite my sixteen-year-old son into the brotherhood.

Waking up one morning, I drove him out to an empty parking lot at my school. I parked my Toyota Tundra, got out and walked around to the passenger side. I opened his door and smiling brightly said, “Out ya go!”

“Dad, what is this?!” asked my son.

“It’s time,” I said like an agent in Mission Impossible.

“Dad, time for what?” he said.

I aimed my chin to the steering wheel, to the driver’s seat, and said dramatically, “Oh yeah, baby.”

“You want me to drive?” he said. He wasn’t moving. This was not how I envisioned the surprise trip was going to go. I figured we’d sort of race around the parking lot, and he’d ask me how fast I’d ever driven, we’d talk about babes, and I’d lend him my Pearl Jam Ten CD. But again, that’s besides the point.

“Don’t you want to drive?” I asked, still standing in the open door. The world seemed to slow down all around me, birds flew over me in a still frame.

His lips parted and uttered the worst negative I had heard since my daughter informed me she wasn’t into bacon anymore.

And just like that the bond was broken, the chalice of dudism spilling its sacred blood of manliness over the stones of my own adolescence.

“How could this be?” I asked my friend Travis later that day.

“Bro,” he said, “This new generation doesn’t really want to drive the way we did.” Travis’s son is a year older.

“They don’t want to drive?”

“Nope,” he said.

“How did you handle this?” I asked.

“Me?” He laughed. “Shit, I’m doing great. I bought him a bus pass and I got myself a boat!”

“A boat?” I said out loud.

“Listen,” Travis said, as he told me all about it. “You get out there, you put on some tunes, you catch some fish, hang out. It’s freedom baby.”

“Freedom,” I whispered into the phone.

“You know, it’s like that song!”

“Song?” I muttered.

“You know, right? The one that goes, Can’t nobody tell me nothin,” he said. “About the horse?”

“Sure,” I said dreamily. Just then, I pictured myself on a horse, in a boat, the wind rustling through my uncut new wave quarantine hair-do.

Can’t nobody tell me nothin, Travis.”

“Nope,” he said, “Sure can’t.”

My friends are good at helping me figure things out.

But that too is besides the point, because the point is that bonds are meant to be broken, but that day I learned that bonds can be mended.

The sacred bond between a man and his freedom might have been damaged that day, but it was made new when I brought home a new sailboat.

Oh, and I got a bus pass too. But that’s beside the point.

Thomas Courtney is a 46 year old father of two kids, neither of whom like to surf enough. He teaches 5th grade in San Diego.