I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 21 years old. There are a couple of reasons why it took so long: my father insisted on being the one to teach me, and although he himself, was a good driver, he was not a good teacher – at least not with family members. I was also scared witless about highway driving (still am, if I’m honest).
Every year, from the time I turned 16, my New Year’s resolutions included “Get my license.” Every year, for 5 years, my resolution would get blown, either through my evasion of the dreaded lessons, or my failure to perform to my father’s satisfaction. You see, my dad thought he was an expert driver and no-one could possibly teach me as well as he could, so while all my friends went through Driver’s Ed, got their licenses at 16 and 17 and enjoyed that unparalleled sense of freedom you can only get from driving off your street and away from your parents, I was chauffeured around town by my father and occasionally, even my mom.
It was quite humiliating to be taken to school in the morning and dropped off, when everyone else was pulling into the parking lot in either their own cars, or their mom’s, old bangers. I usually chose to walk or ride my bike to retain some sense of dignity. I think this may be why I started to dress to gain attention; my inadequacy as an independent traveler would be eclipsed by my cool hair and my outlandish dress sense.
The most memorable moment of my driving lesson history went like this: My father and I went out in the ‘75 Impala (see above), with me at the wheel. I was cruising along nicely through the familiar, suburban neighbourhood where we lived and I was feeling pretty good about things. It was at this point that my dad got it into his head that I should go on the highway. I was not keen, to say the least. My father, had the classic “Irish temper” complete with irrational expectations and a stubborn streak to like the proverbial mule. When he decided I was going to go on the highway, he directed me toward the service road that led to the on-ramp and I could feel my own temperature rising. You see, I have that Irish in me too. Where do you think the word, “ire” comes from anyway?
Something took over in my brain – a little donkey of my own, perhaps, and I slowed the car to a halt and pulled to the side of the road–to a dead stop.
My father was at first perplexed and wanted to know why I had stopped. When I tried to make my case for not going on the highway, he would brook no excuses. His face got red and if he had been a cartoon, you would surely have seen smoke coming out of his ears. (Yosemite Sam comes to mind.) I held my ground and would not budge. No yelling, or bullying was going to make me drive that behemoth of midnight-blue metal onto that on-ramp to the Queen Elizabeth Way.
Enraged, my father jumped out of the car and ran over to my side to the driver’s window. He was intending to berate me from a different angle in order to get me to change my mind. That was his fatal error.
I put the car in gear and tore off down the road leaving him standing on the verge. Just then, it started to rain—a few drops at first, but then it really came down, hard. I was well on my way now and I just kept driving. I was trying to think: What should I do? Where can I go? I knew that if my dad caught up to me, I would be flayed alive.
Suddenly, I had an idea: I drove deep into my neighbourhood and pulled into a long driveway. Parking the car, I ran up to the big wooden door and banged loudly. The old priest who answered recognized me right away and invited me in. I was in a panic! I thought, churches have to give sanctuary, right? They’ll protect me from my mad, drowned rat of a father, won’t they?
Well, it turned out, they had other ideas. The priest and his associate, talked quietly to me and tried to convince me to go home. I’m sure they were pretty terrified themselves, come to think of it. They knew my father and he had a reputation for being, shall we say, a tad unreasonable on occasion?
Basically, they turned me around and told me to go home. I got back in the Impala ( a car I had once appropriately nicknamed “The Getaway Car”) and headed back.
When I reached my house, I jumped out of the car and approached the front step. Hesitantly, I opened the front door and was immediately met by mother who was none-the-wiser. My dad wasn’t even home yet! This was bad! He was going to be even more angry when he got back. On the other hand, it gave me an opportunity to hide, but not for long, because suddenly, my mom said, “Here’s you father now. What’s going on? Why isn’t he with you anyway?”
I didn’t wait to hear anymore. I quickly dashed into the main bathroom on the upper floor of our bungalow and locked first the door into the hallway, and then the back door leading into my parents’ bedroom. I cowered inside the glass doors of the shower stall.
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My father entered the house like the Ogre in Jack and the Beanstalk after he finds out his golden egg is missing. He was yelling at my mom and then came charging down the hallway and started banging on the bathroom door.
I was terrified! Mom was on the outside going to bat for me, so I had a chance – and I seriously doubted my dad would go so far as to break down the door of the bathroom. I just had to stay safe until he cooled off.
Eventually, my dad did simmer down. His yells got weaker and I think my ace-in-the-hole was telling him (from behind the safety of my door) that I’d been to the church. Even MY dad would see sense if you brought the church into it.
I don’t remember how it was resolved. It’s all kind of a blur. I must have finally come out of hiding and after promising not to beat me within an inch of my life, I’m pretty sure my dad kept his word.
Maybe this is one of the reasons why I’m still a Catholic.
Here’s a clip from the movie “Happy Go Lucky” which brings back so many memories of my own “driving lessons”.