- Erik JP Drobey
Within a week of writing this, my son celebrated both his eighteenth birthday and high school graduation, and soon he'll set off on his own. He is young man now (or, at least, a man-child).
We get along well, but, as is common and appropriate for people his age, my son (to whom I'll refer as R out of respect for his privacy) has his own interests, friends, and endeavors which have nothing whatsoever to do with me--and which keep him busy. To the extent possible, I stay out of R's way, and as a result of that and my own busy life, we haven't spent a whole lot of time together over the past year and a half.
Yet, nearly every Saturday or Sunday, R and I wake up before dawn to take a morning drive together.
We do so not because I insist on it, or because we need to run errands, or in order to reach any particular destination. I already taught R how to drive long ago and he has his license, so it's not like he needs lessons or my pointers/feedback (or me in the passenger's seat).
We take these early-morning weekend drives together because R wants to take them. To emphasize: my teenage son WANTS TO WAKE UP EARLY ON A WEEKEND to do nothing other than drive with me. Though I could use the extra sleep, I am always happy to oblige, and this now ritual is something we both look forward to.
I'm not sure how we arrived at this ritual, though we navigate the same roads along which I taught him how to drive in the first place, and that experience was unexpectedly good for both of us. I do still give him feedback, most of which is positive, and it's impressive how capable he's become behind the wheel. But again, that's not the point of these excursions.
The point is to spend time together. And for whatever reason, the setting of my FR-S or Miata (or friend's 500 Abarth) zipping between redwood trees and over fog blanketing the coast is fraught-free, a liminal space unattached to the mundane trappings of our daily lives and unencumbered by agendas or expectations. Perhaps because of this worry-free aspect of the setting, R and I have nevertheless had more spontaneous meaningful conversations along these drives than anyplace else. Most of the time, we simply drive, listen to music, and talk about everyday stuff, but occasionally, we engage in what I've coined (with a dad-joke smirk) "LifeTalks": poignant, meaningful discussions about our lives, his plans and future, and our relationship. Without these weekend drives, I'm convinced we wouldn't have had half of these LifeTalks.
Driving has brought R and I closer together. There are other "vehicles" through which we connect, of course (camping, hiking, going out to eat, traveling), but perhaps because of its simplicity, accessibility, and predictable frequency, the weekend drive with R is something we both acknowledge as a special ritual we will miss when he moves out of the house. We have a precious few of such drives left before he does, and I'm already nostalgic. "Don't worry," R assures me. "Every time I visit, we'll hop in your car and go."
What awaits R along the road ahead? I don't know; but I do know he's a more than capable driver and, most importantly, he has the requisite skills and resourcefulness to navigate the twists and turns ahead. I am proud to call him my son, and I am grateful for the time we have together.
For other parents/car enthusiasts out there, consider taking the weekend, early-morning drive with your daughters and sons. And if you have your own rituals which involve cars and driving (restoring a car, for example), I welcome them in the comments below. In the meantime, I'll look forward to Saturday morning, when I'll get up, make some coffee for both of us, and grab the keys.
Erik JP Drobey lives in San Francisco. He chronicles some of his culinary and vehicular adventures on Instagram as @zjpd.
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.