Finding Focus: Buckle up, Buttercup

By WES BROOKS,

This week’s column comes with no soundtrack and no distractions. I’ve buckled-up and checked my mirrors and my surroundings.

I’m shifting from “P” to “D” so please fasten your seatbelt as well.

My Mrs. and I are at that pivotal parenting moment when you put your child behind the wheel of an automobile. Having a son who’s finally reached this milestone is a proud moment, and one that’s equally terrifying.

Terrifying? YES. Things have changed drastically since the summer of ’86 when I acquired my license.

Back then, you could sit the for the written driver’s test 30 days before your 15th birthday, i.e. you could legally operate a vehicle provided there was fully licensed passenger with you at age 14!

Thirty days later—provided you pass your road test—you were legally licensed to travel unencumbered as far as your four wheels (and your parents) would allow.

And… I… could… not… wait!

I was even excited when the 6’3”, 250 lb. State Trooper—who was decked out like he’d just come off patrol—squeezed himself into the passenger side of my tiny ’84 Toyota two-door standard cab manual pickup. (Yeah, I took the road test in a stick-shift… like a boss!)

When they handed me that license I was free. I had become a man.

Watch out world, here comes Wes Brooks.

I could go anywhere at any time (within reason), and no more asking my mother or father to take me somewhere. I could drive to the music store whenever I wanted and pester those poor folks for hours (and I did). I could go to the record store in the mall and pester those folks for hours (and I did).

Today, one must 15 to acquire their learner’s permit. Then, they must wait one year before they can take their road test and become a licensed driver.  And that’s fine by me. A year and a half ago there’s no way I would’ve put my son out on these roads. He just wasn’t mature enough yet, and even now I’m still nervous.

But here’s the big thing that’s profoundly perplexing about this generation—it seems to me, for the most part, that they either couldn’t care less or are reluctant to get their license. I mean… huh??

I get the impression that it’s no longer an event where you and your friends counted the days until your mom or dad drove you to the MHP testing facility. I can remember it like it was yesterday.

“Hey John, how many more days?”

“Next Tuesday!”

“Hey, did you hear?! Michael failed his yesterday! He has to wait another 30 days!!

“Wes, how long for you?”

“On the 12th, man! On the 12th!!”

In these last few weeks, I’ve come to the realization that there are a few reasons I need to cut these kids some slack.

First, by the time I went to take my driving test, there was nothing about a vehicle that was unfamiliar to me. Having had what most would call a typical South Mississippi upbringing, my brother and I spend almost every weekday afternoon on my bike and almost every weekend out in the county at my grandparent's farm where we’d shred 70 acres of pasture and trails on go-carts, 3-wheelers, and 4-wheelers.

Next, my grandfather was a mechanic whose weekend hobby was rebuilding and restoring old salvaged Volkswagen Beetles. When I turned 13, he started taking me out on the remote country roads by his farm so I’d be able to drive a stick by the time I got my license.

Conversely, and in retrospect, for all the “experience” I thought I acquired hotdogging on those go-carts and 4-wheelers, it also provided me some exaggerated fearlessness that did not serve me well when I finally got behind the wheel.

How about your’s truly getting his first speeding ticket two weeks after getting his learner’s permit?

Yes, you read that correctly.

I received my first speeding ticket before I had passed my actual driver’s license.

How about your’s truly thinking he could drift through a 90-degree turn on a dirt road Dukes of Hazzard-style? I’ll just share that my little Toyota pickup didn’t handle corners like a modified ’69 Dodge Charger.

End result? One wrecked truck and me walking (gingerly, after my ol’ man got hold of me).

In understanding my own son’s reluctance, or rather, lack of excitement in acquiring his driver’s license, I’ve had to remind myself that he is going into this thing ice cold. He didn’t grow up with access to the motorsport vehicles I had—his knowledge of piloting anything with a motor is limited to the virtual experience he’s gleaned from Xbox 360.

However, the young man is trying his hardest in spite of the anxiety. While some of his anxiety is self-imposed, the vast majority comes from having his panicked father sitting beside him white-knuckling the passenger seat armrest and calling out every potential hazard. Scaring him into being a defensive driver is the way to go, right!?

Wrong. 

Because of my intense teaching style, The Boss has temporarily barred me from future driving sessions. I argue that my style has proven effective because the kid literally drives like a 90-year-old man—hands 10-and-2 and always 2-3 miles per hour under the speed limit.

She argues none of that means anything if he’s too scared to get in the vehicle in the first place. Who knows, maybe she’s right.

Who am I kidding, she’s right, because there are a handful of folks who are triggered when they encounter slow, cautious drivers.

A week ago, my wife and son were making their way back from his band practice. My son was driving. As always, he was 10-and-2 and doing 2-3 miles per hour under the posted speed limit on the 98 corridor going west.

The short version is that he merged into the open passing lane slowing down a guy going 20-30 mph over the speed limit.

This guy was so triggered that riding my son’s back bumper and blasting him with his horn wasn’t enough. No, he felt compelled to follow them into the gas station parking lot, get out of his truck, run up to the passenger side window, and wait for my wife to crack the window so he could scream “WHAT THE &%^$!!”

My wife, being the calm, level-headed person she is, calmly, but sternly, said, “Mister, you can take yourself and your expletives away from me and my child, or I can complete this call to 9-1-1 and we all talk about your driving and your behavior around this minor with the police.”

Hmm… I can’t imagine why the kid isn’t excited about being out on the open road.

I know my son is a fine young man. Better than me. And we’ve taught him what to do in those situations. I know I can’t do it for him. He has to do it himself.

Regardless, I know I’ve just found a new level of worry—that of my only child venturing out into the world without me or his mother there to shield him.

And like every other parent out there, worrying about my child’s safety when he leaves the house is something I will cope with until the day I die.

Be kind and watch out for another on these roads, folks. I wish each of you nothing but safety and success as we enter the new school year!

When he’s not rocking his socks off with his three-piece band, Brooks, a native of Jones County, is a busy family man who can often be spotted hopping from one event to the next with his wife, Shane, and their son, Campbell. Email him your thoughts, comments, encouragment, and critiques to: 6550music@gmail.com

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