What I learned about my daughter teaching her to drive for 120 hours

There is a rite of parenthood that is rarely given its due, in importance to you and your child, or degree of difficulty. It is passing on the gift of driving.

If you have a child of one, 12, or are considering conception, this is relevant, because I can attest the moment will arrive so quickly you'll swear she was in daycare just a few weeks ago.

The day my 16-year-old daughter nailed her L-plate test, we took our first tentative drive around legendary learner territory, Sydney's Callan Park. We devised a route which took us out of the park's labyrinth of tracks, down 200 metres of open road with other actual cars, both screaming in high-pitched voices until we reached the safety of a carpark once again. It was hectic and draining.

The logbook seemed ridiculous – 120 hours of this ahead of us. But, for me, it became a personal challenge to give her the skills she required for true independence.

Soon, we were driving over the ANZAC bridge, circling the Eastern suburbs, buying gelato and carving off the hours.

120 hours on the road

A favourite drive was south of Sydney through the national park to Thirroul and back, alone on the twisting roads dappled with light oozing through the forest roof.

Driving is a family thing. My dad still drives tour buses up winding, icy ski-field roads with a deadly, unguarded plunge on one side most of the time. He's 78. I adore sports cars and have quite a bit of track time, including five incredible laps of Philip Island in a BMW, coached by Jeff Brabham. So the poor kid knew the pressure was on to have a little "mechanical sympathy."

Our 120 hours took two years. In that time there were just two crash-saving wheel-grabs from me, I yelled "Brakes! Watch your speed. F*** me!" only about 180,000 times and my daughter shouted "Yes, yes, I see it, oh my god, stop swearing!" back at me 190,000 times.

There were magic moments like when she masterered cornering on country roads, understanding what she was doing, and why, what the apex was and where to brake, that gave us both goosebumps.

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Conversations in gear

And there was 120 hours of time alone for us to talk. In our two years as driver and passenger, we have covered the addition of a first serious boyfriend, the HSC, international travel and starting uni, books, philosophy, belief, scepticism, the nature of stuff ... and a million other things.

As a young woman's social life whirls into gear – we covered drinking as a topic as well – there are more important things in life than hanging with dad.

And men are notoriously bad at communicating with anyone, let alone the strange new woman-daughters their giggly children have become.

I came to deeply value the opportunity to listen to her, watch as she became a grown-up person before my very eyes, and choke on my car snacks with her wit, intelligence and horrifying openness and honesty.

(My hilarious gag noise at the suggestion of any amorous activity with boys was soon shut down as immature.)

Ticket to freedom

Now she's 18 and on the weekend our last ever drive with L-plates was to the P-plate test, which she passed first go. The final barrier to adult freedom has fallen away and my child can now drive around by herself.

We have a genuine shared sense of achievement. And we have a relationship that has benefited from something rare – an enforced 120 hours alone to talk and listen and understand who each other is as a person, not just as father and daughter.

Sure, it can be deadly boring and at other times you stare death in the face, but teaching your child to drive is a privilege and a joy for you both.

This morning my kid took me to breakfast and dropped me home. As she drove away by herself, tooting and waving more than was required or sensible, I felt more than a little loss. Our time together is done.

So I'll make sure I keep up my hours with her. They just don't need to be in a car.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher New Holland. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

Ever taught a young person to drive? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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