'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
THE TEACHER BECOMES THE STUDENT
Last week I discussed how uncomfortable it can be for a parent to teach a teenager how to drive. Not uncomfortable physically—although those sudden stops and starts as the teenager gets used to the pedals can cause third-degree whiplash—but uncomfortable emotionally, as the entire process can reveal some glaring character flaws in the parent.
For me the problems began when my teenage daughter noticed that whenever I’m behind the wheel, I treat the posted speed limit signs as mere suggestions. One day she said, “Dad, if the sign says the speed limit is 30 mph, you usually drive at least 45 mph. So, what’s the deal, are we suppose to obey the law, or not?”
At first I responded in a thoughtful, reasonable, open-minded fashion. I shouted, “How dare you talk to me in that tone of voice!”
Unfortunately, my response did not cause her to back down. It used to work when she was six, but now that she’s 16 she is much more assertive—how rude! Anyway, she pressed the issue, so I began to explain, “Well, maybe I do drive a bit faster that the posted speed limit once in a very great while, but you see, honey, I’m a very experienced and skillful driver, and I never do anything unsafe, and certainly the posted speed limit is important so the less experienced or skillful drivers don’t do anything dangerous, but driving safely is what really matters, not some arbitrary number on the speedometer, and…”
“So, in other words,” she said, “everyone else has to obey the law, but you don’t.”
“Now wait a minute. I didn’t say that. What I mean is…”
“Kind of like those corporate CEOs who ignore the accounting laws,” she said, “and those politicians who ignore the laws about taking gifts because they think they’re better than everyone else.”
Hypocrisy, of course, is just one of the many character flaws that is revealed when teaching a teenager how to drive. Some of the others include anger, arrogance, lack of compassion, foul language, situational ethics, and possibly the worst of all, a competitive streak that borders on maniacal.
Last month I was driving my daughter to school and she said, “Dad, why did you do that?”
“Do what?” I asked.
“You cut right in front of that blue car. Why did you do that?”
“Oh, because he wanted to cut in front of me,” I replied.
“Yeah, so?” she said. “Why didn’t you just let him go first?”
“Are you kidding?” I laughed. “If I let him go first, then he would…he would WIN.”
“Win what?” she asked.
“Well, I mean, he would…win. Which means obviously that I would lose. I can’t let that happen.”
“Dad,” she said, using the calm and measured voice one might use to tell a kindergarten student he’s eaten enough paste for now, “the first chapter of the Instruction Manual says to make sure the student driver is emotionally mature enough to handle the responsibility of driving. I’m very sorry, but I don’t think you’re ready to be behind the wheel by yourself. Maybe in a couple of years.”
After debating this issue for quite a while, my daughter and I finally reached a compromise: I admitted that I’m a hypocritical, two-faced weasel with a bushel basket full of emotional problems, and I promised to drive for the rest of my life at or below the posted speed limit and never again cut in front of other cars—and she promised not to tell my wife.
So if you happen to see a silver Honda driving at exactly 55 mph and clogging up traffic on Interstate-84, please don’t honk your horn and flip the bird as you cut in front of me. I’m just trying to keep a promise and set a good example for my kids.
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