“Don’t get mad,” my youngest son snapped from the back seat of the car as his
brother Skippy – sporting a brand new driver’s license – skirted too close to
vehicles parked on the side of the road. “Don’t yell,” he piled
“Quiet, son,” I admonished. “I didn’t say anything.”
don’t get mad,” he repeated, knowingly.
And then I got mad; then I
yelled. Not at Skippy – doing his very best to navigate the narrow, busy roads
as his nervous, jittery father breathed down his neck – but at the youngest, for
reading my mind.
Junior was right: I was mad, and I wanted to holler –
but I didn’t. I girded myself and kept everything in. And believe me, that was
no easy task.
Of all the parental obligations – the feeding, the
nurturing, the educating, the financial support – teaching your kids to drive is
among the most unnerving.
The term “teaching” here is a misnomer anyway,
because we don’t actually teach our kids to drive. Sure, there is the random lap
around the school parking lot, that concludes with a stab at parallel parking
between a rock and a garbage dumpster. But we don’t teach them. For that we pay
NIS 3,000 to some chain smoker (can you blame him?) named Shuki.
we do is drive with them after they have already “learned” – a big enough
challenge as it is.
While I fully realize the importance of driving with
the kids when they first get their license so they can rack up much needed hours
on the road, my first impulse is to surrender those honors to The
Or, barring that, just drive myself when going anywhere with the
new driver, sparing myself a surefire nerve-wracking experience.
I’ll drive today, because it’s noon and the sun is too bright,” I tried once.
“Maybe I’ll drive today because it rained this week, and there’s probably some
grease on the road,” I said another time.
But my inner parent – and The
Wife – demand that I let Skippy drive, that I give him the experience.
he drives, and I get edgy.
It’s a tightrope, really. On the one hand, you
want your child to feel confident and self-assured behind the wheel, and you
definitely don’t want to startle him by shouting “move the hell over!” into his
little ear, as he careens perilously close to the side of the road. On the other
hand, you don’t want him to careen perilously close to the side of the
So one time, in the midst of this delicate balancing act, I simply
suggested to Skippy that perhaps he might want to drive a little closer toward
the center of the street. I said it as nicely, as unthreateningly, as I
But as gentle as I was, as soft was my tone, it didn’t matter. I
could have sounded like a midnight disc jockey on FM radio; it wouldn’t have
made a difference. My youngest son picked up my vibes from the back seat, and
called me out.
What was interesting – er, maddening – was that he didn’t
confront me for something I did, or any impulse I acted upon, or even over any
angry words spoken. Rather, he called me out on something I merely
Now one could think that this mind reading is a good thing – a
sign of warm intimacy, harmonized feelings, a father and son in sync, a very
close and healthy relationship.
Indeed, it brought to mind warm and fuzzy
memories of my own relationship with my father. I know the man so well, am so
attuned to his facial expressions, gestures and intonations, that I can
anticipate exactly what he will say before he says it.
Most often this is
harmless, like when I know something will trigger a joke I have heard a dozen
times before. Other times it is a bit more tricky, more complicated, such as
when I know exactly what he is thinking. Occasionally his thoughts leave me
annoyed and insulted, and I get defensive as a result.
“Son, you should
cut some of your flowers,” he said to me on a recent visit, after taking a look
at my beloved porch garden. “Too many flowers. It’s too much.” “Thanks for the
tip, dad,” I said, more than a tad annoyed. “But I like ‘em.”
you had a simple father-son exchange.
A week later, as he got out of the
car in another part of town, I saw him glance upward for a split second at an
“Dad, don’t,” I implored. “Don’t say it.” “But I
didn’t say anything,” he replied.
“You didn’t have to,” I countered,
accurately gauging what he was thinking. “I like my flowers.”
raises an intriguing relationship-related question: Is it legitimate to get mad
at someone for what you know they are thinking, even though they don’t act on
their thoughts, or even share them? The Wife and I deal with this quite a bit,
since we’ve been together for good amount of time.
A stranger can walk
into a room, say a few words, and I’ll know The Wife’s exact initial appraisal.
Or after a disagreement with one of the kids, I can read through her silence and
get angry for what she didn’t say. In fact, we can have a whole conversation –
even a whole disagreement – without exchanging a word. That’s what comes from a
quarter-century of marriage.
But my youngest, heck, he’s only been
attentive for a few years, and can already read my mind through the back of my
neck. And if he can do that at 15, how many arguments over unarticulated
thoughts will we have by the time he reaches 30? But who am I to complain. If I
can get irritated by my dad’s unstated thoughts, well, my son should be allowed
to do the same with mine.
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