My daughter has been on the road as a licensed driver for about six months now. So far (knock on wood), so good. Not having to be a passenger anymore is the best part of her passing the driver's test. Riding alongside her while she still had her temporary permit has easily shaved five years off of my life. I could be upset about it, but I figure my last five years are probably not going to be all that enjoyable anyway. So if I'm missing out on my time in the old age home where the nurses drop me on purpose and draft me in the first round of their death pool, who cares.
Whenever my wife complains that I do nothing around the house except mow the lawn and produce dirty clothes, I point out that the duty of having to train our daughter for the road and maneuverability portions of the driver's test can never be matched as agonizing parental duties go. Add in the high level of danger, and no amount of laundry or bill paying could even remotely come close to what I put myself through during the months leading up to her exam.
Okay, so my daughter has her license. She has a car that my brother-in-law donated to the cause. For the most part, she's only driving short distances - to and from school and to work mostly. It's all good, right? Not so fast. See there's this little issue of filling up her gas tank. First, she stressed about when to fill it up. A couple of month of months ago, the conversation went like this...
"Dad," she said, "I need to get gas."
"Uh, really? We filled it up last week. You don't go very far anyway, so I'm sure you're good Starsky." I started calling her Starsky right after I noticed her affinity for parking in our driveway kind of cock-eyed, like she hurried to a stop to get out chase some bad guys on foot - just like my personal television cop heroes from the '70's, Starsky & Hutch.
She brushed off the Starsky comment like it wasn't even made. "No, I really need gas. I don't want to run out."
"What does the gauge say."
"Like only little more than half."
"A little more than half of what?"
"A little more than half a tank."
"Are you serious?"
"You're freaking me out. Just please fill it up for me. I don't want to run out and be stuck on the road. That would be so embarrassing."
At first, I figured the purpose of her asking me to fill it up for her was to extract the cash necessary from my pocket rather than her own. So, I offered her $20 from my pocket.
"Can you just do it? Please?" She seemed desperate.
"I don't like to do it. It's scary."
"Listen. Prison is scary. Taking a test you are unprepared for is scary. Sometimes your mother's cooking can be scary. Going to the gas station? Unless it's the gas station in the movie Jeepers Creepers, filling your tank up should not be scary."
"Everyone is looking at me when I pump gas." Now this was getting downright ridiculous.
I was tired of debating the subject, so I jumped into her 1992 Acura Legend, drove to the station and filled it up -- for $7.34. That's not a typo. Seven dollars and thirty four cents. I've filled up gas cans for more than that.
Now, most of the time either my wife or I go to the gas station for my daughter. At some point she needs to learn. One time I followed her to the gas station down the road to see why she was having so many issues. Turns out she's afraid to get too close to the pump. I'm thinking she thinks she's going to knock the pump over and cause a massive explosion or something - like in an old Smokey and the Bandit movie (but she's too young to ever have seen it). She literally gets no closer than a car's length away from the pump. Now I know why she thinks everyone is looking at her when she goes to pump gas - because they are. I ended up getting out of my car and pulling her car up to the pump myself.
Then it hit me. She's obviously not prepared. For all the driving and maneuvering we did, never did I have her practice pulling up to a gas pump and let her do her thing. Maybe the Ohio Department of Motor Vehicles should have had us focus less on driving around a series of orange cones and broom handles and more on navigating a busy gas station. If you know how many times my kid knocked over the orange cones as we practiced and practice and practiced maneuverability, you'd understand how much more intimidating a pump full of combustible gas is than a broom handle.
I have no idea if other parents feel like I do. And, I have no idea if other new drivers, like my daughter, feel the way she does. However, I do know that neither the driver's test or the standardized education that comes before it is about to change. So, we are left to fend for ourselves.
This aversion to gas pumps needs to change. What if something tragic happens to my wife and I and there's no one to go to the gas station for my daughter? She could run out of gas on the way to our funeral. Even worse than missing the funeral or running out of gas, she could become embarrassed. I must help her start to change today - to break the cycle of fear. We'll practice day and night by pulling into every crowded gas station we can find, the busier the better, even if it means me jumping back into the passenger seat. If we hit a pump or two, so be it. And, as quickly as we slide our car next to a vacant pump, we pull away on to the next station. Practice will make perfect. I will not die in vain.
And if that doesn't work, she can always take the bus.