Hint: your teen driver probably isn’t doing the repairing.
Our discussion topic, gentlemen, at today’s meeting of the Men Secretly Meeting To Discuss Their Feelings, Although We’d Rather Be Caught Dead Than Admit We Have Them When Women Are Around Club, is “Coping when our children live down to our lowest expectations.”
In particular, last night I loaned my car to my teenage son.
As a family, we had been out at the tennis courts hitting some balls around, and when we got home, one of my daughters announced that she’d left her sweatshirt at the courts. Now, understand, the courts are less than a mile from our house, on the remotest of New Hampshire back roads the whole way, and my son has had his learners permit for more than a year.
What could possibly go wrong?
And, yes, I know all of us first-time-fathers-of-teenage-drivers can answer that question with a litany of fears (and the experienced fathers of first-time drivers just rolled their eyes), but the truth is that, sooner or later, the kid’s gotta solo, and there are far worse places I could have started him. The autobahn, for instance. Or the Indianapolis Raceway.
Still, in fairness to my son, I should report that he made the trip down and back safely. He then proceeded to make a decision that was most ill-advised. My son has never put a car into a garage before. I’d assumed that he would come back home and park the car in the driveway, where it had been when he started his journey, and then come and ask me to put it into the garage, but apparently his brain, addled in a way that only adolescence—or large doses of narcotics—can addle, decided to “do me a favor” and put the car away.
Unfortunately, my son took the phrase “drive the car into the garage” a bit too literally. And so he did significant damage to my less-than-one-year-old Toyota Prius, to say nothing of the garage, his pride, and my blood pressure.
But here’s the key, gentlemen: as fathers, we must be prepared for certain little bumps in the road, things like pregnant girlfriends and scientific curiosity satisfied by taking apart our brand new iPad to see how it works, leaving us with a pile of random, unidentifiable parts that do not behave like an iPad should.
And the endless series of car repairs we’re going to have to shell out for between the time our child becomes old enough to get his or her learners permit and the time, three months later, when our car is repossessed to pay our delinquent car repair bills.
Experienced fathers whose children reach driving age learn to budget their finances more creatively, as follows:
Mortgage………………..20% of income
Food………………………7% of income
Clothing…………………..5% of income
Misc. spending cash…….2% of income
Utilities………………….12% of income
Car repair……………. 273% of income
Then, by the simple step of earning slightly over three times your current income, you can stay in the black. And here’s a tip: Some auto repair shops will give you a discount if you agree to the simple expedient of having your paycheck automatically deposited into their corporate account.
But to be momentarily serious, here’s the truth: My son has probably cost me somewhere on the order of $1,500 and $2,000 with that one little mistake. If I take the proper fatherly perspective, I’m happy to pay it, because he did not, in the process, lose a limb or his life (or anyone else’s), and if this little mishap causes him to be a more careful driver throughout his life, and never succumb to the standard teenage belief that they are bullet proof and better drivers than the morons who actually get into accidents—in short if this accident saves his life later on—then a few thousand dollars will have been a price well worth paying.
You will not, however, catch me admitting that to my son. At present, he’s sitting at home wondering what new and creative punishment I’m going to administer when I get home. Images of thumb screws and bamboo shoots are probably going through his head, along with the fear that I may come home having decided to disown, disinherit, or disembowel him.
And while that may make me a bit of a sadistic s.o.b., the truth is that this day or two of sweating is a far more effective punishment than any I could dream up.
So, to sum up, what lessons have we learned? First, that a good father expects these sorts of events and thus doesn’t let it divert him from the path of good fatherhood. Second, that sadism can be an important and rewarding part of good parenting of teenage children. And third, that finding some excuse, any excuse, to never let any of your children get drivers licenses is perhaps the single most profitable investment choice you can make.