“Stay out of harm’s way… Okay, Sport?” That’s how my dad has always said, “I love you.”
My dad and I in the mid 80’s after Sports Day at my Elementary School…
He still says that now, when we get off the phone. My dad and I have always an interesting relationship. Good or bad, I felt like I understood him, and even if he didn’t totally understand me, I knew that he accepted me as I was. I got into trouble, no doubt – but I don’t remember him making me feel like I was a bad person for it.
My dad is a family lawyer in a small southern town, and one of the only black ones when I was growing up – so people knew who he was. Racing home to make curfew one night (well, morning) on a dark back road I saw red and blue flashing lights in my rear view mirror. I had almost made it. This was a few years before my mom told me never to pull over unless I was in a well lit public area (I got my permit at 14, and license at 15… ah the good ‘ol days), so I pulled over on the site of the road. I looked at the clock as the car rolled to a stop, and the crunching of the gravel and dry pine needles under the tires signaled my defeat.
“License and registration,” the officer said blankly. I had never been pulled over before, but honestly, I was more worried about not getting home in time and facing my parents, than a ticket.
I reached over to the glove compartment and got my registration, and pulled my license from my wallet.
“Do you know how fast you were going,” asked the officer as I handed her my documents.
“Not really,” I told her. I was being honest. Who was looking at the speedometer? I had fixed my attention on navigating the curves in the road that I had memorized from driving them daily to go to school and back, like I was playing Pole Position at the arcade – but in the dark.
“Well you were…” she started. “This is your car?”
“No, ma’am” I confessed, scared, but wishing she’d get on with giving me the ticket so that I could finish my race. “It’s my dad’s.”
“Yes, ma’am.” We were always taught to say “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am”. It sounds so country now that I think about it.
“Oh,” she said, and continued writing the ticket. She handed it to me, told me to slow down, and warned me to be careful.
When I got home, I told my parents I was late because I got pulled over. They told me that I was already late before I got pulled over, and was trying to “fix” it by speeding. I handed them the ticket… $113. They could see that I was traumatized at the double trouble I had gotten myself into, and I was allowed to go to bed – still shaking.
The next day, when my dad came home, he let me know that he got a call from the officer first thing that morning. The officer told her that I was very respectful, and because of the respect she had for him, she would dismiss the ticket. She just wanted him to know that I had gotten caught speeding and was issued a ticket, just in case I had hid it from him. He was happy to tell her that I brought the ticket to him, and that although she didn’t have to make that ticket disappear, he was grateful for her call and her mercy. Then, I got the lecture. He reminded me that I could have killed someone, myself included… that getting home safely was more important than being on time… that driving was a big responsibility… that if it had been any other time and any other officer, I could have gotten points on my license, had my license taken or worse…
I don’t remember my punishment. Since I was responsible for driving myself 45 minutes to school each way, because my parents were working, I am pretty sure they didn’t take the car. Honestly, having my dad disappointed in me was punishment enough.
I am dreading the day that one of my kids gets into trouble that I can’t fix. I hope and pray that it never happens. The older they get the more helpless I feel when it comes to protecting them from their own foolish mistakes. As moms, we jump to our kids defense as a matter of instinct. They spill it, we wipe it (or show them how). They turn it over, we set it right. Now that I have a teenager, when I see stories of teens and young adults getting into serious trouble, I immediately think of how powerless the parents must feel when it comes to fixing what their children have done.
One day, I’ll have to let go and send them out into the world where they will undoubtedly make a mistake or two. I’ll warn them not to sign their lives away for a credit card and a t shirt or pen when the credit card companies descend on their college campuses – but I won’t be able to go to college with them. I’ll let them know that it is okay to drive the speed limit – but I won’t always be in the passenger seat to administer disapproving glares. I’ll tell them that if it doesn’t belong to them, don’t touch it – but I won’t be there to smack their hands.
We do everything in our power to keep our kids safe, but one day, we have to let them go with just, “Stay out of harm’s way,” and hope that those five words brings to remembrance the years of training we have given them.
Headmaster Percivial Chen is a proud Chinese born man who runs English language school during the cusp of the Vietnam War. His son gets into trouble and one he exhausts his connections and his options, he has to send him away. Join From Left to Write on November 15 as we discuss the The Headmaster’s Wager . As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.