Learner’s Permit


the day have i dreaded for over 15 years has finally arrived.

my younger son, Trevor, has his learner’s permit.

you’ve been warned.

actually, my abject and paralyzing fear at the prospect of this reality coming to be hasn’t really been about his driving skill. he is doing quite well…thus far.

we haven’t received any notices or warrants from the authorities, or ‘considering public transportation as a viable alternative’ pamphlets from his driving teacher…yet.

in the 10 hours or so that he has already driven with us, the brakes on our van have only had to be replaced…once. (granted, we hadn’t replaced them in about 100,000 miles, so i guess we can’t really pin that one entirely on him.)

no, the source of consternation in my cerebral cortex and knots in my stomach hasn’t been his lack of ability to safely steer his way through traffic.

it’s been my lack of ability to relinquish the reins of control.

in the van.

in his life.

in MY life.

my family and i made an overnight jaunt from Missoula to Coeur d’Alene, ID to have some fun splashing and soaking in some warm water. (okay, so Triple Play indoor water park isn’t exactly Cabo San Lucas, but living where we do in wintertime, it’ll do.) it’s about a 2-hour drive west along the 90 freeway.

T needed a chance to knock off some of his 50 required driving hours with us before he can get his license. (oh, how the times have changed…the only seeming behind-the-wheel ‘requirement’ to get your license in my day was to see if you could drive to Tijuana and back with only your permit…bonus points if you crammed your station wagon full of friends and scored some beer and a bumper sticker from Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada.)

so we decided that letting him drive the majority of the way to and from Coeur D’Alene would be a great experience for him.

and it was a great experience…for HIM.

now i must confess that i’m a terrible passenger in a car to begin with. when i’m riding with someone and they’re coming up to a stop and they’re not braking quickly or strongly enough, my foot instinctively presses down harder and harder on the foot well below me. i’ve been known to have worn down a passenger-side foot well so much, i could stick my feet down onto the wheels themselves and brake a car like Fred Flintstone. but i digress.

so, knowing that i’d rather have a root canal without novocaine whilst listening to Air Supply than be a passenger in a vehicle, it may not surprise you that my wife, Kirsten, sat ‘shotgun’ for this adventure. meanwhile, i quietly took my place in the back seat behind her, put in my earbuds and cranked up ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ full blast, pulled my hoodie over my eyes, took a deep breath, and we headed out onto the freeway, on our way west.

i consider it a minor miracle that i only yelled in abject terror ONCE in the two-hour ride.

T handled himself and the vehicle just fine…changing lanes, passing slower moving vehicles carefully, signaling even when he was reaching right for his Gatorade. he had a couple of close calls when slowing down too much after making some turns (i just quietly quipped, ‘not every successful turn is a cause for celebration…especially when you almost got rear-ended by a moped in the process’). but overall, he was doing really well.

and then we hit the Idaho border.

and Lookout Pass.

appropriately named.

having been lulled into a deceptive state of peacefulness by his good driving, we came up over the hill at the top of the Pass and into a steep downgrade with a sharp left turn approaching quickly. T wasn’t applying the brakes in an assertive enough fashion for my taste or comfort, and we were heading straight for the guardrail on the right side of the road (or so it seemed to me).

so, very suddenly and loudly enough to almost shatter the windshield, i screamed out, ‘BRAKES! BRAKES!’

and he braked. HARD. almost hard enough to send my eyeballs out of their sockets and onto the rearview mirror like a scene from ‘Scanners’.

and he made the turn. SAFELY.

and then both he and Kir turned around and looked at me with an expression that said, ‘What the FLOCK are you doing?

i said i felt like we were about to do a ‘Thelma and Louise’ over the cliff, and we hadn’t even all kissed and joined hands.

and then i said i was sorry.

and put my earbuds back in.

and pulled my hood back over my head.

and felt like a neurotic nimrod.

a paranoid humanoid.

a fearful fool.

in fact, since T has been driving around town, i’ve noticed that i’ve become much more nitpicky with him, commenting on almost every driving move he makes, lecturing him about the finer points of maneuvering into parking places and narrow spaces, reminding him of why following all my ‘words of wisdom’ will ensure that he is the finest and safest driver in the known universe.

and increasingly, he simply looks back at me with an expression that says, ‘Dad, i love you…but if you don’t shut up, i’m going to punch you in the FACE.’

and i realize (always in hindsight) that the only way he is going to learn how to drive the car more safely is by letting HIM drive, not trying to drive the car FOR him.

the best way for him to survive and even thrive behind the wheel is for me to let up on the lectures, and let go of the wheel.

stop yelling so much, and start yielding more.

spend less time on backseat criticisms, and more time on frontline celebrations (even for safe, successful turns).

give up the illusion of control, and give in to the reality of release.

surrender fear-based terror, and embrace love-based trust.

and that applies not just to driving, but to LIFE.

his life.

and mine.

and it occurs to me that along the ‘road’ of life, my son isn’t the only one who still needs a ‘learner’s permit’.

(father and son much more relaxed after the Missoula Half Marathon)


To see more of Brian’s writing, check out the Brian Marsh main page here at Make it Missoula. And for even more, check out his personal blog, Apocalypso Now.


i’m a wanderer and a wonderer. a pastor who isn’t sure he’d attend church if he wasn’t pastoring one (and currently, i’m not), living with my unique and special family (my wife, Kirsten, and sons, Ian and Trevor) in a unique and beautiful place (Missoula, Montana). restless and lazy, usually amazed, always in process, i’m continually surprised and usually delighted at discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary, the ‘sacred’ in the ‘secular’, the shafts of light that sneak into the shrouds of darkness. i drum decently, surf poorly, love multicultural food, music and community, and living in the ‘Zoo.