In the US, turning 16 and gaining the privilege of driving an automobile is a major milestone in a person’s life. For me, accomplishing this milestone was yet another nightmare of being told I was inadequate.
A person that is hoping to attain a driver’s license under the age of 18 in the US is required to take classroom instruction in driver’s education. For most aspiring young drivers, this classroom instruction is taught in high school once the child turns 15. Behind the wheel instruction, a written test and road test must be completed within 1 year of the completion of the classroom education portion of driver’s training in order to obtain a driver’s license.
I took the classroom instruction for driver’s education at my high school when I was about 15 1/2. The next step I needed to complete in order to obtain a driver’s license was the behind the wheel training. The behind the wheel training was typically conducted in one of the local high school’s parking lots if you were able to get into those rapidly filled classes. or was performed privately. Upon my completion of the classroom portion of driver’s education, I asked my parents about signing up for the behind the wheel instruction. The cost was around $150. They said “no”. They told me I was too irresponsible to drive. I pleaded with them to at least let me get my license and they refused. I was fine with not driving, I just wanted to have that card in my wallet that said I was licensed to drive an automobile. They told me there was no way they would let me drive the family car, not even to just get my license. I was crushed. I asked repeatedly and the answer was always “no”.
A year went by. Now I would have to retake the classroom portion of driver’s education training in order to get my license. I essentially had to start over.
During the spring before my 17th birthday, I obtained a job at the shopping mall that just opened up about 5 miles away. I was riding my bicycle back and forth to work my job at the mall, rain or shine. As the summer drew on, I again asked my parents about getting my driver’s license. My parents started to consider the idea once they began to figure out that they would have to drive me to work during the US Midwestern winter since I wouldn’t be able to continue to ride my bicycle to work through subfreezing temperature and snow. By now a year had passed and I would need to retake the classroom portion of driver’s education. There was a class that was offered at the mall where I worked so I could plan my work schedule around the classes. I remember paying a fee out of my own pocket in excess of $300 in order to retake the classroom portion of driver’s education.
About this same time, my great aunt passed away. She had a car that was 8 years old that she only drove to church and to get her hair done. It had a mere 8,000 miles on it. My father decided that he was going to purchase her car from her estate and it would be my car. I was excited! I couldn’t drive the family car, but at least I would have my own car to get to work. I remember the cost of the car being $1400. My great aunt lived several hundred miles away and my father arranged to go to her house and pick up the car. When he pulled into the family driveway with it, it was readily apparent that my great aunt shouldn’t have been driving for a good portion of the 8 years she owned the car. The car had massive white paint streaks up and down the sides of the car where she scraped it against the sides of her garage as she tried to park it. There were many dents in the brown doors and body panels, the tires were dry rotted, and the exhaust was rusted through and about to fall off. Thankfully the plaid back seat was pristine and still covered in the factory plastic wrap. It was one ugly beast, but it was a car. My car.
Shortly after my parents purchased the car my father informed me that I “didn’t appreciate the car enough” and that I would be required to make payments on it since I didn’t appreciate it. My payment amount was $70 / mth. At this time I had a part time minimum wage job where I made $3.35 an hour, which equated to about $300 a month. I was also required to pay my own insurance on the car, which came to about $40 / mth. By the time I put gas in the car, I really wasn’t left with much money to save for things like college, etc.
Finally, at the age of 17, in late September of my senior year of high school, I obtained my driver’s license. Although the struggle to get my license ultimately gave the accomplishment a very hollow feeling, I was still very excited to finally be able to drive.
From the time I obtained my license until the time I moved out of the house about 18 months later, I drove the family car on a single occasion. That occasion was on a trip back from visiting my grandparents and I was offered the chance to drive the family car the last 2 hours home. I remember my father sitting in the passenger seat and critiquing my driving the entire 2 hours.
This entire episode is yet another example of my parents infantilizing me. They refused to let me grow up.