These are the road rules your Father has for you as I look in the rearview mirror this glorious summer day. Rules for Good and not for Evil as we travel in this mighty suburban that handles so well, but also drinks gas like a football team at a drinking fountain. Listen to what I say, for you are my children and I am your Father.
When you sit next to your brother or sister, do not put your hands all over them as the heathens do. No, I say, do not. Put your hands in front of you; not to the left or to the right, but in your lap for this pleases me. Likewise with your feet. Keep them to yourself for they are yours and yours to be felt only by you.
Dear children, do not tease each other while we journey together. Sons, do not pull your sister’s pigtails, ponytail—whatever animal she may resemble at the time. No, this I say, do not. Do not make fun of Hanna Montana and especially Barbie. For they are dear to her and so are dear to me. This I will not tolerate for she screams the way she does when she discovers a spider in the shower. This, and high gas prices, are an abomination to me.
Daughter, do not tease your brothers because their hair cuts are six months behind the fashion curve. And do not be haughty about your superior understanding of fashion, for this too breaks my heart. Do not say, “I know clothing better than you. My pinks, they never clash,” for this is an arrogant spirit my dear daughter.
How I long to give you sweets and sugared waters while we travel but I have seen what you do with them and it breaks my heart. Though you eat part of your marshmallow or Gummy Bear or other sugary delight—you also wear part of them. I find them in your hair. In my hair. I find them on the bottom of your shoes and on this manly steering wheel. I find them under the hood.
And when I buy you hamburgers from the swift drive-thru window, please do not tell me you won’t eat them because they have buried deep in the bun one measly pickle. How this burns my charbroiled bacon! Do not sit there, full of sorrow. Do not shriek! No, this I tell you. Be grateful for what you have. Rejoice! Remove the offense and place it in the wrapper and then—Very Important!—lick your tiny and nimble fingers. Do not wipe them on the seat for they are not treated to fight stains!
When you are sickened by the bumps and turns in the road, do not withhold this information from me. For I am a good and patient Father and I want to share in your afflictions. I will give you a seat that is preferred above all other seats. I will give you thy Passenger Seat to the right of the Father, a highly coveted seat indeed. I will put you next to me and I will run the air conditioner on your pale and sweaty face and I will pat your little head. I will pray for you and kiss your sweet forehead. I will tell you stories of long ago when I too fell ill to the Menace of the Road and how I conquered it and this will give you faith my dear children.
I will show compassion on thee for another reason: I don’t want to clean up after you. Oh, how you have done this to me in the past! I have caught your sickness in a heavy duty Zip-Lock bag too many times and I cannot look upon it again. The sound and smell sends our entire tribe running to the four corners of our suburban for which we still make payments!
I want to know how you feel so I can pull over right away and buy you 7-Up. And if not 7-Up, Sprite. And if not Sprite, Fresca. And if Fresca cannot be found I will drive day and night till I find you anything, even TAB, for this is how deep my love is for you.
Yet in spite of all this, when I look in the rear view mirror, I see your dear faces and my heart is so glad. You are flesh of my flesh, breath of my breath. You inspire me to greatness, though I feel at times mediocre. I am sometimes an impatient father, and I know this exasperates you and earns your displeasure. How I fail you. Yet you are so quick to forgive me as God is quick to forgive me, too. My heart is grateful. I hope and pray that my deep and abiding love for you is what you’ll remember when you think about these trips when you are grown, and when you thumb through photos of them with your kids.
I ponder these things as I look in the rearview mirror. Then I see that your eyes are shut. My eyes water. I pray for you as we forge ahead to destinations known and unknown, around corners of hope, grace, faith, and forgiveness. I love your kind and familiar faces, how your heads rest upon one another’s shoulders, and this rare stretch of highway silence hums.
A Father's Summer Trip Road Rules is part of a collection of funny and poignant stories about fathering that is looking for the right publisher.
Paul Coughlin is the author of No More Christian Nice Guy, and the new release, No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps: Raising Secure, Assertive Kids in a Tough World (June 2007). He is the co-author along with his wife Sandy of Married But Not Engaged. He's also a member of GodMen (www.godmen.com), and is the creator of The Protectors (www.theprotectors.org) a faith-based response to school-based bullying. To have Paul speak at your men's event, contact him at www.paulcoughlin.net. Sandy can be reached at www.reluctantentertainer.com.