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Rites Of Passage For Parents And Son

Sat., April 19, 1997, midnight

Two schools of thought have developed over whether we should have allowed Mike, our 16-year-old son, to drive all the way to Big Timber, Mont., over spring break.

One school of thought, which has come to be known as the “Are You Nuts?” school, holds that no 16-year-old should ever be allowed to drive 900 miles round trip without adult supervision, especially when the purpose of said trip is to visit girls.

The philosophy of this group can be articulated as follows: “Are you nuts? Are you insane? Do you have the sense God gave asphalt? Listen, no kid of mine better even think about gallivanting across one-quarter of the continent, especially if he thinks he’s going to use my Texaco credit card, and furthermore …”

You get the idea. This, I will admit, is the dominant school of thought.

A minority school of thought, known as the “Good for You!” school, holds that a 900-mile road trip amounts to a solemn and sacred rite of passage for any young person with an ounce of gumption in this modern society of ours.

This opinion is held almost entirely by middle-aged men, and their philosophy, if you can call it a philosophy, goes like this: “Good for you! You need to give a boy his freedom. Hell, back when I was 16, I drove all the way to Reno one summer and let me tell you, that was the best darn week of my life. I never did so much growing up as I did on that …”

You get the idea.

Now that my son and his friend Andrew are safely back home, my wife Carol and I can pretend that we knew all along that we were doing the wise thing. But there were some dark moments last week when we were convinced that the “Are You Nuts?” people were right on the money.

First, I should explain why we allowed Mike and his friend to go on this trip in the first place. For one thing, they would be staying with one of our oldest and dearest friends, who just happens to be his godmother. For another thing, we knew the girls, having met them on previous family trips. And finally, we had already forbidden the boys once before from making this drive. Last fall, we made them take the Greyhound.

After hearing their stories about the crack-heads who sat in front of them, we decided that letting them drive wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.

We took suitable precautions. We signed them up for AAA road service. We gave them a cellular phone. We made sure that they would not have to be on the road after nightfall.

And then we waved them on their way. All went well until the return trip. One precaution we failed to take was to arrange for spring to arrive on schedule in Montana. On the morning of their return, it was snowing the entire 150 miles from Big Timber to Butte.

Believe me, I know. I was hunched over my computer, checking out the hourly Montana weather conditions.

So I was sitting at my desk at work when the phone rang.

“Dad?” said my son. “It’s looking really bad out here. We’re going up Homestake Pass, and it’s snowing hard and the pass report says that visibility is reduced with snow and ice on the roadway. What should we do?”

“Just keep going,” I said. “I think once you get over the pass and get down into Butte, the weather will warm up and it should be fine. Just go real slow and take it easy. How far are you from the top?”

“I think about five miles,” he said.

“OK, just call me as soon as you make it over the pass,” I said.

“OK,” he said.

So, for the next 15 minutes, I stared at that phone. For the next 30 minutes, I stared at the phone. I tried calling the cellular number, and a voice said, “We’re sorry, the cellular number you are calling is not in service.”

I was so worried, I was afraid to get up and go to the bathroom. I was afraid I’d miss his call. Two hours passed.

Finally, concerned colleagues came over and said, “We’re worried there might be an accident.”

“No kidding,” I said. “That’s exactly what I’m …”

“No, you don’t understand,” they said. “We’re worried you might have an accident. Go ahead and go to the bathroom. We’ll watch the phone.”

My son never did call me.

However, my wife did, later that afternoon, and she said, “The boys just called and said, ‘We’re in Missoula and those guys on the weather report were idiots. It was fine.”’

Missoula, I should point out, is more than 120 miles past Homestake Pass.

So when the boys finally showed up at home three hours later, I first hugged Mike and then I grabbed him by the shoulders and said, “Why didn’t you call when you got over the pass?”

I knew what he would say. In fact, every parent of a teenager already knows what he would say.

He said, “What? You never said anything about calling.”

And then he said, with perfect teenaged logic, “Besides, everything was fine. There was nothing to worry about.”

In the days since, I have decided that this trip was indeed an important rite of passage. Not for him, but for his parents.

It’s called “letting go,” and it’s going to be a long, icy road with reduced visibility at times.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Jim Kershner The Spokesman-Review


 
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