My Dad taught me how to drive. That was many decades ago. He had taught my big brother first and a few years later, he taught my younger sister. I was the last to learn. After my first Sunday afternoon, in the empty Woodward’s parking lot, Dad silently drove us home and told my Mom, “The next kid will have to go to a real driving school.” To which my mother replied, “We don’t have any more kids. You’ve got the last one.” And, Dad gave a huge sigh of relief and muttered something in Cantonese.
I didn’t think I was that bad, but long after I got my driver’s license, I realized that a parent and his offspring didn’t make good teacher/pupil relations. I do remember several Sundays where I drove the perimeters of the empty mall lot, parked in the diagonal parking spaces and parallel-parked along the curbs. That’s when I figured out Dad’s foot-tapping. When I got too confident and drove faster, Dad’s foot would move as if he was pumping the brakes. If I parked too close to the curb and scraped the tires or if I backed in too sharply and hit the curb, Dad’s foot would start tapping rhythmically. Finally, one Sunday Dad decided I was road-worthy to share a real road and drive with other cars.
I took the exit out of the lot and very carefully moved into the right lane of the then 4-lane highway of Blanshard Street–2 lanes heading into town and two lanes heading out. At that time, Sundays in Victoria were very quiet with hardly any traffic. Checking all my mirrors including the over-the-shoulder checks, I signaled and inched over to the centre lane. Dad didn’t say anything but his left foot began tapping. Getting braver, I signaled, checked and finally moved into the left turn lane. Dad’s foot stopped tapping. The light changed in my favour and I turned onto Finlayson where I kept driving until I was directed to move into another left turn lane.
This left turn lane landed me on Shelbourne Street, where I cautiously moved into the only lane heading north. Dad had me driving several miles, encouraging me to bump my speed up from 20 mph. to 30 mph. It was exhilarating. Soon signs popped up to indicate a turn into Mt. Douglas Park, a popular local spot for hikes, picnics and communing with Nature. There was only one narrow winding road in and one narrow winding road out. Belatedly glancing at my left side-view mirror, I realized I was leading a parade of 30 cars, all inching along as I was because no one could pass me. Horrified I asked Dad what I should do as there was no place to safely pull over. Dad calmly advised, “Keep moving, don’t stop and don’t let them make you nervous.” Suddenly, a flashing red light loomed in my rear-view mirror and a loud-speaker blared, “Will the young lady in the red Corvair please move along a little faster. The ice-cream is melting in several picnic coolers.”
Mortified, I stepped on the gas and drove a bit faster until I finally reached the parking lot, pulled perfectly into a space and turned the car off. Good thing I was short and didn’t have to duck out of sight. Dad told me, “Only the couple of cars behind us knew you were the “hold-up” into the park. The other 27 cars don’t know and are just relieved the line started to move quickly. You did okay. Drive at the speed that feels comfortable to you. Maybe next time, boot the speed up to 40 mph. When you start driving on your own. you’ll know to keep up with the traffic. Right now, this was your first time on the road and you did good. We’ll park here for a few minutes and then you can drive us home.”
Fast forward a few decades later and I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my neighbour’s Toyota Highlander. Her daughter Lisa needed an hour of road practice and I was elected to be her legal driver. Approaching her driveway, seventy minutes later, I marveled at my Dad, who was able to sit in the car with all three of his off-springs on numerous Sundays, teaching us the nuances and safety of the road. My one road experience with Lisa reminded me of Dad’s unspoken wisdom: “Be calm, be patient and don’t yell.”
And in case you’re wondering, my foot did begin to tap, just like Dad’s. . . . . . .