When Daddy Let Me Drive

Me and my dad, Dennis Johnson

One of the first times my father let me take the family four wheeler off road for fun, and not for the purpose of doing chores around our home that was on 6 acres of land in rural Alabama, I sank the ATV at the bottom of a river I was trying to cross and flooded the carburetor.  Not long after that I flipped it and threw myself several feet from it.  He didn’t lecture me or ground me (though my mom probably wishes that he had), we just laughed about my adolescent tomfoolery.  Whenever he let me drive the four wheeler I felt like the dirt road conqueror as I blazed trails and fled from the game warden when I would trespass on nearby hunting land.

The day my dad took me to take the test for my driver’s permit, I had to take it twice because I failed the first time.  He laughed at me, signed me up again immediately so I could take the test that day and let me drive on the way home (against my mom’s better judgment).  About a year later, when he took me to get my first vehicle (a white 1994 5-speed Ford Ranger), I stalled out several times at a major intersection in Mobile, AL on the way home because I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift.  While at that red-light for at least three turns, he just kept telling me to keep at it until I learned (I learned quickly that day).  When daddy let me drive I thought I was cool, I thought I was cool because I was like him.

Cortney's high school graduation

It has been two years to the day since my dad passed.  Listening to Alan Jackson’s song “When Daddy Let me Drive” reminded me of those events this morning.  Its hard to consider that he is actually gone, however as I reflect on those memories I can’t help but laugh out loud because in everyone of those memories he was overly lenient and I was hardheaded and defiant.  Nonetheless those memories cause me to think of him and smile–it was just a worn out four wheeler with bad brakes, but I was king of the world when he let me drive. And when I’m honest with myself I wouldn’t have it any other way because I can’t replace the way those memories make me feel – close to him.  In the wake of his death, memories of him are more precious.  I’m glad that we had a relationship when he passed; I’m thankful that my family and I can tell story after story (repeatedly and for hours on end) and smile as we think well of him, remembering his guttural laugh and his wheezy smoker’s cough.

This holiday season, seize the opportunity to make memories with the family that will always be yours but won’t always be with you because death is imminent and life is a vapor.  Make memories with them so that you can pull them out of your memory file one day to smile, laugh, and thank God for the treasure of family time.  Resolve the conflicts of the past, not because wrong wasn’t done but because it reflects the gospel of Jesus Christ.

About two weeks ago, on Thanksgiving day, I grabbed my fifteen month old daughter Abigail and held her in my lap as she steered my Chevy Trailblazer across the parking lot on the way to some friends’ home (they live across the parking lot…don’t worry).  She laughed, a lot, and so did I.  I hope one day that she too remembers when daddy let her drive, and that she smiles and thinks well of me.


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