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A milestone, the first of many

Attempting to turn left out of the gas station, I found myself actually shouting for the cars to move.

“You’re in my way, dammit! I can’t see him!”

But the evil occupants ignored me, choosing instead to form a solid line 20 or 30 vehicles deep, crawling at a level barely above idle. Maybe it was really only six or seven cars, but who was counting?

Certainly not me.

Seizing an opportunity, I shot out with tires racing, something I had not done in a few years.

But my heart was doing the same, with emotions running high and my 43-year-old eyes actually fighting back tears of some sort.

This was much harder than anticipated.

ONE HOUR EARLIER>

“I’m not really nervous, Dad, but I feel like I should be.”

“Don’t worry, son. Just think of it this way: 99 percent of the adults in Colorado have one, so if half of those idiots – like that jackass that passed us doing 120 down Vail Pass on the way over here – can make it, so can you.”

Inane one-liners, as usual, were helping to calm MY nerves, although I desperately tried to prevent them from showing on the surface.

The last thing the kid needed was a fidgety, nervous, anxious, currently-unsure-of-himself father babbling like Tim Allen on speed while all HE wanted to do was stay calm enough to pass his driver’s test on his 16th birthday.

What’s touted by parents to their fresh-faced teen-ager as a simple, 15-minute, relaxing drive in the countryside to sample one’s numerous driving skills acquired over the previous year is actually a nerve-racking, white-knuckled exercise in panicked pandemonium enveloped by a thick blanket of teen angst lasting three or four hours minimum sitting next to The Narcissistic Driving Instructor From Hell.

But he did it.

Passed with flying colors, in fact, thanks to an instructor with a heart of gold and the patience of a seasoned U.S. diplomat listening to French rationalization (an oxymoron sure to replace military intelligence as the most copied by those attempting to be witty).

After picking up a 9-year-old vehicle with 50K-plus miles (but four-wheel drive and a roll bar) that was being serviced in Silverthorne for this very specific day, we headed back over Vail Pass in a manner with which neither of us were accustomed to or the least bit comfortable with: my son driving a car absolutely alone for the very first time in his life, and me following my son driving a car absolutely alone for the very first time in his life.

Does the term shock and awe help explain my feelings at that particular moment?

Anyway, after the debacle pulling out of the gas station, I finally caught up with him about halfway to Copper Mountain, at which point I pulled up alongside to see not a huge smile, but a severe case of solemn concentration going exactly the speed limit, with hands gripped tightly at “9” and “3” (as opposed to “10” and “2” like it was for me 27 years ago), yet an arising smirk upon realization of my presence.

Smiling and waving like a spastic first-grader to Mommy on the first day of school, I quickly jerked my hand down for fear of him waving back, losing control, crashing and burning all over the highway, causing hellfire and eternal damnation, dogs and cats living together, and the world as we know it coming to an abrupt end.

Where was I? Oh, yes S

We made it home to a nice birthday dinner at Fiesta’s in Edwards (his favorite), after which he set the tone for the next few years.

“Dad, me and some friends are gonna go four-wheelin’ up Berry Creek, OK?”

“It’s “some friends and I.’ But what about your birthday dessert? We ha…”

“A couple of girls made cookies for me. That was plenty. Besides, we’ve been planning this for a long time.”

“Planning what?”

“To go driving, duh.”

“Yeah, but there’s mud and snow and …”

“Daaaaad.”

I looked up at my son, took a swig from my beer (not realizing the horrible irony until I was back behind the wheel to drive home), and was suddenly slammed with a lead balloon in the face of reality.

While the day was certainly big for my firstborn, the milestone being reached was more for me instead of him. I had never felt more overly protective of my own flesh and blood than I did at that exact moment, yet aware of the fact that this was truly the first day to begin letting go.

He’s getting old, I’m getting older.

He smiled, I stood, we hugged and after a round of “thank-yous” he was out the door, enjoying a newfound freedom reached by all of us only once in life.

Looking around the table at my lovely wife, a scholarly 12-year-old, and an angelic 4-year-old, I finished the last of my first and only beer for the evening, and smiled. I don’t think anyone noticed how hard I swallowed.

Richard Carnes of Edwards writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at por@vail.net


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