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Driving my daughter to distraction

Robin climbs out of the car, runs around it once, and gives me the thumbs-up. She hops up and down with joy and gets back in. Yep, she can get the car into a parking spot, and she's master of the universe. I love teaching my kid to drive, and it turns out I'm good at it - ending 15 years of fear.

I live for driving. I first drove a car when I was 10. A neighbor bought and sold low-end cars and traded me a drive for buffing out the old paint on his latest junker. I spent 10 hours rubbing for that first drive.

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Robin hates that story. I didn't really learn to drive, I just did it one day. She, however, is getting an education - at my hands. So besides being a good driver, and her dad, I have taken on the very tricky job of teaching. How many parenting articles recommend that course? But it's working well.

After she figured out parking, we tried panic braking: Accelerate to 20 m.p.h. and hit the brakes. I didn't do much instructing during the parking lesson; I sat on the curb with my magazine and let her tire of that exercise on her own. I'd occasionally look up to watch Robin's fire drill: Walk around the car, see how straight it is; give a thumbs-up, hop up and down.

My dad is a spectacular driver. When I was 16 I decided the best way to manage my money was dump it into a Porsche. Like father, like son. He took me to a parking lot similar to the one I was at with Robin, and we did panic braking - as well as high-speed slides, parallel parking on the other side of the street at 30 m.p.h., reversing direction without stopping, and other really cool stuff.

But Robin was shaken up with just the panic braking. OK, so she isn't interested in driving like John Belushi or James Rockford the way I was. But still she wants to be good at it. She's mastering driving and it warms my heart. But after two tire screeches, she wanted to head home.

She's had a hard choice of vehicles to learn on: Mom's standard-shift VW Bug, or Dad's four-wheel-drive diesel four-door dually pickup. The pickup is an automatic, but it's big. Robin has opted for lurching away from traffic lights but being able to hit a parking spot in one pass.

While my daughter is not likely to follow my passion of auto racing, she finds driving exhilarating, and understands now why Daddy likes going fast. She also likes the fashion statement my motorcycle makes. But having just dealt with the car's standard shift, she is put off by the fact that a motorcycle's gears are shifted with the toe, while the clutch is operated with one's fingers.

After we gave up on panic stops (sweat forming at her temples), Robin and I headed home. Dad has adapted to daughter and knows when enough is enough. When we got home I kissed her and got out, the garage being too tight for opening both doors inside. She eased out the clutch ... and bashed into the door jamb - a slight misjudgment of spatial relationships and momentum. It was OK with me; I fix cars. But she was wrecked.

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Robin was so upset she couldn't see straight. She burst into tears and complained that she'd never, ever get it right. I've been preparing for 15 years, though. I told her to get back on the horse and try again. But what works for me does not work for her. Instead I gave her a big hug and pulled the car in myself. I don't mind that my kid isn't like me. I like her as she is, even if it is completely incomprehensible to me how someone can hit a garage.


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