While some knew him as Jonah and others as Mac, we all loved and respected him. And we miss him dearly.

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Road Trip — Part Five

This is a story previously told as “One for the Road” on this blog (May 31, 2009). But it’s too good to leave out of our “Road Trip” series. Enjoy!

Among my earliest memories of Jonah and driving is that of him and Aiden camped out in the backseat for each summer’s trip from Cleveland to Kutz Camp, watching enough DVDs to fill the entire 11-hour expedition. We never heard a peep out of them which, as everyone knows, is the pinnacle of successful parenting. But I also remember one time getting stopped for speeding and being horrified that my children in the backseat were looking on as the police officer wrote out my summons. This being the nadir of my parenting, I wondered how I could possibly mold them into responsible human beings (let alone, drivers) if their dad was a hardened vehicular criminal.

If this is how he treats his mother ... (Hawaii, April 2005)

If this is how he treats his mother …
(Hawaii, April 2005)

When it came time for Jonah to occupy the driver’s seat, I had my concerns. At the age of fifteen, he’d staged a hit-and-run photo with Ellen where he looked just a bit too happy at the wreckage he’d wrought. So on his sixteenth birthday, when Jonah didn’t rush me down to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get him a Learner’s Permit, I was kind of relieved.

No, I was very relieved.

It would actually be closer to his seventeenth birthday before he’d studied the Driver’s Manual and took the test to get his permit. Okay, “studying” is an exaggeration here. As I recall, he took the online quiz over and over until he could pass it, and then felt ready for the real thing.

Of course, then he had to actually learn how to drive. I got to teach Jonah how to parallel park. Out in front of our house, Jonah would explain to me the simple geometry behind this ubiquitous maneuver and was then surprised when he’d hit the curb (which is pretty much how I’ve parked the car for decades but is an instant “fail” on the test).

Teaching Jonah how to drive was a thankfully uneventful and rather enjoyable experience for me. When my daughter was learning how to drive, I wasn’t quite so sanguine about it. Once, on Saw Mill River Road in Elmsford, I ejected Katie from the car when I felt she wasn’t driving safely. Apparently, my tolerance level rose considerably by the time Jonah got behind the wheel.

Jonah finally took his driving test on December 31, 2007, halfway through his senior year. Why did he wait so long? I think it was part of his growing-up process. Driving was something Jonah viewed as a responsibility, more so than just a doorway to teen freedom. He knew that once he got his license, not only would he be asked to run errands for his parents, he’d have a potentially lethal weapon in his hands. That second thought, I believe, gave Jonah sufficient pause. When he did get his license, he became a terrific driver. Very responsible. Very attentive. Very safe.

That was always the wonderful surprise of Jonah’s life. He broadcast an air of unconcern, yet had this knack for doing really well when things mattered to him. Our job as parents was to try and make sure that whenever he found something that did matter, doors (on cars and elsewhere) opened for him. These successes made Jonah feel better and better about himself as he grew into the mature and able young man who went off to college. It gave his mom and dad a lot to smile about too.

Two more driving stories.

Portrait of a safe driver? Kutz Camp, Summer 2007

Portrait of a safe driver?
Kutz Camp, Summer 2007

First, during the Spring 2008 production of “Hair,” Jonah drove himself and Aiden to their weekly PGT rehearsals. Aiden remembers Jonah backing out of the driveway as they set off one afternoon for White Plains, and then pushing the pedal to the floor on Oak Street for the hundred yards or so to the first corner. Coming to a stop before the turn onto Woodlands Avenue, he looked over at Aiden as if to say, “Don’t ever let Mom know I did that.”

Second, before moving up to Buffalo this past fall, he sat me down and very earnestly tried to explain the way things now needed to be. “You know, Dad, since half the drivers in this family are now living in Buffalo, it seems only fair that half the cars should be there as well.” More geometry that, to Jonah’s disappointment, didn’t translate to reality.

2013.06.RoadTrip.BlogPostEvery parent both welcomes and dreads the day their child becomes licensed to drive. Jonah had given us the gift of delaying that day until he was genuinely ready. Risk-taking only within a stone’s throw from his home, he brought his characteristic spirit, intellect, charm, humor and heart to acquiring one of life’s mundane yet essential (and potentially hazardous) skills. Doing so, Jonah gave us yet another enduring memory of the effervescent and endearing young man we simply loved to watch grow.

Billy

P.S. “Road Trip” is The Jonah Maccabee Foundation’s summer fundraiser for 2013. Remembering some of the fun Jonah had on these vacations, we’d like to help other kids to enjoy and to grow during their own childhood years. Please consider making your tax-deductible gift at jonahmac.org by Sunday, July 31. Okay, or any other time. Thank you.

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