It’s a 2.3 mile drive between my house and my 13-year-old daughter’s middle school. I can drive it in 5 minutes and 34 seconds, which means I can start playing the 1969 studio version of the Rolling Stones “Let It Bleed” and we can hear the whole thing before I drop her off.
That allows me time to explain that the song was a lyrical counterpoint to the Beatles preceding release, “Let It Be” and that the bands were really friends who saw commercial benefits to playing off a perceived good/bad rivalry.
But the drive rarely takes 5:34. I usually tailor it to the song I want Josie to hear on the days I drive her to school. Tomorrow’s the last day.
She hasn’t caught on, but I without fail dawdle on the drive so we can hear in its entirety the one song I have cued up just for her.
So in the last few weeks the drive has taken 5:59 (“Mother Blues,” Ray Wylie Hubbard, 2012), 6:06 (“Point Blank,” Bruce Springsteen, 1980), and 6:31 (“Calling Elvis,” Dire Straits, 1991).
My unrealized goal was to stretch the time out so luxuriously that it’d take us 11 minutes and 22 seconds to drive 2.3 miles so she can hear without interruption Bob Dylan’s 1965 epic “Desolation Row” from start to finish.
The overt goal, obviously, is to expose her to what I consider good songs by essential bands. So our drive soundtracks have included Van Morrison, Kinks, Tom Petty, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Elton John, Joe Ely, The Who — all the usual suspects.
It was a few months ago she asked me if I wouldn’t mind driving her on days when for study reasons she wanted to arrive earlier than the bus. It was no imposition for me to leave the office and head back home for purposes of education.
Heck, for her it’d be no imposition for me to leave the office and take her to Poughkeepsie for purposes of yogurt.
What surprised me was just how much soulful parenting you can do in those jiffy little drives. Because we talk about school, teachers, relationships, ambitions, dealing with disappointment and what happened on that day in history (I check the paper before picking her up).
Sometimes the songs have a message. I’ll play George Harrison’s “All Those Years Ago” and tell her about the life and death of John Lennon.
We talked about dreams — hers and Martin Luther King Jr.’s — on April 4 when I played U2’s “Pride (In The Name of Love).”
Other times it’s just about great rock ’n’ roll.
If this makes it sound like I’m never around or am distant when I am, I swear that’s not the case. She and I have a great relationship and enjoy many Daddy/daughter adventures at ballparks and in the woods.
But unless the power goes out, we are increasingly separated by electronic filters. She’s on her iPhone or me on my Mac. Or the TV’s on.
But there in that old car I have her full attention and she’s now conditioned to open up. She’s knows I’m a good listener in ways that have nothing to do with what’s coming out the speakers.
Maybe it all seems so precious because I know she’ll soon obey biological imperatives and want little to do with me. She won’t want to hear my insights, share her feelings or maybe not even be seen with me.
When I think of it that way, it’s a wonder I ever slow the vehicle down enough for her to make a safe exit. I should just keep driving her around listening to great tunes until the year 2022.
I guess the lesson here is opportunities to teach and love the people you care about can emerge when you least expect them. And for me it’s been tooling along the road at about 22 mph while listening to a 4/4 beat.
So as Father’s Day approaches notable civic organizations can keep their prestigious “Father of the Year” awards.
I’m content being the father of the five or six minute commute.
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