Road Trip, Revisited

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What could be better than a Spring Break marked by long hours in the car with your children? A lot, actually. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy yourself. It’s all about keeping a positive attitude. As Thomas Aquinas said, “you gotta make your own fun in this world.” Okay, I don’t know that Aquinas ever said that. But I don’t know that he didn’t, either. See? Positive attitude! 

A quick apology if I’ve misled you. As you’ve probably gathered, I’m not talking about a road trip as executed in the glory days. The doors aren’t off the Jeep. You’ll only hear Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard once, and that’s if you’re lucky. And if the whimsical among you try that “pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon” bit at a stoplight? Nothing but blank stares in good neighborhoods, and a one-way ticket to pound-town in bad ones. No, here I’m talking about practical advice to make this ruck march more enjoyable for the dads.

Why just the dads? Because global industries already exist to make sure everyone else in the car is happy. We dads get what, PGA Tour Radio and the occasional right to hear Ricky Nelson’s Garden Party? It’s time to fix that. Remember, the kids are strapped in. You can even child-lock their doors and windows if you like. Don’t you see, Hugh Beaumont? It’s a captive audience! Take advantage of it: channel your own old man and take your kids on an involuntary walk down memory lane.

By this I mean speak only in the phrasing you heard as a kid, back there in the way back of the station wagon, from the guy behind the wheel and under the fishing hat. Seat belts? Dude, you were lucky if the back latch was properly closed. Don’t worry about how you come across to your kids. There will be plenty of time later to explain the life lesson you just taught. Indeed, the experience can be a teachable moment. (Note that your dad would never use the phrases “life lesson” or “teachable moment,” so that’s only for the de-programming period.)

Let’s start with the music. Here it’s goodbye Maroon Five, hello Everly Brothers. As you change stations, be sure to indulge in embarrassing dad-isms like “Maroon Five, huh? I knew these guys when they were Maroon Two.” This will horrify your teens, especially if they’re travelling with friends. But we haven’t even gotten to the good part, talking.

As you drive, speak in a stream of consciousness that gives voice to any and every thought as soon as it enters your mind. Think e.e. cummings on nitrous oxide. Don’t worry if the kids don’t follow. This is about you talking, not them listening. Besides, they’ve got seven more hours in the car to try and piece it all together. Something likeyou know, kids, the priest used to face the altar … don’t start fights, but by God, finish them … nobody litters anymore … Fort Breckenridge in five miles … Gale Sayers, now there was football player … Don’t be distracted by bewildered looks in the rear-view. You’re the one-seed; play like it.

When they start to get chippy – and brother, they will get chippy – that’s when the real fun begins. As you’ll recall from childhood, it was customary for fathers to talk to their children with what might be called “verbal fists” in today’s kinder, gentler times. It was the age of the macroaggression. So when they clamor for treats at a gas station even though you’ve got half-a-tank, don’t bargain with them. None of this next one, Jimmy, because you’re being so good nonsense. Go strong to the hole like your old man did: you’ll get nothing and like it! When the fighting continues unabated, don’t lay up with I’m gonna put you in time out. You don’t put a man on the moon with that kind of talk. Go for the pin: don’t make me come back there!

And here’s the important part. Don’t just say it. Mean it, with Barry Goldwater conviction, just like your dad did. Make them think for a moment he’s just batsh**crazy enough to go T.J. Hooker on us and climb back here while the car is moving. And then, when the crying just won’t stop, throw ‘em the heater: stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about! Say that on a soccer sideline today and Social Services will be on you before halftime. But back in the Eighties, everyone talked to their kids that way. Even Mennonites.

Well, I hope this gives you dads some good ideas for those long family drives this summer. And if you pull into the driveway right when American Pie comes on the radio? Respect the brand. Make them listen to the end.