Image by Joseph De Palma
At the edge of the busy intersection, I hesitated. Was it my turn? I crept forward, but the car on my right darted in. I looked both ways, crept forward again. The car opposite me lurched ahead. It must be my turn now. I gently pressed my foot on the gas pedal, but the Jeep on my left moved forward too. I slammed on the brakes. Stuck there, blocking the way, horns blaring. Gridlock.
“Don’t pussyfoot around!” My dad screamed at me from the passenger seat, spit flying, making me cringe and slink down in the driver’s seat. Another driver threw an obscene gesture my way. “Make your decision, and go!”
I was 16 and enduring another driving lesson from my impatient father. The lessons pained me terribly, but, wanting nothing more than to get my driver’s license, I would always beg for another one.
Driving scared me. An insecure introvert, I always hesitated to make my move. My dad was the opposite, a take-charge kind of guy, sometimes to a fault.
Once he wanted my older son to have his first pony ride at a fair. The line stretched out and curved around to the Ferris wheel, and we had to leave. My dad charged right up to the front, crossed the barrier, and plopped the kid on the pony.
I heard some complaints when he cut the line, but most of the waiting people were subdued. His act must have been so brazen that they assumed he had a right to it.
I cowered, trying my best to ignore the comments. My dad? I couldn’t tell if he was unaware of the complaints or knew and didn’t care, but my son got his first pony ride that day as my dad beamed alongside him.
I somehow made it through my driving lessons in one piece, but I spent the next 30 years battling my timidity. Now in middle age, I choose boldness more and more. I’ll hear my dad’s words ringing in my ears: “Don’t pussyfoot around!”
In a meeting, I’ll sometimes call bullshit when there’s bullshit, gunning into the intersection like I own the place. At a party, I’ll sometimes strike up a conversation with a person I don’t know, laying on the horn to make myself heard.
It’s exhilarating, liberating, empowering, all the –ings I’ve heard about for years but never felt myself.
My older son just turned 16. He’s a brilliant high-achiever, but he’s doubly cursed by two shy parents, and I see the timidity in him.
It’s time for him to begin driving lessons.
Don’t pussyfoot around, kid. Don’t pussyfoot around.
This is part of a series, Scene from a Memoir.