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A Father's Driving Dilemma

I am the proud father of a 16-year old male driver. Guess what. He wants his own car. We are having a test of wills about that.

Admittedly, I can afford to buy one for him. This column is not about how a business owner can set up a savings plan to buy a car. So, why does a discussion of a father’s struggle over whether to buy a car for a 16-year old fall within the scope of a “Professional Insights” column? Well, professionals have teenagers, too. And, it is my column!

The story starts about 12 years ago when I considered changing my will. If I got run over by a truck, my plan was to keep the dough out of my overly precocious four- year old’s hands until he reached age 55, which was my best guess of when he would gain the necessary maturity. Since then, he has matured and I have mellowed. Some. I now project about age 45.

When he started Boy Scouts almost five years ago, he was already drooling over cars. I told him that we would consider buying a car if he made it to the Eagle rank. He finished the dreaded Eagle project a year ago and has lacked just one merit badge and some paperwork since. I keep telling him that he needs to finish it up. He won’t do it. It’s like pulling teeth. One of the fathers in the Boy Scout troop has refused to allow his son to even get a driver’s license until he attains Eagle. I admire that dad. His son has a different word to describe his feelings.

I wanted my son to work to earn the money to buy a car, or at least to help pay the operating costs. I had to do that for my first car. (My son knows that I had to walk to school in blinding Houston snowstorms wearing tattered sandals and carrying just a candle for light. I knew the value of money when I was his age. “Dad, inflation has severely reduced the value of money since you were a kid.”)

He did apply for a job at the neighborhood ice cream shop this summer, but they didn’t call back. I suppose it had something to do with the fact that there were only about three weeks scattered through the summer break that he could work without conflicting with church mission trips, the family’s vacation, etc. Summer break is shorter and kids seem to be busier compared to when I was his age. Earning significant amounts of money just isn’t in the cards.

I didn’t get my first car until I was in college. “But Daaaaadddd, everyone has a car.” Yeah, everyone but you.

He’s great at enlisting his mother’s help. “Mom, I could drive my brother and me to and from school if I had a car. I’d even go back and pick him up from football practice.” Mom’s getting real tired of playing limo driver. So far, she’s hanging tough with me. But, I think her resolve is fading.

We keep him on a pretty tight leash when he borrows the car. He’s earned our respect by being very responsible. He accepts and abides by curfews. He calls to ask permission to drive to another friend’s house or somewhere other than where we originally agreed.

At least my son’s idea of an acceptable car has become more realistic. Two years ago I showed him a picture of one of those little boxes on three wheels that used to be so common in Europe. He sneered, because a bright red convertible or brand new SUV was all that he would consider. Now he’ll accept almost anything he says.

Actually, he’s a very good driver. Having said that, he has very bad luck. Yesterday he had his second flat tire in two months. I’ve only had one flat in my entire life and he’s already had two. He blames it on his Mother’s car. If I’d just get him his own car, his luck would change.

I had to go help him change the flat tire in the 107-degree heat. By the time I got there, he’d almost finished changing the tire himself. What a pleasant surprise! He’s becoming very self-sufficient. But I fondly remember when he needed his father. I’m starting to feel like the Maytag repairman.

Is it really possible for a 16-year old to handle the responsibility of owning and driving a car? The insurance companies don’t seem to think so. How can I argue with them?

Oh, by the way, my youngest son turns 15 and will get his learner’s permit next February. I’ve got to think ahead. I have to be concerned with setting precedents, fairness, etc. Do I buy them each a car? I’ll have a fleet as big as Avis! If I buy just one additional car, will they share it or fight over it? What if the younger son turns out to be less responsible than his older brother? Can we refuse to let him drive even though we bought a car for his brother’s use?

Life was sure simpler when they were little kids.

Well, thanks for letting me get that off my chest.




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