Years ago, when my son, Will Faules was about 14, we were spending the weekend in Northern California bass fishing at a friend’s ranch. There were several bass lakes located on this ranch and a maze of dirt roads connected each lake, making it easy to get around. The weather was perfect, the fishing was awesome and time spent bonding with one’s daughter or son is priceless.
It was one of those perfect weekends to let the kid drive. Or at least that was my initial thinking at the time. Besides, what could possibly go wrong on some old dirt roads with nobody around? “Hey Will, wanna drive? How about let’s head over to one of the other lakes for a while?” After sticking our rods and gear in the back of the Toyota 4Runner with all the other boxes of tackle, I took a seat in the passenger’s side as Will hopped into the driver’s seat and we were on our way.
Having fished and hunted on this large ranch for years, I was familiar with where everything was, but sometimes riding as a passenger, you get a different perspective or notice things you might otherwise miss. “Hey Will, slow down, I don’t see a road but doesn’t that look like a small lake way off in the distance? I don’t recall ever seeing that one. Let’s check it out.”
The dirt roads on this ranch were in great shape, but driving across the virgin hillsides was another thing. As soon as Will turned off the road I noticed Will was going just a tad too fast as we began bouncing around inside the 4Runner. “Hey buddy, slow down.”
“Don’t worry, dad. I got this.” Famous last words. The next thing I know the bumps are so big that I’m literally getting my face planted against the headliner as I fly through the air. “Will, slow down!” While attempting to save at least a modest amount of decorum as I bounced off the ceiling, console, and door and back down onto the passenger’s seat, I noticed all the neatly stocked tackle boxes filled with treble hooks, lures, and gear were also flying through the air. “Will, slow down! If I ever get my footing, I’m gonna kill you.” But when I caught a glimpse of Will’s face between bounces, all I could see was his enormous smile and wide open eyes, as he yelled, “Hold on, Dad! This one’s gonna catch some air!”
With one leg on the dash, the other hanging over the console, I began asking myself, “What the hell was I thinking when I let him drive?” Then something snapped. Not on the vehicle, but inside my head. As hard as I tried, I couldn’t hit that kid to save my butt. “That’s the last time you’re gonna drive, mister!” But each time I swung a wild fist he’d hit another big bump and again I’d find myself flying uncontrollably through the air landing on my face, then back against the ceiling. I’m not sure what ticked me off the most, not being able to hit him, his hysterical laughter or wondering how long it was going to take to get all that fishing gear back into the tackle boxes.
Eventually he brought us to a stop and stepped out. “Hey dad, we’re here! This looks like a great place to fish.”
“Oh, that’s just great!” As I crawled off the passenger’s side floorboard and peeked out, there was a lake I’d never seen before. “Thank God! But if I catch that little varmint, I’m going to beat the living crap out of him.”
And that my friend is how I learned the importance of wearing my seatbelt. There’s never a good excuse for not investing in the best safety gear.