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Fathers are still the best driving instructors


My late father was a man I quite looked up to. I told myself that if I end up even just a quarter of the man he was, I’d be set for life. Though we had our differences at one point or another, I am deeply grateful for everything he did for me.

One of my fondest memories with him happened many summers ago (more like decades ago) when he taught me how to drive. It’s one of those father-son experiences you never forget.

As my summer break from school had started, I recall him telling me, “Son, it’s time for me to teach you how to drive.” Frankly, my teenage self was elated at the idea. I thought I’d finally get a taste of driving my dad’s Chevy and fantasized about taking a girl out in it.

On the big day, we had the usual family lunch then my old man told me to get ready as we’d start right after. While in the bathroom brushing my teeth, I heard the approaching sound of what I could only describe as a lawnmower. “What the hell could that be?” I asked my puzzled self.


My dad’s eager voice called me to come down our driveway. To my shock, I saw a hideous boxy vehicle painted yellow and white with a telecom company’s logo on its hood.

“This is what you’ll be driving,” dad said. I was somewhat in disbelief. I asked him what this heaping pile of scrap was, to which he answered, “That’s a Volkswagen Sakbayan!”

“No, no, no. I’m not getting in that thing!” I said in a very repulsed, childish tone.

“Oh, yes, you will! By the time we are done, you’ll be able to drive any car,” my old man responded in his authoritative demeanor.

As he handed me the keys, I popped the jammed driver’s side door open and sat on the tattered seat facing the bare steering wheel with rusty spokes. I gave the dash and interiors a quick inspection; rustic gauges that didn’t work, a few vents that allowed air in, a tiny electric fan crudely spliced to its power source, and a stick shifter that screamed tetanus.

“Oh, boy. It’s going to be a long summer.” I told myself as I flicked on the switch to the squeaky fan that blew hot air into my face.

Dad rode shotgun and brought along a styrofoam cup filled with water. He carefully placed the cup on the flat surface in front of the stick shifter, told me to put my seatbelt on, and explained the basics like parts of the car and everything I needed to know to get started. Apparently, that cup of water was there to train me to drive smoothly. He said I won’t be able to progress from our village roads until the surface around said cup remained dry. Honestly, it was a bit nerve-racking having that cup there for almost the entire duration of my father’s tutelage while he scolded me from time to time for mistakes I committed, especially those involving road safety.

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Man, was it rough getting that Sakbayan going. The clutch was like a leg press machine, the shifter wouldn’t cooperate, and the steering wheel required all your upper body muscles to work in unison for it to turn while stationary. In short, getting out of our driveway proved difficult. With all the jerking, I even tipped the cup over onto the fiberglass floor. My dad had to refill the cup and hold it until I got things sorted out first.

We remained in the driveway for a good 15 minutes due to the shifter putting up a fight, while I forcibly tried to get it into reverse and figure out how to play with the tricky clutch and gas pedals without stalling. It was frustrating, but Dad managed to convince me to keep my composure and not give up.

Finally, we were out on the road in front of our home. As with almost everything in life, the first step was the most difficult one. I slowly progressed from our neighborhood roads to secondary streets, until I finally made it onto the highway by mid-summer.

Driving that Sakbayan was a real challenge. But I eventually piloted it like a smooth operator with some really handy tricks my father taught me along the way, like hanging and engine braking. Looking at the bigger picture, his ways definitely instilled values of discipline, patience, perseverance, resourcefulness, courtesy, and focus—lessons you may not pick up from any driving school nowadays.

Yes, everything else I drove after that was easy, but the wisdom my father passed on from that summer lives on through me to share with my children when their time behind the wheel comes. I already have a styrofoam cup on standby.


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PHOTO: Ian Magbanua
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