Guest Post Series: Fatherhood – Lessons from the backseat

by Nayef Khan

My father’s first car was a Fiat 650 2-door hatch-back. He was still getting settled into his new career path, fresh off the expat wagon, with ambition to do something for his country and recently expanded family. He was busy, yet, I always felt that he relished his time at the steering wheel of that little car. Maybe my memory of those times are just too rosy, but I loved being in that car, on the back-seat, looking at how he drove that car.

For me, my father driving his car was analogous to how he presented himself as a father. I used to look on with awe from the backseat – weaving through traffic, barely honking. On the busy Dhaka streets, honking is a form of augmented vision. Not for him. He was navigating complex roads in a calm, composed, patient manner – trying to predicting the next move of the unpredictable traffic around him. Our schools were too close to drive to, so every drive was a special occasion.

I longed to sit on that driver’s seat. In my young mind, that seat would somehow give me superhero capabilities! I was always entrusted with carrying the keys, helping change tires, opening the trunk, folding the front seats to allow everyone to get to the backseats – huge responsibilities in my imaginative mind. In retrospect, I can look back at my time in the backseat and derive many important life sessions. I’m sure it has contributed to the type of father I have become.

I knew fully well I wasn’t allowed to drive, but that didn’t stop me from trying. My father made sure my mother was on-board with this they always presented a single point of reference towards the children. We never knew whether they disagreed with the ultimate stance, but there was no way that we could leverage one against another to get what we needed. I learned that it was never about sacrificing the individuality, but becoming a force multiplier.

When I was about 10, I noticed the car keys inside the car and my father not around. This was my chance! I started the engine – I’ve seen enough from the backseat to know how to shift the manual transmission to first gear. The car choked, lunged forward with me in panic mode, until it got perilously close to the front of the garage door. Touching but not scratching. I pulled the handbrake just in time. I turned around and saw my father coming down the stairs. To his surprise – the car had moved 3 feet and on verge of hitting the wall. He simply asked what happened and moved on. No further conversation. I learned an important lesson that day. It was okay to make mistakes and to allow others to make mistakes. I never tried this stunt again.

That Fiat was witness to many cross-country trips. At one point, we even had the white car painted to fiery red. The repair bills kept going up the longer we kept it, until the emotional value was not worth the financial burden. It was replaced by a Toyota Corolla station wagon, which in four years was replaced by a bottle green Toyota Corolla sedan. Every time we switched, I missed all the fun memories. But, now I could proudly educate everyone that it wasn’t a blue, it’s bottle green. I don’t know how my father felt about those transitions, but I learned that emotional baggage can sometimes blind you of the bigger picture. It’s more exciting to explore new frontiers.

Nayef with the Fiat, circa 1990

I have a hard time napping in the passenger seat of cars. I attribute this to how comfortable I feel about the driver of the car. I never had trouble sleeping on long drives when my father was driving. He’s one of the only two people I trust in this regard. When I was about to finish my undergrad I thought of getting a car. My father also felt that it was time. In his mind, I was ready for the responsibility. It’s nice to have that vote of confidence. I’ve gotten the same unspoken encouragement for most of the decisions of my adult life. In hindsight, I know I had no clue how to manage that responsibility at 17. After years of driving in Canada, on one of my trips to Bangladesh, I was finally handed over the keys to run an errand. I was finally worthy of transitioning to the cockpit. What’s the lesson I learnt from this? Well, trust is a two-way street and there’s no way to force it.

Now that I look back, did my father have any influence on this thought process? The lessons I took from those episodes are all in my head. Maybe, that was his style – a role model in front of me, but a safety net behind me. Never dictating, but gently guiding.

*This post has been entirely written by guest contributor Nayef Khan. All thoughts and opinions are the author’s own. The post has not been edited in terms of content but has been adapted to fit the blog format. – Sonia Kabir

Day 17

5 comments

  1. It’s great to know the influences behind your excellent personality!! Respect for both – – adorable son & his role model!!

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