As a former motoring hack, adrenaline junkie and all-round pusher of boundaries, I had hoped that my sons would end up inheriting their mother’s personality.
Alas, it was not to be. A few weeks ago, I was pushing my eldest on the swing we have in our backyard. He asked me to stop, as he had an idea he wanted to share with me.
“What if we pushed the trampoline closer to the swing, so I could jump from it and land on the trampoline?” Obviously I said no, but internally I was thinking how epic it sounded. It made me wish that I had a swing and a trampoline back when I was three years old.
It seems he has inherited my sense of adventure after all, but at least I can lie and tell him that I lived a life a health and safety official would be proud of. It seemed like a masterful plan, until my mother informed me of a box of magazines she has been collecting over the years.
This box contains every article I’ve ever written – and it’s not meant for me. She’s keeping this blasted box as a gift for my sons, so they might one day enjoy reading about their father’s escapades when he was a young man. To me, it’s a box of incriminating evidence that should be tossed into the nearest bonfire.
I browsed through it the other day and the amount of ridiculous adventures I embarked on in search of an interesting story is simply ridiculous. There was an article on the time I went diving with sharks – without a cage. One on how I raced a motorcycle up Sani Pass, an article on getting driving lessons from David Coulthard and also many, many photographs of me hammering around various tracks in ridiculously overpowered supercars. As an added bonus, I also bragged about doing 276km/h on a public road (it was in Germany, before I get bombarded with hate mail.)
My mother has basically ripped my fatherly soapbox right out from under me. All my dangerous exploits are there for any and all to witness – what’s a concerned father to do?
Well, I’m not the first adventurer/petrol head in the family. My father had a powerful motorcycle and a deeply disturbing mullet when he was around my age, so I guess my love of all things automotive stems directly from him.
For advice, I turned to him and he told me a secret. Back when I was 15, he bought me my first car. It was a nasty 1963 Beetle and we spent an entire year fixing it up to the point where it looked brand new. After our project was finished, he taught me how to drive it.
After learning the basics, I used to go for solo drives all the time while my dad was at work. I was under the impression that he never knew, but he used to check the odometer every day. “Of course I knew. Why did you think I bought the thing in the first place?”
It seems like a ridiculous idea, but there was some method in his madness. By the time I could actually take my driving test, I had been driving for four years. I learned how to control a car in an open field in a twitchy rear-engined car, so driving the underpowered hatch he eventually bought me was easy.
I like to think his method works, because, to date, I’ve never been in a car accident.
As such, I’ve implemented a similar method. As he’s only three years old, his feet can’t reach the pedals, but he can steer the car. At the moment he’s only allowed to sit on my lap while we drive the car into the garage in the evenings, but it’s a start.
Once he’s grown to the right size, we’ll move onto karts and at 15 we’ll build a car together. When that car is finished, I’ll find a safe space where I can teach him how to slide the car around in the hopes that he’ll be completely bored with the notion once he’s allowed to drive all by himself.
The driver training and subsequent test is nowhere near good enough in South Africa, so it’s up to parents to ensure that their kids are ready and able to pilot a car when the time comes.
Obviously, his mother disagrees completely, but at this point in time there’s very little we can do about it. The bug has caught my little man in a big way. I know this for a fact because of his television-viewing habits. He loses interest in cartoons within minutes, but he’s able to watch the highlights reel of every MotoGP race at least 20 times.
Serves me right for documenting every stupid thing I’ve ever done in a car.
Gerhard is the digital editor at our sister magazine Country Life and dad of Abri (3) and Albert (three months).