Driving Mr. Baby
A new dad finds enlightenment as his son's chauffeur.
It’s 3 a.m. and I’m driving in a light snowfall. The headlights that approach are few and far between, but at this hour I worry about head-on collisions with morons coming home drunk from bars, though I know this mild paranoia is the result of coffee from the all-night Dunkin’ Donuts, caffeine anxiety and nothing more. There were others like me there, baggy-eyed men with messy hair, all with babies in the back seat, some asleep in their buckets, others wailing like banshees, or worse—like baby banshees. We are the men who drive at night because driving puts our babies to sleep. We are Driving Dads. The houses I pass are dark. Inside, people without babies are fast asleep, probably the sort of deep REM sleep I haven’t known for months. I want to honk my horn to wake them out of sheer malice, but I can’t risk waking Jack. If I can transfer him from the car to his crib without rousing him, I might get two or three hours myself. The snow is beautiful, and I am utterly happy.
>It’s 11 a.m. in early spring, mud season, and I’m lost in the woods of Vermont, but I don’t care. This happens several times a week. Jack nods off on our way to someplace else, and to keep him sleeping, I wander the countryside. It’s a Zen way of driving, purposeful but without direction, the way of going more important than the destination. If I see something on a distant hilltop, I try to find it: a fire tower one day, an observatory the next. I have seen flocks of snow geese wheeling into the wind and old textile mills sitting silent beside the waterfalls that once drove their turbines—more of New England than I ever saw before, because before, I was in too much of a hurry to pay attention.
>It’s midnight and I’m on the interstate, driving home from a visit with my in-laws. My wife is sound asleep, her coat balled up under her head for a pillow. Jack is facing forward now, and if I adjust the rearview mirror, I can watch him dream. I’m the night watchman, the moonlit border collie on the hill, the London bobby patrolling in the fog. It’s my job to get them home. There’s no job I’ve ever taken more seriously. I drive because I am Driving Dad. My father was Driving Dad before me, taking us through blizzards and thunderstorms and coast to coast on summer vacations, and I will do the same for my family because I want to, and I’m good at it, and this is what men do. If this de-subverts the patriarchal hegemony, so be it—we’ll worry about that once we’re all safely home.
>It’s 9 a.m. and I’m parked while my son sleeps to the purr of the engine. The dew is burning off the summer grass, and I’ve found a shady spot on a dirt road that dead-ends at the river. I read the paper, then get out to find a tree where I can download some of the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. As I return to the car, I see a bald eagle no higher than a church steeple, soaring in circles, hunting in a nearby cornfield. There is nothing as cool, at least in the Lower 48, as seeing a bald eagle. I think it’s some kind of sign—a reward for all the miles I’ve logged, driving my boy to sleep. It tells me I’m doing something right.