This happened during one of those interesting drives with Dad.
Not scary-fun exciting interesting, like when Dad’s friend took my brother and me in his new 1956 Ford Thunderbird convertible for a speedy drive from Montreal to Sutton. We sure were impressed, and so were the cops who stopped him for doing 100 miles per hour. Or like when, going north in the Laurentians for skiing, my uncle slammed over a big bump in the highway so hard and fast – he missed the warning sign because he was racing another car at the time and maybe lighting a cigarette too – that we kids flew up off the seats and knocked our heads against the roof.
No, Dad’s driving was sedately interesting. There was always something else to do than just drive. Sing. Talk a lot – stories, or explaining things. Check the ditches and fields for mushrooms and wildflowers – all this required slow driving and could lead to sudden stops and long delays.
Independence Day happened when I was eight and my brother was ten. Dad was driving us downtown to the train that would take us to summer camp. Our first summer camp. Our first experience with a mix of other kids who were not from our familiar suburban surroundings and our family’s social circle of fellow immigrants.
Clearly Dad thought we would feel frightened and lost. Separation anxiety, I suppose, had he known such terms.
So here we were, driving from Pointe-Claire into Montreal before the train ride to Camp Kanawana in the Laurentians, dawdling along in our zero-horsepower, third-hand Morris Minor, and Dad was talking. He had something very important to say. He told us that camp would be very new and different for us. This would be our first time away from him and Mom for a long stretch of time. And there would be things that we had not experienced before. We would have to make up our minds, make decisions, on our own, without Mom and Dad there to help us.
But don’t worry, he said. Your Mom and Dad will still be able to help you to decide well. Here’s what you have to do. In your mind, picture yourself with your mother and me. Tell us about the situation and mentally ask us what to do. You will hear us talking it over with you. That way, we will help you to make your decision.
“Do you understand?” he asked. My brother answered first – he’s older, and anyway, he was in the front seat,.
“Yes,” he said, “We’ll ask, Should I do this? If we want to the answer Yes, we’ll ask Mom. If we want to the answer No, we’ll ask you.”
This stunned Dad for a few moments. Then he rallied and over his shoulder asked me in the back seat, “What about you? Bobby, do you understand?”
“Seventeen,” I said.
“What? What do you mean, seventeen?”
“Seventeen cars have passed us since you started your speech.”
Thus ended the lesson, and nothing more was said about it until we reached the train.
Camp turned out to be fine. I don’t recall any decision-making crises. My brother remembers missing our parents
I think of this scene now, more than sixty years later, as an important moment of growing up. We each articulated our topography of independence. My brother accepted our parents’ authority, but he knew his mind enough to aim for what he wanted and to figure out how to deal with authority.
My topography was more vertical: I was better off escaping into the clouds than dealing with the realities on the ground. Best of all, Dad now knew that we were developing on our own paths. Our need for him and Mom would diminish and the load on them would lighten.
But this was merely a first, child-like step. The whole drive has proven to be very long and interesting, from a first, simple cutting of apron-strings to full and loving responsibility, freely given and received, for myself and for others. Independence is only getting away from something. Real freedom drives towards a destination that always moves farther ahead.