Maps & Shotgun

Shotgun. Not the weapon. The seat. You know what I'm talking about. It's the coveted passenger position in the car, next to the driver. Children jockey and argue for the privilege of sitting there. We have had many different ways of justly determining who gets shotgun. Finger shoot-outs like "Rock, Paper Scissors", or "Odds and Evens" seem most fair but take up a lot of time. "First One to the Car" can get dangerous as siblings rocket out of the house for the car. "Rotation" is a viable option. But it means keeping track.  And trading places each time we all get out and reload is a hassle because it's hard to remember who sat Shotgun last. The race for the seat comes and goes. Sometimes no one wants shotgun at all. But, long road trips create the greatest tension and demand. (Please tell me our family is not the only one to deal with this.)

For me, it's common to have a son in shotgun.  Over the course of many years of road trips we developed a functional system. Steve drives, and I sit in back, managing snacks, batteries, and books. My duties have changed as we have grown out of tiny people in car seats into regular large-sized people with long legs.  Regardless of what develops in the back seat, in the front there has always been a map. 

Since they were very small, Steve has expected his sons to navigate. I remember four year old Andrew, sitting in his car seat, holding a huge Atlas, charting the course between Minneapolis and Chicago. Steve would keep one hand on the steering wheel, and lean back to point out the route, patiently showing the correlation between the abstract lines on the page and the world speeding by outside the window.

Later, Ty gained a passionate love of maps and traded into the role. Last month, on our last backpacking trip, he was the navigator with a topographic trail map. Over the years, each boy has taken the “map seat,” shotgun next to Steve. And I chuckled to notice the passing of time, last summer, when Andrew was driving and Isaac had the map seat. As we honed in on the last miles of a long trip to Illinois, they bickered like an old couple. It was a delight to sit in back laughing, with full confidence that they’d work it out, and find our way.

They did work it out. We arrived at our destination because the boys know how to use a map. Steve has given them a love for knowing their course and direction --whether it is in a canoe on a river, on foot in the mountains, or in a car in the city. They enjoy seeing what water, terrain or exit we are about to encounter.  They value the map.

I'm not as much of a map fan.  But I respect them.  Maps are dogmatic and unyielding. A map contains abstract truth about very concrete reality. They assume a true north. They allow us a satellite’s view, a bigger picture of common road blocks and natural barriers in our path. They help us see, “You can’t get there from here.” They show us when we’re lost. And sometimes make us feel more lost then we were before we got the map. They help us find our way back to where we got off track, and get us headed back toward our destination. 

On trips over the years, the atlas has become rumpled, dog-eared and replaced many times over. My mind can quickly retrieve an image of any of the 4 boys sitting shotgun.  I can take that picture and morph it over many years of trips and navigation. Their growing sizes get larger and the map gets smaller in proportion. As they grow in the map seat their hands get bigger, legs grow to touch to floor, and the seat skootches back. Heads progressively get higher until they sit above broad shoulders and tower above the head rest. Always growing, always traveling beside Steve, always with a map. 

That's my picture of fatherhood.  Steve has invited each of his sons to ride next to him in life. Over the miles of our family's ride together, he has chosen to talk a little and listen a lot. I the process, he has handed them the tools of journey.  He has pointed to times when there is only a Dead End.  He has quietly redirected their course when they have been lost.  He has given them a compass for literal asphalt highways, and the less visible path of faith.   I have watched the very essence of Fatherhood happen because of the shotgun seat.  

We can't make our kids use a map.  We can't force them to choose the best course.  But, after a lot of miles of sticky seats, and travel, this I know for sure. Steve's sons have an understanding of life's True North, and the means to find their way. They will all continue to grow in the map seat until they step out on their own journeys and carry their own maps.  I'm confident, deep in their souls,  they'll always know their way home.  

And, for the record, when they all leave, I definitely get permanent dibs on shotgun. 


Kevin Miller said...

Beautiful commentary and lesson. I'm looking forward to our next family trip and lessons with the map.