My fear of fear
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve harbored this crazy dream of racing one day. It’s far too late for me now but in the rich tradition of parents with unfulfilled dreams, I’ve always believed Tyke could do it for me. Wait, you mean…race? Cars? Yes, race cars. Formula 1 cars to be precise. Why not? It’s a dream and if he
– loves racing
– tries hard
– gets the right breaks
(in that order), he has a chance, right?
His mother recoils in horror at the thought of her son hurtling around a tarmac at 200 miles per hour in a machine barely large enough to fit him. My standard response to such a reaction used to be “pshaw…let’s give this a shot and see where it goes!”
That was, until I watched “Senna“. Most racing enthusiasts know about the legendary Brazilian F1 driver, still regarded as the best racer in history, brutally snatched from the sport by a fatal accident at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix. I’ve watched videos of the crash, I’ve read the technical analysis of how the steering column broke as he approached Tamburello at over 200mph. As his car left the track, completely out of his control, his lightning quick reflexes managed a braking time of 2 full seconds which brought down his speed to 135mph. But he hit a solid, concrete wall and died as the steering shaft punctured his helmet, causing skull fractures, blood loss and brain damage.
I know the gory details. I know how it shook the world of racing forever. I know of the safety measures instituted since that Grand Prix. There hasn’t been a F1 fatality at the wheel since.
But “Senna” changed the tone of how I processed that information. There are two instances in that documentary which affected me so profoundly, I’ve been unable to get them out of my head. At the 1991 Brazilian Grand Prix, Senna drove a car to victory with his gearbox stuck in sixth. The weather conditions were ridiculous, the car was uncooperative and he still won. So great was his exhaustion that he had to be carried back in the medical car. He’s shown emerging from the car looking exhausted, walking tentatively with a towel around his shoulders. As soon as he gets out, he calls to his father. Milton da Silva approaches and tentatively hugs and kisses him, but with real warmth and love. Soon after, Ayrton is seen keeping the crowds at bay by telling them to not touch him because his shoulders are sensitive and aching. But his father was the only one accorded the privilege of sharing in his son’s triumph, despite the obvious pain.
The documentary ends with on-board visuals of Senna’s horrific crash, the reactions of the drivers, his crew and the commentators. They show us Senna’s coffin lying in-state surrounded by his family, Senna’s distinctive helmet placed on top of the coffin. A poignant reminder of the man’s profession and passion. As each family member pays their respects, they show us the happier times shared. As Senna’s father approaches the coffin, dazed and confused, the visuals cut to Brazil 1991, with Milton embracing Ayrton tentatively, but with warmth and love. A special moment between a father and his son.
I had to pause the documentary at that moment to take a deep breath. Perhaps a short walk would’ve prevented it but the scene was far too touching to watch unaffected. So I allowed myself to cry a bit. Later, I pondered over what had set off such a visceral reaction in me.
Was it the tragedy of parents outliving their child? Or was it the betrayal of the faith a father had put in his son’s destiny? The connection between the father and son impacted me immediately, obviously due to my own circumstances, but it was the heartbreaking visuals of loss that made me emotional and a little bit afraid.
Ever since I watched that documentary, I’m afraid for my son. All parents are concerned for their children at some level. But I now feel this overwhelming sense of fear and the need to control my son’s actions. Ironically, this fear is what I feared for a long time. I want to be the dad who understands risks, makes his child aware of those risks but places an implicit trust in his child’s ability and judgment. Now, I find those beliefs shaken by an irrational need to cloister him against the world.
I know despite my apprehensions, I will not stand in the way of his legitimate pursuits but I don’t want to live the rest
of my life battling what-ifs. It’s a pathetic existence and many times, unfair on your child who will start to notice the signs as he/she grows older.
How can I beat this? How can I pit my protective parental instincts against an innate need to see my children succeed? For starters, I know from personal experience that a sheltered existence benefits no one, least of all the person being sheltered. I know he needs to try, fall, get hurt, try again and figure it out for himself. It will start with the time-tested tradition of teaching him how to ride a bicycle and using that visual as a cliched metaphor for every other challenge in his life. Hey, I’m not selling insurance. I tell myself that my faith and maturity are stronger than having to rely on such tropes for guidance. But that gnawing insecurity….
I think I’ll wing it as I go along.
Writing this down is the first step to being aware of the problem. I promise myself to be alert for signs of this weakness, this ridiculous urge to protect life by preventing it from being itself.
If all else fails, I’ll go watch my favorite part from the Family Guy episode, “Former Life of Brian“. Brian discovers he has a son and during the course of the episode develops a special bond with the child. This turns him into a doting, over-protective parent. Brian, Peter and the rest of his gang are relaxing at a bar when a news clip informs them of a tragic plane crash.
News anchor: We interrupt this program to bring you grim news out of LaGuardia airport, where a 767 has been forced to make a crash landing.
Brian: Oh, man, I tell you, now that I’m a parent, I can’t even watch stories like that. I just think, you know, I just think, “Oh, my God, what if Dylan were on that plane?” Oh, my God, oh, I just don’t know what I would do. I don’t know what I would do.
Quagmire: Yeah, yeah, I understand. That’d be tough.
Brian: Oh, oh, no. Oh, NO. NO, NO, NO, NO. Quagmire, no. You do NOT understand. Until you have a child… Until you have a child, you do not understand. Okay?
Quagmire: Damn it.
Peter: It’s been like this all week. Watch this: Hey, Brian, what would you do if Dylan fell out a window?
Brian: Oh, my God. Oh, my God I don’t even want to think about that. I don’t even want to think about that. OhGodOhmyGodOhno.
Quagmire: Brian, what would you do if Dylan was in a fire? Oh, my God. Oh, no. Oh, my God. Oh, that’s…
Oh, God. Oh, no, no,no. Knock on wood. Knock on wood, Knock on wood.
Oh, I can’t hear any more of this.
Joe: Peter, your dog is giving me diabetes.
Believe me, I’ll do anything to never be THAT guy :)
For now, I plan to celebrate his next birthday at a karting track. I want to drive the kart with him, see if he loves it….expect him not to but hope that he does. And I’ll tell myself that every what-if is a shiny new chain around my son’s feet.