He turned his head and his life had spun around.
Ryan sat in the passenger seat and realized that his son was driving him.
In that instant, the father remembered carrying his baby boy out of the hospital two days after he was born 19 years earlier covered in a mosquito net when the West Nile virus was all the terror we feared in New York.
Ryan had bought a new car to take home the new infant and became a middle-aged father.
The kid’s first set of wheels was a big $1000 baby carriage that had better shocks and steering than his new Camry.
As Rory grew, his carriage converted like a Transformer into a stroller that Ryan would use to take Rory for long walks through villages, towns, parks, and pathways by the sea.
He tried to teach his son a new noun on every walk. Bird. Cloud. Tree. Train. Rain.
Then, without even noticing, his kid was gliding around the house on a wheeled walker. Friends joked that when Rory outgrew it, Ryan would be old enough to use the walker himself.
A friend named Ricky came to Rory’s second birthday party with one of those expensive, battery operated red cars that a kid can sit in and actually drive. Ryan had to run after Rory as he sped up and down the sidewalk, always fearing he’d steer it into the busy street.
Ryan hid the battery charger on that hot rod and got him a much smaller car with foot pedals. Then came tricycles, bicycles, Buzz Lightyear and flying from the coffee table and to infinity and beyond, which was the back of the sofa. Then Rory, disguised as Harry Potter, flew broomsticks with a magic wand, and then followed Luke Skywalker into space flailing a light saber, and used magic rings to transport himself into the world of Hobbits.
Ryan drove his kid through eight years of Little League and then Rory rode the team bus into high school baseball.
And now Rory was home for the summer from an upstate college and Ryan was a passenger and his kid was driving him to the gym and Ryan looked up at a busy intersection and realized that the wheel of life had turned their lives a full 180 degrees.
At the gym, Rory told Ryan what exercise regime he should follow, told him what sugar free protein drinks to use after the workout to maintain muscle tone, what vitamins to swallow, the best foods for bone density and less body fat.
On the drive home, Rory, the political science major, dissected the presidential candidates, reciting a full dossier on each hopeful and informing Ryan about their votes on key issues and how much money they had each accepted from big banks, big pharma, energy lobbyists, and who had links to shady foreign nationals.
As the son drove the father home, he taught Ryan about the intricacies of Medicare for all, the problem with a public option, the perils of climate change, the folly of tariffs, which were a blatant tax on Americans, and how it was rationalizing corporate welfare and crony capitalism.
“I can tell you haven’t missed too many classes,” Ryan said.
“I actually love college,” Rory said. “I’m learning a lot about myself.”
Ryan looked over at him and shook his head as his son flipped up the right turn signal and slowed for a red light.
“What did you learn?”
“That I can live away from home with a roommate in our own apartment. I learned to cook, do my laundry, work, and how to balance the college bars with class and reading and homework. I guess I matured a little bit, learned some self-discipline. And independence.”
Ryan looked over at the little tyke who used to sit on his shoulders pointing at roaring LIRR trains and saw that hair had grown on his chin and upper lip and when the light turned green, he watched muscles rippling in his arm as he turned the car and drove.
The son sensed his father staring at him.
“Whadda you mean, what?”
“Whadda you staring at me like that for?”
“I’m proud of you, that’s the what.”
“What are you kidding me? You gave me the chance to go away.”
“You did the work, you made the Dean’s List. You’re holding up your end.”
“So, what do you wanna do on Father’s Day?” Rory asked.
“Let’s go for another ride,” said Ryan as his son drove him home.