Justin Ricklefs


When Your First Baby Girl Turns 16…

Tucked in behind Popeye’s and between a bank and laundromat, in the middle of the parking lot, I got out of the passenger seat of the car.

The lot was wet, and a heavy fog lingered. 

A couple feet behind an empty parking spot, I placed my YETI 32 oz. tumbler down on the ground and got back in the car. 

The car our now 16-year-old baby girl was driving.

The YETI now serving as the back cone for the cramming-for-the-drivers-test-final practice. An unsuspecting white SUV in the parking lot serving as the front cone. 

Realizing I’ve neglected my fatherly duties of adequately preparing her for this parallel parking moment, she tried to let me off the hook.

“I watched a YouTube video on it last night”, she said. “Seems pretty easy.”

First attempt. YETI goes tumbling. She nailed it on the first reverse. 

I pop out of the car again, this time moving the tumbling tumbler back a couple feet, kind of thinking to myself “she’s going to smoke the real cone in a few minutes, no matter how many times we do this…we’re too late.”

Second attempt. No tumbling YETI and no bumped SUV. But a very crooked finish. And a head-on-the-wheel discouraged 16-year-old.

“Let’s go again. You got this.”

Attempt three. 

As she’s about to get going, a giant-stereotypical-Midwest truck pulls up, rain still coming down a little bit. 


Me…hoping he goes away.


I get out of the car again. 

“Hey man, there’s a YETI back here, didn’t want you to forget it.”

“Thanks bro, really appreciate it, we know. She’s doing some last minute parallel parking practice. That’s our cone.”

“Oh, gotcha. Well, good luck!”

And by last minute, I meant to say, first time parallel parking practice, but whatever.

This time, no proverbial cones struck. 

Less crooked finish. But a huge failure to signal on the entrance or exit of the make-believe scenario. 

Now I’m getting frustrated because I have a work call in an hour, and I’m assuming we have at least a 38-minute wait for Officer Friendly once we get into the building. 

“Dude, you’re gonna be fine. Not much we can do now at this point.”

“One more try dad.”

Fourth try. 

Freaking nails it. Her YouTube teacher would be so proud. 

“Boom. Let’s go. You’re gonna crush it.” – as I frantically check my watch and try and hustle things up a bit. 

We pull to the other side of the parking lot, after I retrieved the stand-in cone. 

As we pull up to the License Office, another just-turned-16-year-old girl, who ours happens to know, has just jumped in her car. 

And Officer Friendly is not so friendly-ish checking the signals, horn, brake lights with the intimidating clipboard and tan uniform. 

“Dad…I can’t do this. Let’s just wait until mom can bring me back later.”

“Nope, we’re here. You got this.”

I jump out of the car again, open the door and out falls my glass coffee mug, shattering on the pavement in a dozen pieces.

I was too ashamed and embarrassed for our daughter to even see if Officer Friendly looked around.

I’m sure she did. Sounded exactly like what you think it would sound like. Glass breaking in a pretty quiet, empty parking lot. 

Scooping up my mess as best as I can, all while trying to remind our daughter what is true with brilliant dad lines like:

“There are millions of worse drivers in America who have their license, you got this.”

Poor thing, she was kind enough to not tell me, “uh, thanks moron, real helpful.”

We did pray. We did regroup. And in we went. 

We’d barely checked in and sat down, when out walked the officer, calling our daughter to the parking lot. 

Far less than the expected 38-minute wait. 


“You got this. Deep breath. Slow everything down.”

My motivational speaking career may take off. 

Now what? 

Sitting in this big, cold lobby with one random guy filling out some paperwork and one couple, who were clearly in the same boat as me. 

“Your daughter taking her test today too?” I awkwardly broke the silence of the awkward room. 

She was. The one outside who had to have heard my coffee mug shattering. 

Turns out, our daughters go to school together. Turns out they’re friends. Turns out the world is small and sometimes, pretty awesome.

Their daughter comes back in a few minutes after our conversation started.

Big smiles, she passed. 

They wish us well and take off. 

A few minutes later, here comes the car I was just riding shotgun in…

Meanwhile, I was texting Brooke every three seconds, while she was working, probably also annoyed with me. 

Texts like:

Scared and nervous as hell…

One of her friends was here before her and passed…

She should be back in 5 minutes…

Just pulled into the lot…😩😩

Then, Officer Friendly rolls in, not looking very friendly as she awkwardly walks past me into the little back office chamber thing. 


Maybe the news isn’t so good. 

10-15 steps behind her comes our daughter.

Same story as her friend. Luckily.

Big smiles. She passed. Barely it turns out, but she did pass. 

And guess what? YouTube and YETI were great parallel parking teachers, she crushed that part. 

It’s wild really. 

The experience of getting her license, sure. 

But more so, I really am the old man now who knows what it feels like to say, “it goes sooooo fast.”

“Just think, one day she’ll be all grown up…” – some old at the time man would say to me 16 years ago.

Nah. Because it’s just too much fun now changing poopy diapers or cleaning up vomit.

“It goes by in a blink…” – a different well-intentioned old guy or gal.

You mean like the blink of sleep we got last night? 

“You’re going to wonder where the time went…” – from you know who

Like the time until bath and bedtime so we can actually figure out what the hell is going on and how we’ll ever make it to the NEXT bedtime?  

“The days are long but the years are short.” 

Yeah and you’re annoying. 

But here I am. 

That guy now. Wondering how we got here.

Riding shotgun. Not just in her car, but her life. 

Watching her blossom. 

Watching her make mistakes.

Watching her be brave. 

Watching her learn to love. 

Watching her deal with pain. 

Watching her question everything.

Watching her get to know herself. 

It’s weird, but as hard as those early years are, they’re actually way easier. In hindsight at least. 

We had control then. We made the decisions. We drove the car. We didn’t ride shotgun. 

It really does seem like yesterday when she was in the backseat, buckled in a five-point harness. 

And in between that first car ride home from the hospital, and the car ride to Officer Friendly’s place of employment, 16 years of memories flooded through my mind.

Some great ones. Some tough ones. Some scary ones. Some hilarious ones. Some really painful ones. 

But here we are. 

Without full control. Sharing decisions. Riding shotgun. 

With a licensed driver. 

And I don’t know where the time went. 

But I’m sure glad to be along for the ride.

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