An Ode to Joy Rides (Reflections on the Night Before School Starts When Your Kids Are Grown)

Today, viewing all my friends’ Facebook photos of cute children dressed for the first day of school, I’m reminded that I’ve already taken my last joy ride.

A “joy ride” is a father-daughter outing on the last night before school starts. I invented it and, over the years, I dare say I perfected it.

Take, for example, this photo of the empty gazebo at Cooper’s Pond in Bergenfield, NJ.

Less than 20 years ago, on this same night in that same gazebo, you’d have seen a somewhat chubby dad dancing with abandon with a laughing little girl wearing her 101 Dalmatian onesie pajamas.

That would have been the first of my eldest daughter’s many joy rides.

Joy rides grew to become legendary — even epic — ending at dawn last year in a hot air balloon over central New Jersey before my youngest daughter returned to college.

I can’t tell you the details of all that happened in between — in part because Joy Ride, like Fight Club, involved a sacred trust summed up by three little words that will forever bind me to my daughters: “Don’t Tell Mom.”

I will admit, without pride, that there was some underage driving involved. Also a memorable road trip with both daughters to Philadelphia. In later years, I recall the fleeting image of a man in dreadlocks with a parrot on his shoulder in Newark. But really, it’s best for all of us if I don’t elaborate because then I’d have to explain why my younger daughter once lovingly turned to me and said, “You’re despicable!”

On Joy Ride night, we ritualistically abandoned the laws of man. We mocked the concepts of getting a sensible night’s sleep or of minding our diets. And we sure as hell had fun because, in the immortal words of Aunt Joann (who somehow, without her knowledge, wound up as our muse), “The world is our oyster.”

Tonight, just a few minutes ago, I received a message from my daughter — the little girl in the gazebo. She sent a photo of something fun she was doing on her last night of vacation before starting work.

Her caption was simple: “Joy Ride 2.0.”

As for myself, far away from both daughters, I don’t know what I might do tonight. There’s only one thing I know for sure:

I won’t be getting a good night’s sleep.

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