My dad doesn’t drive anymore, but that’s a good thing. Dad is 87 years old and has been forgetting things for a few years. Us kids have known that it was time for him to give up his keys. But let me tell you folks, you don’t just ”take” the car keys away from your aging parent.
I don’t live at home anymore. I moved away. It’s my siblings who’ve stayed who do the heavy lifting. They deal with the daily dilemmas that arise from dad’s declining health, his forgetfulness and his anger at what age has taken from him. I told them one by one that I thought we needed to take dad’s car keys away. They knew and agreed, but hey, we’re all still a little afraid of our dad. He was a formidable presence growing up. Discipline was his middle name. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” stuff. No one was spoiled.
I decided about 3 years ago that this situation called for a good cop, bad cop approach. I was gonna be the bad cop. It seemed only fair. Yes, dad had a ”right” to drive, but I feel that one loses that right when you’re not on top of your game behind the wheel; the rights of the public supersede an individual’s right when it comes to safety. I didn’t deal with the day-to-day of dad’s care and if someone needed to confront him, I would do it. All the kids were already talking to him about it, but I was going to push it.
I thought my dad should stop driving, and I told him so. In fact, I told him every chance I got. I knew my sibs could do it only with kid gloves (see remarks on discipline, above) so I began calling him every week. I started the conversation exactly the same way each time, “Hi Dad. Are you still driving?” He responded, “Hell yes” or “What do you mean? Of course I am. I’m fine to drive, Mary Kay.” I told him point blank that I did not think he was ”fine to drive.” I said that he had a stellar driving record and that’s the way he should go out. I asked him to think about how he would feel if he caused an accident and injured (or worse) a young mother and her children. I didn’t beat around the bush. He put forth his argument and we agreed not to agree. We did this every week. I always ended by asking him to “just consider it.”
You take away a man’s keys and you take away his mobility, and really so much more than that. It’s a milestone, and not a good one. How will he get groceries? I called the cab company in town and got the details. But try convincing a man who owned a Ford Model T that he can just “take a cab.” My dad has probably never taken a cab in his whole life.
I was home this year for Thanksgiving to see Dad and my sisters and brothers. They sold dad’s car last month. I’m not sure he remembers the details of the sale. All the better. The streets in my hometown are safer tonight, folks. I thank my sibs for doing the thankless work of prying those keys out of his hands and getting that car gone. It’s not work for the faint of heart.
I hope you all get a chance to go through this with your parents. It will mean they lived to be a ripe old age. A good friend of mine lost his father suddenly and unexpectedly last month. This is the first Thanksgiving without his dad. And another friend last year, this is his second Thanksgiving with out his dad. I’ve read his Face book posts; two years out ain’t a picnic, he’s still grieving. Another good friend never met his father–although he was alive, his father never attempted to make contact with him. If these friends knew about my dad and his driving dilemma, I’m sure they envy me in my position of parenting an aging parent. No credit goes to me; it’s my sibs who do the daily work.
We went to say goodbye to dad this morning before we headed back to Iowa. It was 9:30 a.m. and he was just waking up. This man who awoke before 5 am to a hard days work every day of his adult life. He was a little ”foggy” and misremembered, thinking I was on my way back to Missouri, not Iowa, but that’s okay, that’s close. My husband asked him if he “had any big plans for the upcoming week?” and Dad responded, “Hell, no, I’m 87……what do you want? Chimes?!”