There are two transitions in life – separated by decades – that strike fear in the hearts of parents and children alike. In the first, the parents prepare for the children to start driving. In the second, the children prepare for the parents to stop driving.
Naturally I’ve been more concerned about the latter, having long ago survived the former (as a child, anyway; being childless, I never had to worry about a teen-ager taking the wheel of a car that wasn’t paid for). There is lots of advice out there for the latter transition, both for parents who want to prove to their children that they’re still able to navigate, and for children who want to figure out how to divest their parents of car keys.
I had much trepidation about having the time-to-stop-driving conversation with my father, especially when I heard that one of my friend’s fathers was actually disinherited for taking away his father’s car keys. At 92, my father is still pretty independent. He started working when he was 10 years old, after his father lost his business in the Depression, and helped support his parents ever after. He owned his own business for more than a quarter-century, and pretty much nobody told him what to do – except my mother – for most of his adult life.
And even my mother had no say when it came to cars. For most of my childhood, my father had big Chrysler Imperials, ostensibly to drive his real-estate clients around in. I still remember the look of resignation on my mother’s face as they returned from a trip that started out as the running of errands and ended up as the buying of car.
He purchased his last vehicle not long before my mother passed away nine years ago. It was not a luxury sedan; it was a Volvo station wagon. He joked that when you’re young, you need a station wagon to haul the kids, and when you’re old, you need one to haul the wheelchairs. I worried about his driving into his 90s, even as he brushed aside my concerns with discussions of AARP driving refresher courses and a lack of accidents. I bought him a GPS, but I’m not sure how often he used it. My most pleasant news came when he told me that the car had flunked its smog emissions test because he didn’t drive it enough.
Knowing that giving up the keys would have to be his idea, I slowly worked my way in that direction. I reminded him regularly that he could always use the jitney service at his retirement complex (and not only a jitney service, but regular “prescription runs” to the local pharmacy). I also told him I would drive him wherever he needed to go.
But I was still surprised not too long ago when my father announced that he would not be renewing his driver’s license after it expired on his next birthday. And my further surprise when he told me to sell the Volvo. That latter would not prove difficult: it had just 9,200 miles on it. It was like the proverbial used car owned by a little old lady who only drove to church on Sundays.
My father may be independent, and he may be stubborn, but when he makes a decision, he sticks to it. When my wife drove me up to get his car for its mandated smog test before selling it, I asked him if he wanted to go out for one last spin behind the wheel. He dismissed the suggestion quickly, saying, “Not necessary.”
It was a good driving lesson, one that I will try to remember when it comes time for me to turn in my keys.