As a kid, I remember thirsting for adulthood. The sheer freedom of being able to drive anywhere I wanted, to make decisions without clearing them with my parents and to be an independent person would be exhilarating, I assumed. Childhood was so restrictive, by comparison, I thought. I was certain that life truly began when you reached adulthood.
What I didn’t know back then was that with adulthood comes the burden of countless responsibilities, and the weight and worry of serious decision-making with gut-wrenching repercussions. Looking back, childhood was a perfect time, by virtue of its very freedom from responsibility.
One agonizing adult moment I face in the next 30 days is when I remove my father’s car from his possession. For the last three years, my sister and I have spent countless hours trying to convince our dad to stop driving, only to have our requests adamantly and belligerently denied. Since his Alzheimer’s diagnosis, his orientation on the roads has declined rapidly, and he can no longer be trusted to find his way or know where he parked.
“There is nothing wrong with my driving,” he thunders every time the subject comes up. He forgets that in the last four months, he’s lost his car twice, causing us large dollops of stress and anxiety as we filed police reports, drove endlessly around our city in search of the vehicle and reached out to the community to help locate it.
The last time this happened, I knew we’d turned a corner beyond which excuses about his driving were no longer feasible. The car just had to go. As (fairly) level-headed grown-ups, my sister and I knew we had to make an adult decision, invoke our powers of attorney and put his driving to an end.
Still, knowing and executing are two different things, and we delayed as long as humanly possible. The reason? The car is a symbol to my father. It represents
Today, respecting my dad means keeping him safe, even from himself.
independence and the ability to move around freely at will, even though it’s a freedom he rarely exercises anymore. His car is also a point of pride for him as a man. A spotlessly clean, gleaming piece of metal, it is laden with the bells, whistles and gadgets that men associate with success. In a word, the car is sexy. Take it away, and the symbol of its sex appeal departs simultaneously.
There are long, endless fights in our immediate future as our dad rages against those that would deny him the freedom to drive. There will be no point reminding him that Alzheimer’s is robbing him of direction and cognitive awareness, no point bringing up the missing car episodes that added wrinkles to our foreheads and grey to our hair. Anger and indignation will consume him for a long time, and the fallout in our relationship will hurt.
Tense and worried just anticipating this day, I called the Alzheimer’s helpline for advice. “Use creative storytelling,” they suggested, a sweet phrase that essentially means lying. I could do that, sure, but it doesn’t feel right. “Respect your father,” the Ten Commandments instruct in no uncertain terms. I want to do this, even with the Alzheimer’s diagnosis in our midst. I want to honour him by respecting his wishes and doing my best to fulfil them.
But I’m well into adulthood now, and I have to make grown-up decisions on his behalf, since he lacks the insight and intellectual prowess to make them himself. Today, respecting my dad means keeping him safe, even from himself. That shiny clunk of metal is headed to a car dealership very soon, and my dad will be devastated when it goes.
Though I know he’s wrong for wanting to continue to drive well beyond the time when it’s safe for him to do so, it will break my heart to see him grieving the loss of everything that car represents.