Hanging Up the Keys

by Dr. Leslie (Jack) Fyans

My elderly father is at a point where he is becoming confused, and he really shouldn’t be driving his car. My sister and I have gently tried to persuade him to give it up, but he’s a stubborn man. I don’t even feel safe letting my children ride with him. Why can’t he realize what a danger he is to himself and others?

Many people are finding themselves in your predicament today—sandwiched between caring for their growing children on the one hand and their aging parents on the other. The responsibilities can be frustrating and overwhelming.

Let me suggest that what you consider to be “stubborn” might be a need for your father to remain self-sufficient. Remember your teenage years, when you couldn’t wait to get your driving license? That piece of paper was a visible, tangible way you showed the world you were mature, that you no longer depended on your parents to get where you wanted to go. Many elderly people (perhaps your father included) feel that no longer being able to drive is a visible, tangible way of losing their independence—reverting to childhood, if you will.

The need to prove one’s physical and emotional capacity remains among the strongest motivators in human beings. It is only natural, therefore, that your father will resist any suggestion that he is incapable of doing that which he has done for so many years.

Approaching the situation from the scriptural view of family members as mutual caregivers offers some helpful insights. In this understanding, every member has a responsibility to ensure the safety of the family as a whole, and each does that in his or her own way. It may be helpful to talk with your father about how he sees his purpose in the family at this time. Where he once may have defined his role as provider and protector, he may need to “re-create” himself—to seek how God may be using him at this time in his life.

It’s important that you assure your father you will arrange for all his transportation needs. I also encourage you to share your concerns with your father’s doctor, who can offer his or her medical opinion about whether your father should be prohibited from driving. I pray you can resolve this matter in a way that is satisfactory to all.

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