“Dad, Please Let Me Have the Car Keys”By Robert Knechtel
I swung by my 84 year old father’s assisted living home to take him to an appointment. A couple of years earlier Max Knechtel had suffered a broken a hip. Slowly and cheerfully he walked to my car with his cane. We were on our way to see his orthopedist for a regular checkup.
As I helped him into the car, I glanced at his car parked across the way. During a mild heart attack, he had recently driven himself to the hospital. When I questioned him, he said he felt there was no need to go to the expense and trouble of an ambulance. After all, he’d been driving for well over sixty years. He was able to manage just fine. Max had always been defined by a strong will.
Following his hip fracture, I had witnessed serious deterioration in my Dad’s driving skills. Simply put, he was an unsafe driver. When I broached the topic, he wouldn’t listen.
Before the orthopedic appointment, I spoke to his doctor about my concerns. He said he frequently dealt with the driving issue. In no uncertain terms, he knew how to put it to his elderly patients.
I sat in on the appointment, and sure enough, the good doctor emphatically laid down the law – no more driving! There was no visible response. Just silence. The doctor pressed, “Do you understand?” My father mumbled something like, “I hear you”. That was it, nothing further said.
Outside the office, we stood for a moment in silence, my father and I together, alone. In as mild a tone as I could, I said, “Well?” “Well what!”, he growled. I said, “Dad, please let me have the car keys”.
He stared intently at some distant hills. It was a look of profoundly unhappy realization, stubborn resistance to the inevitable, frustration, denial and ebbing strength. His eyes closed and flashed open several times.
As a highly respected geologist, Max Knechtel had ventured over much of the planet. In the 1920s, there was a geological safari in Angola. For two years he led a geological mapping crew with nothing but mules for transport in the Venezuelan Andes. He was a member of a scientific expedition by canoe down the length Alaska's Yukon River. Later, two companions in another crew had been killed, trapped in a raging Montana forest fire. Max survived.
Now, his world was inexorably diminishing, the evidence plainly in front of him with his son about to take away his car keys. His expressions and demeanor remain imprinted indelibly on my psyche. The interlude seemed interminable. He could fight with me and with himself, but not his doctor.
At long last, he sank a trembling hand in his pocket and produced the keys. He gazed at them. I had to reach to take them, his last symbol of independence. We returned to the home, not a word spoken. I departed emotionally drained.
Very shortly, we sold his car. It ended an intense rite of passage.
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Seniors Aging Well, Wisely and Successfully