Caregiver's Diary: Driving With Dad

My 88 year old father-in-law took his biennial driving exam recently and passed with flying colours. He was elated. A navigator in bomber command during the war, he flew night after night through the flak-filled skies of Germany. Piloting a brand new Caddy down the 401 is a piece of cake to him.

He enjoys his driving a little too much for his non-driving daughters’ liking. My wife came up against this recently.

Every year, my father-in-law bundles his daughters and his sister in his white Cadillac and zooms out to the drumlin fields of Central Ontario, where, in a little hilltop cemetery surrounded by trees, his wife is buried.

They tend the grave, plant some flowers, and then have lunch at a famous cottage country roadhouse on the way back. Then they return to the city on the 401, usually on Sunday afternoon, usually in the middle of the horrendous returning cottage traffic. He thrives on it.

This summer’s trip was coming up, and there was a wrinkle. My father-in-law’s other sister was in from out west, and she and her husband were going to come too, but the husband was being dropped off in the deepest suburbs and being picked up later. He was also famous for talking non-stop and distracting everyone around him.

My wife was worried. She had been with her father in the Caddy recently and had been disturbed by how fast he drove. She suggested he might be paying less attention as he aged. She wanted to organize her sister’s fiancé to do the driving, let the old folks relax and talk, and most of all, prevent her dad from driving that dreaded stretch of highway. I warned her about this: “Don’t try to infantilize your father. He hates it. He’s a very proud man, and driving is very important to him. Besides, does he make you feel unsafe?”

She admitted that her father was still an excellent driver with good reactions. “Besides” I said, “He’s full of good sense. He’ll know when it’s time to hang up the keys”.

Nevertheless, the idea of her father driving into the city, picking people up at various locations and dropping some off, then zooming out to the country at 130 km an hour wasn’t making her happy. “Dad, why don’t you and your sister just relax, Jill’s guy will do the driving, and we’ll all get there in one piece”. I could hear him snort with laughter at the other end of the line.

The morning of the trip arrived, and my wife left to go up to her sister’s house to be picked up. “You can laugh” she said, “If I die in fiery crash, you get the house and all my RRSPs. Just be sure you take care of the cats”.

Later that morning, watching local TV, I saw reports of a massive crash and backup westbound on the 401, just where they were headed. As I watched through the day, traffic stayed backed up. It finally started clearing around 4:30 PM. A little later, my wife got home.