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Parenting My Parents

Grandfather and grandson (6-7) playing with model aeroplane outdoors
Photograph by Getty Images

I remember the exact moment I realized that my dad was getting old. Not graying-at-the-temples old.

I’m talking not-able-to-manage-on-his-own old.

I had just visited him in a rehabilitation facility where he was recuperating from a back injury incurred after a slip on ice. As he struggled to pull his once 6-foot, 5-inch frame upright, I watched him lean on a walker for dear life. I knew then that this device wouldn’t be just a temporary aid. This contraption was going to a permanent fixture in his life from here on out, much like his bifocals or ever-present chapstick.

Like a scared child, he handed the keys to my mother and said, “I’m done.”

Dad didn’t mind it, though. He especially liked how he could easily collapse it and slide it into the backseat of his Caddie. He just loves his Caddie. Thirty years earlier, when he was nearing the pinnacle of his career, his car said everything about him—successful executive, living the good life. He kept it as shiny as a new penny and traded up models roughly every three years just because he could.

Now long-retired, the Cadillac sitting in my dad’s garage is over fifteen years old and has a handicap placard dangling from the rear view mirror. Until recently, he only took it out if he needed to take my mom to the grocery store, the dog to the groomer or himself to the barbershop.

When the DMV renewed his license on his 80th birthday, my mother cringed. The man couldn’t even feel his feet anymore, but we’re sure he neglected to bring that up when they handed him his brand new passport to independence.

A few weeks later, he jumped a curb in a busy intersection during lunch hour.

Like a scared child, he handed the keys to my mother and said, “I’m done.”

My sibs and I, already conspiring to have “The Talk” with him, breathed a collective sigh of relief. Curb marauder that he was, none of us relished taking away dad’s lifeline to self-sufficiency, a gas-guzzling token of his breadwinner days that had enabled him to defy his physical limitations for so long.

Yet a few weeks later, we learned from mom that he was back behind the wheel. We weren’t sure what prompted his change of heart, but suspected it had something to do with her growing tired of chauffeuring around the gruff back seat driver to whom she was betrothed.

Whatever the reason, when he hopped another curb, this time in front of the groomer’s, he was ready to concede defeat.

Resigned to the fact that he can no longer drive, my sibs and I volunteer to drive both mom and dad wherever they need to go—doctor appointments, family events or lunch dates. Any inconvenience incurred on our part is made up for in spades by the peace of mind we feel knowing that the curbs everywhere are safe.

Our next big challenge? Managing their finances. With delinquency notices and overpaid creditors piling up, one of us kids has to take over. But that’s a whole other story …

MORE: When Your Parent Says, "No!"

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