Yesterday I went to the south coast to join a lunch at which my aged father was present.
During the ten days since I had last seen him he had an ‘incident’ in which, in seeking to remove his car from a car park, he drove quite hard into another car by somehow getting confused and accidentally placing his foot upon the accelerator pedal instead of the brake.
He’s a proud and stubborn man and in the past has made it known far and wide that if he was ever forced to stop driving it would be the end of him (if memory serves, the exact phrase he used was “I may as well drive off Beachy Head …”). In passing I shall mention that he comes from the UK generation which learned to drive before the introduction of compulsory driving tests, so has never taken one, and it is a matter of fact that he became a qualified military pilot before he learned to drive anyway.
In advance I’d heard rumours that his recent car park incident had shocked him severely and this was borne out when – as I drove him to the lunch – he ‘reported himself’ to me and recounted the episode to me in detail, adding “It was a signal. I must give up driving – I could have killed a child …”
I tried to comfort him by responding to the effect that, to be honest, at his stage of life this moment was going to come at some point anyway.
Ultimately it was the correct decision and – though it might not give him much consolation right now – it was actually a huge relief to those around him, including myself, because eventually there would have come a time (if it hadn’t already happened) where we’d have to steel ourselves and take the decision away from him by forcing him to stop driving for his own good.
By taking the decision himself he had spared us the strain and stress of ever having to do that.
The important thing now to do was to look forward, not back – how was he going to operate now … seek out and hire a ‘tame’ local driver for all purposes? Make sure that one of his family was always on hand to cover situations where a car would be useful and/or necessary? Maybe even consider acquiring a live-in carer who also drove?
I went on to say that him giving up driving need not represent a terminal loss of independence. (I think this was the issue that previously had most concerned him).
The ironic aspect of this development has been that, for the past three or four years, the entire family had accepted that at some point my father would have to stop driving, whether that be voluntarily or because it had been necessary the decision had been taken away from him.
We had feared that – because of his character – it was going to have to be be via the ‘intervention’ route, not least because of his lifelong love of speed and driving, and that in prospect this was likely to be stressful and (more particularly) difficult to negotiate with him.
In fact, in the end he took the matter out of our hands, plainly embarrassed and horrified by his recent incident.
It’s been a great relief all round. I told him yesterday that – perhaps not now, but hopefully one day soon – he’d also find himself feeling happy and relaxed about his decision.
I do hope so.