I haven’t written in the last couple weeks because there really hasn’t been much to report. I’ve been tending to my broken heart (see previous post), keeping busy with work and, oh yeah, dealing with an 88-year-old who acts much more like a sassy teenager when his meds are all in balance. I don’t mean in a dementia-induced, is-that-my-10th-grade-teacher-down-the-hall kind of way. This is more in a nyah-nyah, watch-me-go-joyriding-in-the-car kind of way.
For the first few months of this year, January to mid-April, as he turned the local ambulance into his own personal shuttle service, Dad showed no interest in driving. He was weak, unsteady on his feet and prone to low-blood-pressure-induced wooziness, and he was perfectly content to have me taxi him from doctor’s appointment to drug store to his semi-weekly poker games at the Council on Aging. The last med shift, though, seems to have straightened out the low blood pressure, at least for the time being, and his new surefootedness has brought with it a cocksure attitude change.
He began agitating to drive again about a month ago and brought it up with the doctor about a week later. You may or may not recall that his last hospitalization in April involved a nasty eye injury. He was due to see the optometrist about a week after the the doctor’s appointment. The doc said he needed to get the optometrist’s approval before he started driving.
The next Saturday was the day of my dog Bart’s awful accident, and a good friend took me out for a long sightseeing drive, to just get me away from the house. When I returned, I learned that Dad had driven himself to lunch. The restaurant was less than a mile away – just around the corner, really – but the fact that he’d broken the bargain to wait until after the optometrist’s exam set me off. Loudly. He professed just as loudly that he had no recollection of any such conversation in the doc’s office.
I stormed upstairs and left for church the next morning before he got up. I got home to find that he’d driven himself to breakfast at the coffee shop about a half mile away. I decided against re-hashing the argument, appeasing myself with the knowledge that he seemed to be sticking to the immediate neighborhood.
Then, a week later, after a two-hour torrential downpour, I went out for a few hours to run errands. When I came back, that morning’s rain made clear that Dad’s car had been moved again. Figuring he’d taken himself to lunch at the restaurant around the corner, I shook my head, gritted my teeth and tried to just let it go. A couple hours later, while fixing dinner, I stuck my head into the living room and asked him if he’d gone where I thought he had.
Nope. Instead, he’d driven 10 miles down the road to another of his favorite dining and drinking spots, had his fill and headed home. Steam began rising metaphorically from my ears, to blend with what my pasta pot was producing.
And had he been wearing his glasses while driving? Nope, again.
Now, Dad got the glasses two years ago, soon after moving out here. After he’d failed the vision exam at the Registry of Motor Vehicles and been told he had to see an optometrist before they’d even talk to him at the RMV again.
So, now he was out on the road, without the glasses that were a condition of his license, only a month or so after having put his thumbnail through his eyeball (sorry for the graphic image, but the point had to be made), and before ever being given the all-clear from the optometrist to drive at all.
The next 10 minutes are something of a blur – I believe I remember using the words “boneheaded,” “irresponsible,” “disrespectful,” and “dangerous” multiple times, along with a fair sampling of my more picaresque vocabulary. His responses were all along the lines of “I don’t need the glasses” and “Nothing happened, so what’s the big deal.” In other words, exactly what a 15-year-old who got caught driving without a license would say. The only thing that seemed to finally shut him up was the observation that, had there been an accident, his insurance company would have been within its rights to refuse to honor any claims, since he was violating the terms of his license. Since I’m now doing some freelance work for an auto insurance company, I was able to throw in the related factoid that the average accident hospital claim now stands at $38,000 – an amount he’d have to come up with in cash, should he injure someone while driving without his glasses.
When we finally saw his optometrist three days later, I had to play teenager’s dad all over again, asking the doctor – in front of Dad – whether he was, in fact, required to wear his glasses. She restated the obvious -yes, it was a condition of his license. Oh, and by the way, his right eye needed a laser procedure to clear up some cloudiness, so the glasses were even more important.
I’ve since retold this story several times to folks my age or older who’ve also been parents. They all shake their heads, roll their eyes and mutter whatever their ethnic equivalent of “oy” might be. “Yep, you’ve got a teenager on your hands,” they then say.
The more I’ve thought over this incident and others, though, the more I see a motivational difference for this dumbheaded behavior that the situational similarities can gloss over. Teenagers, I think, are just so anxious for the future – the freedom and self-sufficiency they see hanging just out of reach – that they’re willing to leap over dangerous chasms to grasp for it. Just the opposite is true for Dad and other seniors experiencing their second adolescence, I believe. Instead of reaching out, they are working with all their might to simply hold on to what they have now, because at their stage in the circle of life, moving forward looks more like moving in reverse.