What I learned from my dad.
December, 2011: Dad caused a head-on collision at a busy intersection. He was in the left turn lane, but went straight instead. He didn’t understand his gross error, due to increasing dementia. With toy cars, I re-enacted the accident on their kitchen table. Dad simply couldn’t accept (process) it. Faced with winter driving, I begged the owner to not provide a loaner car to Dad. Dad called him daily. Sigh.
March, 2012: the evening newspaper published the police department’s annual ‘Saved by the Belt Award.’ It’s given to the survivors of the most horrific accident of the previous year, who avoided serious injury thanks to seat belts. The recipients were a young woman, pictured holding her two-year-old child. The toddler had been in the back seat that day! The article concluded, “An 87 year-old man was cited for improper lane usage.” DAD!
I was horrified to think a child had been involved. This could’ve been doubly tragic. Armed with this new information, we had no choice but take Dad’s keys away. My sister, Cathy, and I would do so the next day. Naturally, it was awful. We suggested future scenarios, from risk of life to risk of assets, due to law suits. Nothing registered except his loss of independence, which was valid. Mom was supportive. We promised them transportation when needed. Dad still couldn’t understand. Clearly, the onset of dementia prevented logic and fear from registering.
The next day, Jeff and I met our kids, Nick and Korey, for the week-end. I moped around the city feeling sad and guilty. I hated wasting precious time with our kids, but Dad’s situation gripped me. Then something happened as we walked through Millennium Park. I call it a ‘Godwink.‘
“Wait!” I said to myself. “I did the right thing. Not the easy thing. Not necessarily a good thing, but the RIGHT thing.”
Right then and there, peace replaced my internal angst. Dad would never know it, but by moving through his process, other decisions regarding family or work would be made correctly. And there have been plenty.
Because doing the right thing is the main thing. And the only thing. Thanks Dad, for a valuable lesson — a gift that keeps on giving.