The Case of the Missing Keys


Dad looked frazzled. He fumbled through his winter coat pockets, then his jacket underneath, then his pants – both sides. What was he hunting?
“Can I help you find something?” I asked before I helped him into my van.

“No, no. I’m OK.” He wasn’t ready to tell me what he was looking for so I let it drop.

We are straddling one of life’s unpleasant hurdles. No one likes to give up the independence that driving your own car provides. Being able to decide for yourself when and where you will go is an option most people don’t part with lightly. For a man like my dad, who started driving before driver’s licenses existed, the decision to stop driving is especially difficult.

Dad compares it to the days he spent in the cockpit of an airplane. Once you’re checked out on the controls and log in your flight time, you’re always good to go.

“Don’t forget,” he repeated, “the girl at the BMV told me I don’t need to wear my glasses, anymore.”

My father has always had keen eyesight, even at night. If only getting to and from the car could be so steady and sure. One evening Dad called to assure me he was home safe. Then, he added hesitantly that he’d become lightheaded while he was at the wheel. It was OK; he’d pulled up to a stop sign, waited a bit, and he was fine.

Whether he realized it, or not, he just gave me the authority I needed to stand firm, no more driving. It’s a tough proposition to make such a demand of the main authority figure in my life. He’s my first and foremost power figure who made my rules, set my standards, and is always there to fix things – both material and conceptual.

We all face such times if we’re lucky enough to have our parents with us long enough to reach such a crossroads, but there is no easy prescription for reversing parent/child roles. It is hard for me to tell Dad what to do since it has always been the other way around.

Of course, I haven’t always done what he advised me to do, so why should I expect him to reciprocate and give me his car keys, now?

I’ll just show up at his place when he needs to go somewhere, he can hand me his car keys and I’ll drive, just for that day, because it’s convenient. We’ll worry about who will do the driving tomorrow one day at a time.

Back at Dad’s place, he is combing his pockets again, still looking for the car keys I suspected he’d been searching for. His house key is on the same ring. We couldn’t get into the house. I made a special trip to a remote place where an extra house key is hidden and returned to help him out of my van.

As he turned and headed to the door, a sudden look of disgust and frustration came over him. What now?

“What’s the matter, Dad,” I wondered?

“The damn keys are in the door!” he yelled in frustration, and there they were, dangling from the lock. So much for security, they’d been hanging there all day while we were away.


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