My father was a highway patrolman who rode a Harley to work and patrolled some of the worst neighborhoods in Philadelphia. There was never any doubt about who wore the pants in our house. Dad was a strict disciplinarian, a man's man who earned badges for his sharp-shooting abilities and who piled up commendation after commendation for locking up some really bad people. He spent hours upon hours in court testifying about some of the criminals he arrested and then headed off on his motorcycle to arrest some more. When he would leave our house to start up his Harley, all of the kids on our block would encircle him and watch with awe as he rode off to to work his shift. My sister and I were the envy of the neighborhood and there was no doubt who had the toughest dad on our street.
My dad retired from the police force after just 20 years so that he could move out of the city and away from the crime and the filth that he saw everywhere. He got a job at an insurance company in the suburbs and shortly thereafter, he and my mother moved to their little suburban paradise.
In my father's mind, he is still that tough-talking highway cop, but not in anyone else's mind. Now he is a slight little old man, bent somewhat by age and affected by a terrible accident he suffered 5 years ago that left him with permanent hearing loss and some deficits in his cognitive abilities. He can't hear at all in his right ear thanks to the damage to his cranial nerve and if he'd wear his hearing aid, he might hear something in the left. Did I mention that he's probably the most stubborn person you'd ever want to meet and doesn't think he needs to hear?
My dad was nearly 70 when he had the accident, which required three surgeries on his skull. I was convinced my entire life that he would never retire but would die at work. However, life seldom happens as we think it will, and after months of recuperating from his accident, he realized it was time to call it quits.
My father keeps himself busy on the little homestead he has, caring for the birds and the grounds of the house he shares with my mother. His friends sometimes refer to him as the salt of the earth and I would agree. He spends at least an hour a day in prayer, attends daily Mass and sits with Jesus for hours on the day his church offers Adoration. He also spends entirely too much time listening to political propaganda and in order to keep the peace, I do not discuss politics with him, even though he is constantly trying to bait me into a "discussion" with him. For one thing, he'll never listen long enough to let me make a point and for another, what point is there trying to convince the already-convinced of anything?
Lately, it occurs to me that I am going to have to step in and force my parents to face some facts about the way things are. I do not think it's safe for my dad to get behind the wheel of a car anymore. He has impaired depth perception, as anyone who's driven with him lately when he's making a left turn could certainly attest to, and the fact that he can't hear means he's oblivious to sirens and other sounds that alert us to danger, like a car that's passing too closely. I have offered to drive him and my mother on their weekly outings to Lancaster County, but he becomes indignant at the suggestion. My mother is in denial and thinks it's perfectly safe to let him drive so long as she's the co-pilot, but her own driving skills of late leave something to desire. I do not want him to kill himself and my mother behind the wheel of the car but even more, I do not want him to kill someone else. Talking to either of them about it only invites insults, more denial and sometimes the receiver clicking in my ear. His doctor wants no part of the discussion, which doesn't help. My sister has tried talking to both of them but it only results in frustration.
When did this happen? And how does it happen that the two people who nurtured us when we were small and helpless are now becoming dependent on us? It's not just the driving. At Christmas dinner, I looked over to see my father tearing at his rib roast with his hands instead of using the knife provided for that reason. He appeared almost feeble when I handed him the knife and I couldn't help but shudder at the thought of him driving home on I-95 in the dark. My sister's offer to drive his car were met with resentment and anger. I know what I have to do, and I know that the result will not be pleasant. Hopefully, both my parents will come to realize that I am doing what I am not to anger them or treat them disrespectfully but to protect them and everyone else. It's no fun when you become the parent to your parents, but it's all part of the cycle of life that sees us cared for as children, then caring for our children, then caring for those who cared for us when we were children.