Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys

Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car KeysMy dad loved to drive and ever the teacher, his road trips offered us a remarkable education. In a time when most American families rarely crossed the state line, Dad drove us cross country to see the sites and to visit cousins. The best schooling I received was from the smudged windows of our 1962 Rambler when we left our Midwestern flatlands for trips across the Wild West and sun-baked south as we crisscrossed America’s endless blue highways.

Dad instilled the wanderlust in each of us and though I missed the significance of Mt. Rushmore and Cape Canaveral, I understood more about my country than the textbooks divulged. Our trip to the racially divided Deep South left a far greater lasting impression than Disneyland or the Hollywood Studios.

Dad gave us rides to school and shuttled carloads of giggling girls to the pool, the gym, the dance. He drove me to track meets, basketball games, and gymnastic lessons. Later when my athletic body was crippled from injury and accidents, he drove me to doctors and chiropractors while I rested my aching back riding flat « in my crib » the back seat of the van.

For a time Dad taught Sterling High School freshman rules of Illinois’ roadway in behind the wheel driver’s ed. classes. But his children and grandchildren learned how to drive on the back roads of Wisconsin. He showed us how to parallel park, check that rear view mirror and drive defensively. Always.

Dad, a good driver, never received a citation. He was only stopped once when he swerved in traffic distracted by his darn back seat drivers shouting, « Stop, Dad- there’s a 7 Eleven. Slurpees! »

His only accident involved hitting a deer, which cheeseheads proclaim is a prerequisite for flatlanders to earn honorary Wisconsinite status. Oh yeah, and he once sideswiped a cow crossing the road. Cars have the right away, so the cow got the ticket and the farmer apologized.

Dad drove his aging father across country to visit relatives in Oklahoma, to the cabin  summer holidays and back and forth forth from Eureka to Sterling so he could share Thanksgiving and Christmas with family. He loyally drove beloved Coach Mac to every Northern Illinois University baseball reunion and to see his granddaughter’s Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keysbasketball games at Illinois State University.

When my dad failed his eye test just before his 86th birthday, his peripheral vision compromised, he returned to the parking lot, gave his daughter the thumbs down, handed over the keys and took his new place riding shotgun.

He did not grumble, complain, become cantankerous, argue with his children, or yell at the optometrist. Instead with a heavy heart, he hung up his keys.

In doing so, he showed us how to age with dignity.Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys

This summer together we poured over the maps of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, Oklahoma, Florida, Tennessee and every other state he once visited. In a shaky hand, he traced lines across France, Germany, Switzerland, and Norway – all the places he once traveled. We reminisced about trips he took, roads he drove, and people he met.

Now it’s my turn to take the wheeI. Though I can’t read maps and confuse left and right, with Dad riding shotgun I will never get lost.

Happy Birthday Dad…it has been a heck of a ride.

Drive - Aging Gracefully Hanging Up Car Keys


Posted in education, family, relationships, social view, travel.


  1. What a wonderful tribute to the rich life your father has had. A huge birthday hug from me for Jim. Giving up the keys to the car is really the last tie to any semblance of independence we have and it can be devastating. We should all be blessed to age so gracefully as both he and your mother have. What a shining example to us all.

  2. Oh, I love this, Pat. The love you have for your family always warms my heart. What a special gift, one that I know you are thankful for every day, as am I.

  3. He’s a man who has done everything with dignity and a smile.
    Thanks for sharing your journey together.

  4. Gorgeous article about your dad dear Pat ???????? I’m surprised he hung up his keys with such grace, my mum is fighting tooth and nail to maintain her independence. DIabetes type 1 has adversely affected her eyesight though in the last few months. Such a tough disease to manage. Ageing and losing independence can be a rocky road for some… Love to you xx

    • Since my dad’s eye sight declined so gradually, I think he had time to prepare for the loss of driving, but I know he still misses it. As an old athlete it frustrates him even more not to be able to walk as far as he used to, but ever the competitor he sets a goal to go as far as his legs will carry him. I am so sorry that your mom has to content with diabetes and all of its limitations. Is there family living nearby her?

      • I can only imagine how your dad copes with the frailty that comes at the end of such physical prowess. It is hard to watch this in our loved ones, even though it is gradual. My sister lives with my mum and my brother stays for a few months each year, flying in from Jamaica. She is luckier than most in that respect. Hugs to you ???? xx

        • That is nice that your sister is living with your mom and that your brother can visit so often. I know firsthand how you must feel to be so far away and missing family. Fortunately we both learned so much from our strong mothers who helped shape who we are today.

          • Yes that’s true. Strong and resilient mothers do affect our future ways as adults. I do miss family out here, but the path I took to Australia was for complex reasons in which the girls’ and my wellbeing had to be the priority. Cathy has no children, my brother’s one daughter lives in the USA and is now in her 20s. Flexibility is possible when there are few responsibilities. I’m still battling on trying to raise kids alone! ???????????? xx

  5. It is a challenge to accept the responsibility for parents. Your Dad seems to make it a little easier by accepting his limitation. And praise to you for allow him to keep control of part of “the wheel”; I sure he appreciated it.

    • Thanks for stopping by Jennifer. With my poor sense of direction and lack of orientation skill, I am only too happy to give up navigation to my favorite co pilot.

  6. Happy B-day to your dad, Pat! What a loving tribute this one is — sends me right down my own Memory Lane to when Daddy taught me how to drive, parallel park, back LONG distances on deserted country roads… You’re blessed you still have your dad — what a lovely lesson he’s imparting on the importance of aging with grace and dignity!

    • Thanks Debbie. Oh I had forgotten that other driving tip…how to back long distances on deserted roads. Sound like your dad also played an integral part of your life. I know I am blessed to have been able to spend another summer with my dad.

  7. Happy Birthday to your Birthday Pat! I really love to hear father-daughter bonding. Because it reminds me of my late daddy. I hope you make the most of the time each other!

    • Thanks for stopping by Courtney. Yes, I am trying to make the most of our time together because I know it is very limited. Hope you have many happy memories of your beloved daddy.

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