This Friday is my dad's birthday. He'll be 84 years old. At age 84, you'd think he would be taking it easy, which I plan to do way before that, myself. But, he's not. Every morning, although he sleeps in till about 8 now, he still gets dressed up, has a cup of coffee and a scrambled egg and off to the office he goes.
At the office, he spends most of the morning opening mail and making plans to meet Mom for lunch. Then, he'll head for home around 1:30, change into yard clothes, and he and Rosie (their little Cairn terrier) go out and wander around on the tractor for a while, gathering fallen branches, hauling trash down the long driveway, and figuring out unique and intriguing ways to maul himself with his chain saw.
After wrapping whatever dirty rag he has handy around whatever severed or almost-severed appendage it is, he goes inside, ignores Mom's berating, her ministrations, and/or her demands to call 911, as he takes a shower, wraps his wounds in gauze, tape and Band-Aids, and meets her in the living room for their late-afternoon naps in front of the TV.
They each have their own couch, and of course Dad controls the remote, although neither one of them has any idea how to work anything beyond the on/off button and the channel changer. Dad won't even use the numbered keys. If you're watching something on channel 265 and you ask him to check channel 11, you might as well go fix a snack, take a bath or maybe get your master's degree, because he'll be scrolling backward, my friend, through 254 channels, to reach channel 11.
When the nap is over, around 5:30, Dad will get up and make a cocktail for each of them, and they'll talk while Mom makes dinner -- which she says she won't do more than three times a week now, having made approximately 8,942,000 meals over the course of her married life -- or they'll head out to a restaurant or to a party with friends, or to one of their children's homes for dinner. But, then they have to get home, and here's the problem:
We -- their five children -- don't think Dad should be driving home after a night out at his age, especially after a long day, a couple of cocktails and possibly a visit to the emergency room! (And, naturally, it would be Dad driving, because that's what dads of their generation do. In fact, the only time Mom's allowed to drive is maybe to the actual emergency room.)
Up to now, different members of the family have taken on this nighttime driving task, mostly grandchildren, but a few instances of having to leave your late-night party to drive your grandparents home from their own late-night party, well, let's just say resentment can grow, and we're becoming worried that Mom and Dad could be "accidentally forgotten" one night and have to sleep at Smith and Wollensky.
So, we decided to hire someone to drive them when they go out at night. Mom is thrilled, as I would be. (As a matter of fact, in case my children are reading this right now, Mommy would be thrilled to have you hire her a driver any time! Mommy would be further thrilled if you hired a driver and bought her a stretch limousine in which to be driven, but hey, whatever.) Mom would like the driver all day every day, because she's still doing "errands" all day every day, such as the cleaners, the grocery, the drugstore, the bagel place, the veterinarian, lunch with Dad and bridge with the ladies.
Dad, on the other hand, being "of a certain generation," thinks it's ridiculous. Why, the day he needs a driver is the day he might as well just stay home and never go anywhere -- a statement that always causes a look of sheer panic on my mother's face. But, this time we offspring were adamant -- and by "we," I mean not me, because I live in North Carolina, and they're all in Ohio, which is certainly not because of any desperate attempt on my part to escape moments like these, and I resent the implication!
Anyway, my sister found a lovely woman who seems meant for us. She lives near Mom and Dad, her children are grown and gone, she's free almost every night, and she took care of her own parents into their 80s, so she knows "stubborn," and she knows patience -- and she'll need an extensive background in both, to take on my dad. (Ahem) I love you, Dad, and happy birthday!
Vicki Wentz's column, which appears here on Sundays, is published in newspapers across the country. She is a high school teacher who lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. Readers may contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.