DAVE: Driving with Dad

Dave with his father

My dad taught me how to drive. I remember stalling and grinding gears on chilly fall mornings in our local church parking lot. We had a little Volkswagen bug and he patiently taught me how to use the clutch and shift by stopping and starting over and over again. I’d listen to his instructions and do the best I could. Turn here. Shift there. Be careful backing up.

Last week I was in Los Angeles. I spent most of my days driving my dad around. And yes, he was still telling me what to do. But sadly, many of his directions were wrong because he’s not sure of where we were – or where we were going. So I did my best to explain that his way is probably a good route too, but we’re going to follow the directions from my phone. He’s 83 now and has brain cancer. I’m driving him to his daily radiation treatments. I can tell this is frustrating for him, but he doesn’t force the issue.

Each day, we get up early, and I take him to his treatment. According to my phone, the cancer center is 17 miles away. According to LA traffic, 17 miles takes almost an hour. So we sit together in stop-and-go traffic and talk.

My dad is pretty amazing. He emigrated from Germany when he was 19, worked as a machinist, married my mom, and adopted me and my sister as his own. Then mom and dad had a daughter of their own. His career path took him into manufacturing management, but he never lost the love of hands-on work. He renovated two homes. He could fix or install almost anything around the house. He saved, retired and took care of my mom when she became sick. After she passed, he kept busy gardening, puttering around the house, and visiting his daughters. After a minor car accident in July, a routine scan revealed a rather large tumor.

By the end of the week, my dad starts to remember local landmarks on our return trips, and I am happy to follow his directions—even if it’s only the final turn onto my sister’s street. I can tell he’s proud to help me navigate. I tell him I love him, and I thank him for being my guide.

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