Today, my father turned 80 years old. Happy-Happy birthday to him! I am incredibly fortunate to still have both of my parents in my life and most importantly that they are still healthy, mobile and mentally sharp.
A few months ago, moments after sitting down to eat dinner with the family, the phone rang. It was my dad. It was unusual that he called during dinner time. I could tell he needed to talk to me, he had this depressive tone with a hint of urgency in his voice. I could tell something was not right. He asked if he could come by because he had to discuss something. I told him to come right over.
Not living too far away, he arrived about 20 minutes later. We had just finished clearing the table and putting the dirty dishes into the dishwasher.
After some small talk, he pulled out an envelope and placed it on the table.
“Well, I guess it’s time. I need you to read something for me and explain it to me.”, he said in a dejected tone.
The letter was from the Ministry/Department of Transportation. The one-page letter explained that once he turned 80 years old, he would no longer be allowed to drive. The law states that after the age of 80, drivers are required to be re-tested to see if they are still capable of driving. This would then need to be repeated every 2 years.
“What if I don’t pass?”, he asked.
I suddenly looked at my father in a different light. He has always been a hard-working, strong man that immigrated to North America in 1960, without much to his name. With my mom, they raised 4 kids and ran his business for over 45 years, until his retirement at 77. Here he was, looking powerless, deflated. He was worried. If they need to go somewhere, he has never thought twice about grabbing his keys, getting into one of his 3 vehicles and just going where he needed to go. This freedom was suddenly in peril. What made it worse, is that my mother does not drive.
“Don’t worry”, I said. “You’ll do fine. They need to do this to make sure the people who shouldn’t drive, aren’t behind the wheel.”
Admittedly, I was just trying to relax him, without really understanding the process.
“Does it say what happens if I don’t pass? Will I get a second chance?”, he asked. Clearly, he was already planning for the worst.
“You’re fine”, I reassured. “You won’t have any issues.”
Without delay, I started to google “80-year-old dr..”. The search auto-populated the rest – “80-year-old drivers test”, which meant I wasn’t the first to search for this. It brought me to the official website that provided us with more information, including some practice tests, which I promptly sent to the printer. I went over all the details with him and tried to put his mind at ease. I gave him the sample tests and a pen. I had him complete the tests while G served us coffee and dessert. Coffee and dessert can always make the world’s most difficult issues, more tolerable, right? He completed the questions without issue. He seemed calmer, but still not fully convinced. Let’s face it, he comes from a generation that considers the worst-case scenario to be the most probable one.
The website provided the number to call to make the appointment.
“I’ll call tomorrow and make the appointment. Don’t worry. It will all be OK.”, I repeated, hoping it would stick this time.
I called the next day and made the appointment. Coincidentally, the first available appointment was on his birthday – at 11:00 am. I booked him in, but it was cutting it close, considering he’d be turning 80 on that day.
Fast forward to this morning. I took the day off work and went to my parent’s house early in the morning. After wishing him a happy birthday, I went over a few things before heading out to the testing offices. He seemed calm. As he tightened his necktie and adjusted his shirt collar, he let out a deep breath and said, “OK…Let’s go.”
It reminded me of someone getting ready to receive the judge’s verdict in court.
We arrived at the testing facility at 10:30 am and found seats in the waiting room. There were approximately 20 people (all 80-year-olds) waiting to be tested. As I looked around the room, I noticed a similar look on all their faces. All that these people have experienced; the successes, the challenges, the smiles and the tears, was recorded in their wrinkles and age spots, but they all had this child-like fear showing through. This place was a stark reminder that this life can give us a lot, but eventually takes it all back. It was humbling.
At 10:45, the testing coordinator came out and announced that the group can head into the classroom. She was wearing a colorful top and glasses and had a funky hairstyle. She was incredibly personable and almost reminded me of a kindergarten teacher.
One by one, the group of people being tested nervously entered the test facility. My dad got up and looked back at me as he entered and gave me a thumbs up. The door closed behind them.
The entire testing took just under 2 hours to complete. I waited anxiously outside the room for the first 30 minutes, then decided to go grab a coffee at the coffee shop down the street. Like I said, coffee does help chase the stress away. I opted for no dessert this time.
At 12:50, the doors opened and a loud chatter could be heard. There was a jubilant feeling emanating from the room. As each of the pupils exited the testing area, they emerged with wide grins on their faces, each holding an envelope with a letter proving they are fit to drive. Luckily, in this group, everyone passed. My dad came out with a spring in his step and a smile on his face. He was given his freedom back. I was relieved.
I gave him a hug, which probably doesn’t happen often enough, and we left together, envelope in hand.
This was a big day for my father. Not only did he turn 80 years young, but also proved to the world that he is still strong and capable and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to share it with him.