When a TV show gets it right, we call it art imitating life. And as NBC's "Parenthood" showed us this week, sometimes we can nail the problem but flunk the solution.
In this week's episode, Grandpa Zeke gets stopped by the police for making an illegal U-turn. He has the grandkids in the car, gives pushback to the officer, and eventually has to admit that on top of everything else, he forgot to renew his overdue-by-a-year driver's license. It's a recipe for the aging brew that many of us live in fear of having to swallow. Being able to drive is at the core of our independence and should we have to give that up -- or ask our parents to give that up -- it closes a chapter and often becomes the beginning of the end.
In Zeke's case, his four adult children gather around and do The Huddle thing. They justify delivering The Talk to Zeke because after all, those were their children in the car watching Grandpa behave badly and take risks with their precious young lives. Stubborn-old-goat Zeke retakes his driving test, passes with flying colors and we move on to Christina's breast cancer and Sarah's budding sexual tension with her new photographer-boss (at least that's what we think it is). The driving bullet was dodged. For now.
Lucky for Zeke that he's fictional. The story line in the unscripted reality show called "life" generally has a different outcome. In that show, chances are Zeke would already be asking Camille to take over the wheel after dark. As a couple, they might stop going places that require driving on a freeway, declining invitations and isolating themselves in the process. Zeke might have a few fender-benders that could be blamed on -- take your pick -- the way the guy next to him parked, the driver in front of him who stopped short, or the squirrel he swerved to avoid hitting. Scratches on the passenger side of the car would start to appear. Zeke might think some punks keyed him in the strip mall but Camille would know that the scratches came from driving too close to the hedges coming up the driveway.
There may be a call from the neighbors saying Zeke was spotted driving erratically. The adult kids would do The Huddle a few more times; maybe one of them would call Zeke's doctor and ask if his heart medicine or blood pressure medicine could be causing these things. And the doctor would say probably or possibly or something ambiguous. And then everyone would forget about it for a few more months, the next episode, or the next time the neighbors called or a new scratch appeared.
Truth is, seniors cling to their drivers' licenses as long as they can and we, their adult children, are sometimes their enablers because we ignore the signs that they should no longer be driving. When our parents can't drive any longer, it becomes not just their problem but ours. And who wants that problem?
But that's where "Parenthood" -- and we -- flunk: when it comes to solutions. We don't have any. Many seniors live in places not served by public transportation. And for those who do, public transportation is a poor cousin to living with the convenience of a car. Many senior housing complexes offer small van or shuttle services to the local medical center or shopping center. It's better than nothing, but it isn't the freedom that comes with driving; it's Dependency on Others 101. Adult children frequently become the drivers-on-demand. It's often the biggest first step on a slippery slope, which is probably why we --and our parents -- avoid it with such vigor.
So for now, we're glad Zeke got his driver's license back. He bought himself some time. The trick that Adam and his siblings now face is knowing when to intervene and how to do. Join the club, Bravermans.
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