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Dottoré!

Remembering Papà, And The Ultimate Driver's Test

A psychiatrist unpacks her relationship with driving, and her dad.

Black-and-whote photo of a man stepping in an old car in a Naples street

Cars in Naples, Italy

Mariateresa Fichele

I remember vividly the night I came home with my newly obtained driver's license. I was 18 years old.

My mother congratulated me. Papà, on the other hand, took the document from my hands and said: "You will only get this back when you pass the most important test. Mine."


Despite my protests, a challenging period started for me — surely tougher than my driving lessons.

License to drive Papà

My father loved driving but he did not tolerate any distractions or triviality in the car.

In particular, he said, "When you drive, always think about what is behind you. It could be you in their place. Behave accordingly."

Finally, one morning, I found my driver's license waiting for me, on the nightstand beside my bed.

It meant that I had passed the exam — even if my father hadn't said a word about it.

More importantly, it meant that I had earned his trust.

Years later, when my father could no longer drive, he would only let me drive him to his chemotherapy.

The long and winding road

I remember our conversations when we went to the hospital.

Never another critique of my driving.

As if that personal test of his had sealed a pact for life between us.

Then his earthly life came to an end, but that unspoken alliance lives within me every time I drive, and fits perfectly with my being a psychiatrist.

And because of that, I can't get angry when I'm in the car.

I think of him and I watch others as they drive.

And the highway in my mind turns into a diagnostic manual of nostalgia and psychopathology.

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