As Father’s Day approaches, families are presented with a good reminder of the importance of spending quality time with an aging parent. Too often, we let time pass us by and end up regretting not taking the time to create meaningful moments with our fathers while we still had time.
Even if you want to create these meaningful moments, it can be challenging if your dad is the “strong, silent type.” Here are a few ways to break through the tough exterior and build some lasting memories.
Get to Know Your Dad Better
When you’ve known someone your entire life, it’s easy to assume that you know everything about them. When you start asking questions about your father’s early life, you may discover a treasure trove of stories you’ve never heard. Ask about your dad’s childhood best friend or what he remembers about grade school. Did he have a pet? A favorite summer activity?
If your father served in the military, you can ask about that time period, too, but be sensitive to the fact that there may be aspects your father won’t be comfortable speaking about, particularly if he served in a combat role. Start with more neutral aspects of his military career like why he decided to join the military and where he was stationed. If he becomes uncomfortable with the topic, don’t push it. Just switch to another topic like music he enjoyed in that time period.
Take Interest in Your Dad’s Interests
Does your dad love baseball or fishing or trains? You don’t have to suddenly and fully dive into a new hobby to appreciate his. Join him in watching the ballgame on television. During commercials, ask how he got so into the sport or whether he has any favorite memories of watching a game live. If he has a hobby like model trains or poker, ask him about the best train in his collection or for tips on how to beat your friends in poker.
Build in an Activity
Break up your dad’s day and make conversation a bit easier by planning an activity you can do together. Take a drive to where your dad grew up. Go fish in a local river. You don’t even need to leave the house. You can just play cards or a put together a puzzle.
Working on a project or doing another activity together can help to cut down on awkward silences, but don’t use the activity as a way of avoiding meaningful conversation. Use it to make the conversation less intense. Ask questions and share your own favorite memories of times working together or going on outings together from your past.
Working with Memory Loss
If your father has Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias or even just struggles with memory loss, that doesn’t mean you’ve lost your opportunity to create meaningful moments with your father. Individuals with dementia can often still remember the past quite well. Instead of looking at this as a negative, plan accordingly and focus on asking about your father’s youth. Play songs that he enjoyed in his teen years.
Most communities offer books that share the history of the town. Pick one up from your library or historical society and go through the photos together. It may prompt your father to share stories of his youth.
Even if your father can no longer communicate well, you can still find a way to connect by listening to favorite songs or even just holding his hand. Tell him all the things you always wanted to say. Don’t worry about whether or not he can reply.
Keep it Simple
The most important thing to remember in creating meaningful moments with your father is that they don’t need to be elaborate productions. Aging parents just want to spend time with the people they love. A good conversation about your childhood or your family history over a bowl of soup is a memory worth cherishing for both of you.
At Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care, volunteers work with terminally ill patients to create Life Journals that capture these same stories. To learn more about that program or to see if your loved one qualifies for the support of hospice care, please call 1-888-564-3405.
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