First thing: Dad does not need a plastic singing bass.  Or aftershave.  In American society, people often believe that gifts must come from a store, and Father’s Day is no exception.  If one is to believe advertising, nearly every American dad plays golf and needs tools or ties.  Numerous stores and websites are devoted to “joke” gifts.  It is hard to believe that so many people have so little interest in discovering what a father, or father figure, might really want or need.

When I posed the question to my older male friends, “What do you really want on Father’s Day”, many responses brought tears.  No one asked for clothes or golf paraphernalia.  A dear friend of mine said he’d just like to have his daughter acknowledge the day with a card that says she loves him. While many people put a lot of effort into Mother’s Day, many fathers get quite little attention in comparison, and most have low expectations.  But for those whose father is elderly, gift-giving can be enriching for everyone in the family, and make a tremendous difference in Dad’s safety and security, as well as physical and mental well-being.

Elderly folk live in a variety of settings that create marvelous gift-giving opportunities for adult children, grandchildren and other loved ones.  While the greatest gift is time, you can express your love in myriad ways.  For fathers still living in their own home, do something for them that they can no longer either physically do themselves or afford to have done.  Arrange services such as dog-walking or litter-box cleaning – or a trip to the veterinarian, housekeeping, yard care, or handyman services. Nothing says “I love you” like your concern for their safety, so install devices such as bathroom grab bars, anti-slip traction strips, rubber bumpers (found in stores baby departments) or an alert system.  Ensure rugs are secure and carpets are well-maintained.  Consider stamps and a gift card for groceries, drug stores, car repair shops and barber shops. On Fathers’ Day, mow their lawn, fill their refrigerator with healthy food and snacks, or help organize and simplify cupboards, closets, a shed or garage.  Have a nice meal or dessert with them at the end of the day.

When fathers have moved into a long-term care community, pledge to make more frequent visits, perhaps creating “coupon books” with Sunday Drives, favorite restaurants, and goodies that Dad can “redeem”.   There are many medical professionals that now believe that, in moderation, treats have great mental health benefits than dietary risks.  Mark occasions with outside activities as simple as a trip to a fishing dock or to your kids’ games or activities.  Scan photos from their youth and create memory albums.  Get someone to take a family portrait, frame and hang it for them.

More than 50% of Americans over 80 are diagnosed with some form of dementia. Family members struggle with emotions when Dad can no longer remember their own history – or even recognize their children.  Remarkably, there are wonderful things you can do to stimulate memory and bring comfort to those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  Significant research shows that the olfactory sense strongly triggers memory.  If your Dad was an outdoorsman or sports participant, he may enjoy the smell of pine needles, freshly mown lawn, or leather; grab your family and gather aromatic samples of nature and place the containers in a basket.  Strange as it may sound, a one-time car enthusiast or woodworker can find delight in the scent of tire rubber or shavings.  Of course, freshly baked brownies, cookies or bread are wonderful, warm stimulants.

The sound of familiar voices provides greater comfort to those with diminished mental or visual capacity.  Record yourself reading well-known poems, religious texts, jokes or short stories.  Capture the sound of small children laughing and playing, or have older children read favorite books out loud.  Share family videos, or create a digital photo album with your voice creating the captions and oral history for your Father.

Throughout human history, there is music.  Music soothes, inspires, and kindles the recollection of your Father’s personal history.  Thanks to technology, family members can create a modern-version of a “mixed tape” of songs from Dad’s favorite era.  Or, to build upon your basket of bottled scents by downloading or taping sounds of everything from waves to horse racing.  You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on a music player when “old fashioned” tape players and boom boxes are easily found in second-hand stores, and easier for the elderly and caregivers to operate.

Fathers’ Day is meant to honor, respect and comfort.  Spending time and a little effort with your Father or Father figure will deepen the relationship within your entire family and improve the quality of life for those who guided you through this world.

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