Hobbies for grumpy old men?
June 23, 2010 8:28 AM   Subscribe

My father just retired and is losing interest in the hobbies he once loved. I'd like to help try to spark some passion in something that will get him excited, and hopefully, get him out of the house. The catch? He is generally antisocial, depressed, and is extremely set in his ways.

My father retired last winter, and he spends the bulk of his day listening to conservative talk radio shows or watching Law and Order. He doesn't get out much at all - he's lost contact with a lot of his old friends, and I worry about how that is affecting his mental health. He visits with my sisters and their families fairly regularly, but they live ~1.5 hours away (I live ~8 hours away), and so can't always be there.

There are reasons for this. He is depressed. Our mom passed away a few years ago, and she was the outgoing one who would schedule any social outings. He is apparently working on his depression with a therapist and is on medication, although he is very reserved and won't discuss this much with the rest of the family. I feel like the isolation and aimlessness are not only a product of the depression, but are also fueling it further.

I would like to encourage him to develop an interest involving meeting new people, or at least find a hobby he's passionate about. It breaks my heart to think of him sitting in his chair watching TV all day long. He used to love building model trains, but he lost interest in that. He is also very passionate about his ultra-conservative politics, but being that I am a atheist-commie-liberal-gay-hippie, I'm not too interested in fueling that interest.

He is also extremely stuck in his ways - new things are generally met with fear or derision. And any overt attempt at getting him to go out will be met with resistance. So, any prodding I'd like to do would need to be gentle. He also had a brain injury a while back - he used to be interested in woodworking, but now I'm not sure he's up for doing something that could be potentially dangerous. Also to give you an idea of what may be available nearby, he lives in a smallish (pop ~20,000) city in a southern state. And, for being as conservative as he is, he is not very religious - I have had no luck trying to get him involved in church activities.

Any ideas? What hobbies do old men have? Bonus for hobbies that get him out of the house.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
My go-to answer here is volunteering, to get him outside his head and to feel appreciated.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:41 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Does it have to be a hobby? My dad retired a while back and just kind of felt useless. He'd worked his whole life and couldn't adjust to getting up and not having a place to go or a "purpose". Sure there were odd jobs around the house, and my mom had stuff for him to do, but it just wasn't scratching his itch.

So this highly intelligent engineer decided to get a part time job at a local supermarket as a bagger/cart person (talk about over-qualified). He only does about 15 hours a week, but the work isn't too hard, it gets him out of the house and he enjoys it (he also looks adorable in his uniform). His bosses love him for his solid work ethic and he's getting a whole new education working with the public, something he never got to do in his career as an engineer. It just kind of keeps him going, if you know what I mean.

Maybe something like this could help your dad? It would get him out of the house and he'd meet new people as well.
posted by NoraCharles at 8:42 AM on June 23, 2010

Is he near any water? Fishing was my grandfather's go-to. Mind you, he really didn't catch any fish, but it made him feel good to say he was going fishing, even if what that entailed was just sitting around on the riverbank, sometimes with his friends, sometimes by himself.

Other ideas: volunteering is definitely a good one, but you'd have to find a cause he's interested in, and that could be tricky. What are his feelings on plants? Would he like to do some gardening or yard work? Did he ever want to learn a language, or try his hand at something like painting? Now's a good time for a class. The bridge club near my house is always hopping, and seems to be mostly people who are retired...
posted by lriG rorriM at 8:46 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It won't get him out of the house, but I got my dad a Wii a couple years ago after he was insisting I bring mine every time I visited. He can't get around very well, so uses it for his daily exercise. Plus, since many of the games can be played without tons of button interaction (i.e. using the motion control), it doesn't aggravate his arthritis too much. He loves bowling. That said, he was always the best at video games when I was growing up, so was *really* interested in trying the Wii out the first time I brought it with me, so YMMV.

Another thing that he really got into after he had a 'get off my lawn' moment with Direct TV and dropped their service, is watching TV shows online through hulu and PBS.org.
posted by chiefthe at 8:49 AM on June 23, 2010

This sounds just like my dad. The only thing my mom's been able to get him into is helping with his high school reunion committee and alumni association. If that doesn't interest your dad, maybe his college alumni association or a local VFW if he is a veteran? He might find it easier to connect with people he knew when he was younger than to start new relationships.
posted by shesbookish at 8:57 AM on June 23, 2010

Best answer: I think this is a really tough one. I would be tempted to say the following:
Dad, I worry about the amount of time you spend alone and your lack of interest in the things you used to enjoy. If there is anything I can do please ask and I will make every effort to be helpful". Realistically, there probably is very little you can do. As a retiree I remember the best piece of advice I received. "get up and go someplace every morning" I have been having coffee with the same friends for years and do the same thing when we are living in Ireland. I would hope you might help him find a local coffee shop/cafe/restaurant where he could go. Even if he does not know anyone--going the same place, sitting in the same place and at the same time is one of the best ways to meet people. I will lay you odds there is a place where "grumpy old men" meet in the morning. You might also share your observations with his physician. Even though he/she can not talk with you there is no reason you can not share your concerns. Medication might be adjusted or other health problems sorted out. Good Luck
posted by rmhsinc at 8:58 AM on June 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

We got our grandfather involved in Fly Tying. Its pretty easy to get started, not dangerous. Even when my grandfather wasn't able to go fishing anymore he still enjoyed tying flies and sharing it with people. There are also clubs that he can join to share his flies and just be around other people who enjoy the same thing.
posted by lilkeith07 at 8:58 AM on June 23, 2010

This might not work for him, but I'm thinking he needs a rescue dog.

You would probably have to get it for him, and you might need really talk him into it. Having a dog to take care of was really helpful for my grandpa.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:00 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A book club, possibly through the library? Volunteering to work with children in the form of mentoring or Boy Scouts? Trains were going to my suggestion until I saw that he used to be into those and isn't now. Another thought would be visiting Civil War battlefields or state parks with the goal of checking some off, and possibly volunteering at some kind of monument if he enjoys being outside.
posted by questionsandanchors at 9:03 AM on June 23, 2010

I used to work for a historical society, which in practice was just a social gathering of mixed-gendered >65 y/os If it's anything like mine was, there's the possibility of doing projects (either practical, like mailing things out, or creative), giving talks, (I gave one on marbles and had an 80 y/o woman shooting marbles on tables) or just organizing things and/or putting them on display. They also don't let you just drop out, and they followed up on members, which is nice if he doesn't have any other social groups.
posted by cobaltnine at 9:14 AM on June 23, 2010

You said he used to be interested in model trains... What about planes? Like the kind with motors that he can bring to the local park and fly around? Fun and might satisfy every dude's secret wish to learn how to fly a plane one day.
posted by Lizsterr at 9:15 AM on June 23, 2010

I think that there are a lot of good suggestions in this thread. I think that caring for others is one of the ways that people bring meaning to their lives, and that's something that was common to the suggestions above that I liked. Having an animal or other person to care about would go a long way. I think that if you can get him to volunteer, that would also be something that would be good for him. It seems like there are always organizations that are looking for people.

I think that your concern with not encouraging him in his politics might have to take a back seat to your concern for him as a person, especially if he is reluctant to volunteer with other social groups. It might be better to have him getting out and stuffing envelopes for a Republican campaign than to have him sitting at home alone.
posted by jefeweiss at 9:22 AM on June 23, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions and advice on how to proceed.

I love the idea of him volunteering, and I bet he'd get a real kick out of volunteering at some state park or monument, or even with the boy scouts. He was an Eagle Scout. I've already started searching for opportunities like that in the area. If that fails, I'll ask my friend who works at our church to see if they have any current needs.

He does have pets, both dogs and cats, and definitely, they do help a bunch.

A Wii is also a great idea to get him moving around some. He may be a little hesitant at first, but I bet he could get into it - that would be a good joint Christmas gift for him.

And, rmhsinc, I definitely appreciate the advice from someone who's been in his shoes. I'll mention "getting out every day" to him.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 9:28 AM on June 23, 2010

The rescue dog idea is absolutely fantastic - whenever I'm down it absolutely helps me to take care of another, and a dog will keep your dad active and give him ways to interact with others. The historical society also sounds pretty awesome. I thought of suggesting mentoring, but I think that if your dad is particularly invested in the 'grumpy old man' thing, that might not work out as well.

Here's another idea - encourage him to write. Suggest that he should write his memoirs, or even just write down anecdotes from his life, loosely organized. That's a private activity but it has lots of ins to social things - getting input from others will eventually seem like a good idea.

Is he into board games at all? Chess, backgammon, anything? I bet you could find a local chess club...
posted by lriG rorriM at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2010

We don't agree with their politics for sure, but the Tea Party is full of guys like him - while it would be one more foot soldier for them it could equal a happier father for you. That's more important isn't it?
posted by By The Grace of God at 9:30 AM on June 23, 2010

Best answer: A couple things that really helped my Dad get out of the retirement doldrums: He got involved in his local Rotary and ended up volunteering to distribute eyeglasses in Mexico. His background was in Ophthalmology so this was right up his alley. As a somewhat racist, Glen Beck fan, this surprised me but he really felt very fulfilled and it was adventurous and took great advantage of his skills. Rotary does all kinds of things both locally and internationally -- depending on your city, your local group may be pretty diverse. I think you have to get invited to join so there may be a little networking on the front end but that might work. He also enjoyed the Masons and the real clincher was sort of out of the blue. He started taking Karate lessons. He was everyone's favorite student and the oldest at the dojo. It got him out of the house, it got him moving and getting new belts really gave him a sense of pride. I think some kind of physical activity that is also social is a great thing to try to find for your Dad.
posted by amanda at 9:47 AM on June 23, 2010

Are any of your dad's old friends nearby? Why not call them and tell them your concerns, and ask if they'd try dropping by on a regular basis? He may have trouble reaching out, but if they made the first move, he might be open to seeing them.

Your father's crisis is very normal; retirement can feel like death to people whose identity is wrapped up in their jobs. And then he's lost your mom too. Love him and don't give up, but respect that he does have reasons to grieve.

One volunteer suggestion is Meals on Wheels--I've known lots of retired people who enjoy it, and it doesn't require much in the way of time or money on their part.
posted by emjaybee at 9:49 AM on June 23, 2010

Best answer: Model railroading is the hobby for grumpy old men. Since he's done it before, that may be a good line of attack. Even if he spends all his time in the basement and therefore not out of the house, he'd at least be engrossed in something, and that will almost certainly help. Ask him why he lost interest; see if there's a new tack he could take -- a change of scale or time period, for example -- that would start it up again.
posted by mcwetboy at 9:53 AM on June 23, 2010

And, it's worth mentioning that model railroaders frequently hang out together. My father meets up with his train cronies every Thursday night.
posted by mcwetboy at 9:54 AM on June 23, 2010

Are any of the friends he's started to lose touch with Elks/Lions/Odd Fellows/Grangers/Masons? I know you mentioned that he's set in his ways, but if a friend already belongs it might make the idea of joining less abstract. There are lots of opportunities in such groups for volunteering and just plain old healthy socializing.
posted by usonian at 10:30 AM on June 23, 2010

It doesn't sound like your father will respond to a lecture or will show much initiative on his own. So I'd buy him a hobby or activity and then give it him for his birthday or tell him you got it at a garage sale for a price you couldn't resist.

An almost ready to fly electric powered R/C airplane that is crash resistant might be good, especially if there's a nearby club he could join if develops an interest.

Interest in home machining and metalworking is growing and it's particularly popular with older men. It would require an investment in tools, but you might be able to get him interested with a steam or Stirling engine kit that just needs to be assembled.

It's not hard to get a ham radio license because you don't need to learn Morse code anymore and there's probably a club near him help him get one and then use it. A "starter" radio will cost less than $200 and Echolink will let him get on the air without a radio if he has a computer and Internet connection.

I also highly suggest you check to see if there are any "live steam" train clubs in your area like this one.
posted by 14580 at 10:48 AM on June 23, 2010

I've been chipping away at this problem with my father, too. I have found that the only way to get him to be involved with anything is when there is a schedule involved. Sailing classes, dance classes, cooking classes, etc. Community colleges are generally pretty good about offering a wide variety of courses that aren't too expensive. The upside is that there is a consistency and expectation to show up somewhere; the downside is the temporary nature of these classes. My father has yet to continue with any of the classes after they end, but at least for a month or two his world has a bit more possibility.
posted by palacewalls at 10:48 AM on June 23, 2010

Best answer: You say he's interested in woodworking - perhaps you could identify something you want, that he could make. Have you got a painting that you just can't get a nice frame for? Maybe an odd-size alcove that you'd really like shelves for?

That way he's got a goal to work towards - and because it's for you rather than for himself, he might feel less inclined to procrastinate.

Are there any hobbies from his youth he might want to get back into? Maybe he used to have a motorbike, for example?

My go-to answer here is volunteering, to get him outside his head and to feel appreciated.

I once visited a mostly volunteer-run aircraft museum; they did both the staffing/tours and the restoration and maintenance of exhibits. If your dad is into models and woodworking, do you think he could get into that sort of volunteering?

An almost ready to fly electric powered R/C airplane that is crash resistant might be good, especially if there's a nearby club he could join if develops an interest.

If you get him a model plane I'd suggest you send him along to the model club for his first few flights if you can; it's a lot easier to learn when there's someone who can tell you when it's too windy, and who can take over if you get into difficulties. And you learn a lot faster if you're not forever waiting for spare parts to arrive!

That said, it's the ideal season to start flying - nice weather for going outside in!
posted by Mike1024 at 12:30 PM on June 23, 2010

If you think he'd like flying an R/C model, how about the real thing? My soaring club is full of retired gents and ladies, many of whom picked up flying after retirement. If I recall correctly, one guy I fly with actually started flying at ~age 70 with no prior aviation background. He's now a pretty awesome pilot, half-owner of one of the sexier birds on the field, and very popular in the club. Check the Soaring Society of America website to find a nearby club; you can get an intro ride for probably around $100, and going from ab initio to rating shouldn't cost more than $3-4,000 US. Sure, it's a bit pricey, but you get to fly a plane. In the sky. With no engine. For hours. How awesome is that?
posted by Alterscape at 12:44 PM on June 23, 2010

Man, I want to do some of these things! Thanks for the great ideas in general.
posted by sdn at 5:10 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Many of them go birding. Even just the other day, out with a friend who had his binoculars, we were joined by a random friendly park-goer who wanted to talk about what he was seeing and how he had seen an orange-faced grossbeak or whatever. It's like a combination of walk around and scavenger hunt. People who get really into it then go on river cruises to Ecuador and whatnot, or they get involved with a local Audubon Society and do things like put up fences to protect the tiny owls during denning season or whatever.

The less liberal flipside of this is hunting and fishing. Again, walking around, looking for things, with a bunch of other people walking around looking for things, and if you get really into it, you go on safaris.

Finally, to close out the category wherein people create excuses for themselves to walk around outdoors observing things like the seasons and the wind, and maybe even take trips to other places, many older gentlemen take up golfing.

To get him into any of these, I'm imagining you're going to have to develop your own interest in it long enough to start taking him out on trips when you visit. So, perhaps you should just pick one that you yourself might like to do.
posted by salvia at 12:44 AM on June 24, 2010

My community orchestra is full of grumpy old men. They have great old instruments with interesting histories, and some of them can really play. Some of them are just beginners.

I'd suggest you encourage him to learn to play bridge, as well. There are always three ladies sitting on the couch at the lodge here, hoping either for a fourth or a sudden vacancy.
posted by Sallyfur at 3:16 AM on June 24, 2010

Get him some cacti and succulents. They are rewarding plants that you can fiddle with and propagate easily from leaf cuttings and very quickly start an ebay driven collection. Ultimately you end up being social via plant societies and shows in order to get and see the rare ones.

I think for men it generally doesn't work as well to try and do things that are explicitly social in their goals. The better route is to find him things to do that are incidentally social. Also you might want to avoid the grumpy old men.
posted by srboisvert at 7:34 AM on June 24, 2010

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