What do you get a 94-year old man for his birthday?
June 4, 2014 4:03 PM   Subscribe

I won’t be able to attend my dad’s 94th birthday party in a few weeks. I live in another state and have a work obligation this year. I’d like to get him something he’ll appreciate, but I’m short of ideas.

About him: he’s in assisted living and liking it for the ability to socialize. (My mom died 10 years ago, and he was feeling isolated.) He’s frail, but otherwise mobile, and he’s in possession of his faculties, apart from age-appropriate forgetfulness. He doesn’t use a computer. He is aware of the news of the day, including football, but he’s not really engaged, thinking that it doesn’t really matter since, “I’ll be gone soon.” He has an old cell phone, but cites its non-smartness as a feature, not a bug. He never checks voicemail: “If they need me for something, they’ll call back.” He loves being active and useful, to the extent feasible, which is less and less, and this frustrates him.

Here are some things he would NOT want:
- Material goods (he’s not interested in gadgets, appliances or knick-knacks at all)
- Family photos (he’s got more than he knows what to do with)
- Plants/flowers (he’s put his gardening days behind him and pretty much lets things die in order to get rid of them)
- Books (he’s not a reader)

Here are some things he likes:
- He loves sharing “bounty” with others. Last year I gave him some fancy, chocolate-dipped fruit, and it clearly pleased him to walk the plate around, offering playful advice as to who might want what.
- He has a sweet tooth--when we were kids, his go-to present after travels was See’s Candy--but he eats very little himself
- He is an inveterate joker and loves trying to make people laugh (e.g. to the waitress at a restaurant after asking for decaf coffee: “I’ll need your phone number. Because if I’m lying awake in the middle of the night, I think you should know it wasn’t decaf.”)

So, hive mind, any ideas?
posted by Short Attention Sp to Human Relations (26 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Edibles. He can walk around sharing, as with the fruit, and be everybody's hero for the afternoon. It would be a gift of a fun experience, really.

Do you cook/bake? Is there a particular homemade treat that he, or your mother, used to make for you as a kid?

(Probably my first thought because I have been trying to master my dad's toffee cookie bars, because I remember him making them when I was 10, and it would blow his mind if I showed up with a tray for him, decades later.)

You know what else the elderly love, is funny hats. I have gotten so much comedy mileage out of big family events when I show up and hand my 84-year old dad a hat shaped like a turkey. It's up to him whether he wants to be the turkey or put the hat on everybody's else's head all day, but honestly it's a lot of fun. I can provide links to funny hats if needed.
posted by jessicapierce at 4:11 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Candy from the 1920s? They'll put together a personalized candy box top for you!
posted by jabes at 4:13 PM on June 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

Oh, what about card games or board games that he could play with the other residents?
posted by jessicapierce at 4:15 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

My boss got me this last week and everyone envies me. None of us are 94 but we all have a good sense of humor. It's fun and it's not as hard as I thought it would be, but it's no cinch.
posted by janey47 at 4:23 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Give him a basket full of useful things to share such as socks with gripper bottoms, pajamas, robes, etc.
You can check with the place that he is staying at to find out what is most needed by the residents. He can go around playing father Christmas and be the hero of the day.
posted by myselfasme at 4:23 PM on June 4, 2014

A card deck with large writing so he can play cards with other residents?

My mom's dad died at age 96 (in 1996) and apparently played cards until shortly before he died. For older folks, cards are often a big deal. My dad, who died last fall just shy of his 89th birthday, was someone you almost could not have a relationship with if you didn't play cards (thus, I deal left handed because I learned to deal at age 4 and was too young to have any idea that mirroring what he did reversed it).

When my kids are that age, cards may no longer be de rigueur. But, for now, it seems a pretty standard older person meme.
posted by Michele in California at 4:33 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

A box of See's candy or ribbon candy to share, and a confirmed date when you will visit him even though you'll be missing the party.
posted by quince at 4:50 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

If he knows of your obligations, you could surprise him by reorganizing a bit and heading over.
posted by danep at 4:50 PM on June 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Maybe I'm feeling maudlin because I miss my Dad, but I suggest writing a nice long letter to him telling him just why and how much you love him. Include plenty of anecdotes and shared experiences/memories.

Context: The chats I had with my Dad during his last months are priceless to me and I know they had a lot of meaning for him, too.
posted by CincyBlues at 4:53 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

One of the things my grandparents loved was a book specifically for writing down their memories - complete with prompts. My grandmother swore there was nothing interesting about her - but man, once she had some prompts about what to write, things got kind of awesome. It is SUCH a cool thing to have around.

Some of the questions were very fluffy ("My favourite lunch as a kid was...") and others were a lot deeper (about regrets, lost loves, etc.) If your Dad is starting to think about how his time here is coming to an end, he might be interested in leaving a bit of himself behind.

There are a number of options on Amazon, but you may want to check them in person to see if they'd fit him - or even write your own prompts (one or two per page) - to make sure they'd fit. Apparently some of them are quite religious or have a particular slant to them that might not be ideal, depending on your Dad.
posted by VioletU at 4:57 PM on June 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

Does he enjoy music? Maybe some CDs of artists that he may have enjoyed back in the day (assuming he has access to a CD player) -- of course, depending on his tastes, that could mean Big Band, jazz, old country, etc. This is also a kind of "sharing the bounty" thing, as other residents might enjoy listening to the old songs together and reminiscing.
posted by scody at 5:04 PM on June 4, 2014

I saw one of those cheese cakes at the grocery the other day where every slice is a different flavor. It looked impressive and made me think of how my grandmother would have like it. Deserts and ice cream always seemed to be a big hit. It's something that's fun to share. Do you know anyone nearby who could pick up something if you buy?
posted by stray thoughts at 5:05 PM on June 4, 2014

Personalised jokey fortune cookies that he can share and have a laugh with his friends over? 94 of them.
posted by taff at 5:19 PM on June 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

I know you wrote that your dad isn't into gadgets but my 92 (will be 93 this year) year old dad adores his iPad. He uses three apps: Google Earth (he likes to swoop into places he's visited over the years and remark about how much they have changed since he last was there), Solitaire and FaceTime. FaceTime is the killer app for him, if the iPad did nothing else but FaceTime he would be just as thrilled with it. My son (his grandson) and I get near daily FaceTime calls from him and half the time he's not even in view because he wants to show us off to some friend of his. A lot of the calls are things on the level of, "Hey, look at this peanut I found that looks like a duck" which is something that just doesn't work over a voice call.

Anyhow, if you have some sort of iDevice or a mac that can do FaceTime, get him an iPad.
posted by jamaro at 5:51 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is he into goofy dress-up at all? If this party is at the facility with the people who live there as well as family, sending along some "Happy birthday #DADSNAME" hats (DIY example) for people to wear that had photos of him from various stages of his life might make a nice one-off special thing which included some investment from you (pick some nice photos, send them ahead) as well as getting to share stuff around. And also snacks, of course.
posted by jessamyn at 5:53 PM on June 4, 2014

I also came in to suggest old time candy or a memory prompt book (the one my grandfather did is priceless). Also an option might be an iPod loaded up with his favorite music, parked in a dock that plugs in and works like a traditional radio. One of my great aunts was just wild about her iPod and its shuffling abilities and that she no longer needed to own a million casettes. Her kids would load it up for her. All she knew how to do was turn it on and off but that was all she needed.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:04 PM on June 4, 2014

A wall calendar customized with family photos was a big bit with my nonagenarians.
posted by bq at 6:22 PM on June 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

My great grandmother died a little past her 9 3rd birthday. All she really wanted was to see her family together. We have a picture of 5 generations together (southerners who all had children very young). It is one of my favorite photographs.

I'm not trying to guilt trip you. If there is anything you can do to make it there will be worth your time and his.

Otherwise send a lengthy letter and something silly if he has a sense of humor.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:49 PM on June 4, 2014

One of the nice things about a satellite radio and subscription is that they have stations devoted to music from each decade, old-time radio, various NPR shows, etc. My father-in-law, who died at 102 about 6 years ago or so, loved to hear the old shows and popular music from his heyday.
posted by carmicha at 7:51 PM on June 4, 2014

Best answer: a funny tshirt might be cute like this one
posted by Jewel98 at 8:47 PM on June 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you know he likes Sees candy, I'd make that the gift. If sharing it gives him pleasure, give him enough to share and still have some for himself. Often old people do not mind getting the same thing as before, especially if it is something tasty. We still eat and if we enjoy something, it's really nice to get that as a gift. I'd prefer it to someone trying to pick out music for me or anything else. Sees chocolate is the gold standard. Spare him somebody's imagination about what a good gift is.
posted by Anitanola at 10:03 PM on June 4, 2014

Nthing the edible gift. My grandmother was almost 91 when she died, and for the last few years before her death, I didn't buy her anything for birthdays, Christmas, etc, because she didn't need (or want) anything, and had no room for knick-knacks or more photo frames. She loved ginger, so I made ginger cakes, cookies, slices and anything that could have ginger added. (If your dad likes ginger, I got some great ideas here: http://ask.metafilter.com/194726/Baked-With-Love-and-a-bucketload-of-ginger-preferably. The ginger fudge was a massive hit with all the staff and residents lucky enough to be offered some.)

While she loved eating what I made, she also loved to share it with her fellow residents. After delivering the gift, or dropping her off at the nursing home after a celebration with the gift, I could almost set my watch by how long it would take her to ring me and tell me how she gave Jim and Bob and Mary a slice of my ginger cake, and how they raved about it.

I found some awesome bright red cake tins with lids, easy to open with arthritic fingers, emblazoned with "Baked With Love". I'd collect them from her when they were empty, and refill them with something different next birthday/Christmas/Easter/whatever-reason.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 1:06 AM on June 5, 2014

A ride in a sidecar of a Harley Davidson.
posted by superfish at 2:01 AM on June 5, 2014

Nthing edibles. We just gave my dad a year of Defcon Yum for his 70th. My dad is married to his iPhone so can do his own ordering, but for your dad, you can make a selection and place an order on the first day of each month or something.

In order to gift this, I sent an empty $15 cookie jar and inside it, I rolled up a G&S pastiche, "You Are the Very Model of a Father Grown Most Venerable." Obviously, that's pretty specific to my dad, who is a huge G&S fan, but I am sure you could come up with something tailored to him.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:48 AM on June 5, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, these are terrific ideas! I'm going with the old-time candy assortment, the Big Deal teeshirt and some funny hats for the party.

Much appreciated!
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:40 AM on June 5, 2014

My 92 year old grandmother (in-law) loved her multi-generation family photograph and the ability to listen to the old time radio shows. I Know these have already been mentioned, but I wanted to put another vote in for them.

For her last birthday we had a barber shop quartet come in and sing several songs for her. I think made her happier than anything else had for a LONG time. I don't think she could have been smiling any bigger...
posted by Leenie at 3:04 PM on June 5, 2014

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