Help me find a hobby for my retired parents
June 9, 2015 8:46 PM   Subscribe

My parents have been together for almost 50 years, with their ups and downs. Because of their individual situations, I'm afraid they'll drift into an unhappy final period of their lives, and I'm trying to figure out something to prevent that. All the details below.

Dad is an entrepreneur who built a very successful business, but now he's tired of it and somebody else is running it very well. He plays golf, but at 72, he's suffering from some ailments and playing isn't as much fun as it used to be. No other hobbies. His friends are all around golfing. He would like travelling more and do some spontaneous stuff, but Mom is never up to anything.

Mom (70) has been a housewife all her life and with 2 kids a big house has never had time to develop real hobbies. She had a bad fight with bipolar depression between 20 and 15 years ago and today she is on lithium plus other stuff. She can play golf, but she has a hand injury that prevents her to play often and it got worse recently. She just got surgery, which should fix it once and for all, but I'm afraid she'll find other reasons not to play golf (and anyway, they can't play golf everyday forever, and in winter it's off).
The "problem" with her is that she is very comfortable staying home doing crosswords and seeing the grandkids 2-3 times a week. Even before the lithium (which totally flattens her mood reducing her to something a tad better than a robot), she has never had much initiative on her own to do anything aside from the routine daily chores, and this hand surgery relegated her home even more, as she couldn't drive for a month or so. She doesn't complain about it at all, and I'm pretty sure she likes the fact that she has a very valid excuse to stay home. Don't get me wrong: she is a very hard worker and her objective is not to avoid work at all; she just wants to be left alone on her chair doing crosswords.
She has no real friends, as she never cared to cultivate or even maintain her old friendships and new acquaintances. She never EVER calls anybody to go for a coffee, a walk, a smoke, anything. When somebody calls her, she accepts reluctantly mostly to please Dad, when she doesn't have a decent excuse to decline.

So now Dad is pissed because he sees people of his age starting to pass away and he would like to do something to live life (and they can afford anything they could ever want), but with Mom never showing a tiny bit of enthusiasm for anything at all, he feels trapped. In fact, he even seldom goes to any trips with his golf buddies, as they usually bring their wives too and it's awkward, or if they go alone, he feels guilty/uncomfortable leaving Mom alone (although she has never complained about that as she probably enjoys it). In short, whatever ideas Dad comes up with, are turned down by Mom's non-reaction.

At the height of his frustration, a couple of times he shared with me that he should just find a younger wife and start living as he should, but I know he'll never be able to do that to Mom and to the family.

What the heel can I do?
posted by caudingo to Human Relations (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Based on what you've said here, it sounds like they need a marriage counselor, not a hobby. I'm thinking that your mom doesn't fully understand what's at stake and your dad is having trouble telling her (or, perhaps, feels that he can't).
posted by she's not there at 8:52 PM on June 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

Take them bowling.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:07 PM on June 9, 2015

You may also have to accept that your parents are stubborn and set enough in their ways to live out the remainder of their lives not exactly happy and somewhat frustrated, and that the burden will fall upon you to do something else. That happens, more often than we'd like to admit, and perhaps the most gutting thing is that when our parents take a big one on our behalf, we don't make the most of it.

Perhaps you can carve out time to do random daft things with your parents individually -- drag your dad off somewhere that counts as 'living life', then do something with your mother if she has any kind of inclination to Do Stuff. Perhaps they'd benefit from counselling. Perhaps they wouldn't.
posted by holgate at 9:08 PM on June 9, 2015 [8 favorites]

I don't think there is as much of an issue here as you think there might be. Your mother isn't interested in going on a golfing holiday, which is fine. She shouldn't be forced to go. However you've implied he goes alone with his friends and she's not bothered by it - she actually enjoys it. So why is your father feeling guilty about it? He has his golfing fun, she likes her alone time, win, win. His feeling of being uncomfortable is really unjustified given that she's perfectly alright with it.

I do get that he would like to have a shared hobby or travel they could do together and maybe that's worth discussing with a marriage counsellor where they can find some common ground but it really just sounds like their ways of relaxing are different and he may need to look outside his relationship (I mean friends, not a lover) to find people who enjoy his activities. I would think very carefully before throwing away a 50 year relationship because of it.
posted by Jubey at 9:12 PM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is not your problem to fix.
posted by jaguar at 9:16 PM on June 9, 2015 [15 favorites]

There is actually nothing wrong with your mother; she is a homebody, and content to be one, and she doesn't need excuses like hand surgery to legitimise her preference.

You might suggest a family trip; she might be more motivated to take part if the grandkids are there. A family cruise or something?

Your father should look into golf clinics; my dad goes to those by homself all the time. (My mother would rather die.)
posted by DarlingBri at 9:17 PM on June 9, 2015 [6 favorites]

They can have separate hobbies. Your dad can go travel and your mom can stay home with her crosswords and everyone is happy.

My parents have been married for 38 years. My dad's big hobby right now is cycling. He's gone every other weekend on some cycling trip. My mom reads, surfs the internet, watches TV, and lately has gotten really into smoking meats. Their hobbies don't intersect at all. It's ok.

It's unclear from what you've written here if either of your parents have expressed any desire to do partnered activities. Just that your dad feels guilty. If they both want to go do the things that they want to do, your role in this can be to encourage them to do them separately.

You can participate by maybe going on a trip just you and your dad and by sending your mom fun puzzles and crosswords to do.
posted by phunniemee at 9:25 PM on June 9, 2015 [5 favorites]

Let me answer this from two perspectives... as a therapist, and as someone who is quickly approaching the age of 70 with a spouse that is very different than I am.

It's OK that they are on different paths, for the most part. The only statement you made that causes concern is "So now Dad is pissed because he sees people of his age starting to pass away and he would like to do something to live life" This part is causing resentment, but it doesn't need to.

Your mother is content, your father is restless, and fearing the prospects he faces...

Neither he nor you have any responsibility to change any aspect of your mother's life, and she hasn't asked you to do so.

Suggestions: Encourage your father to seek out activities he enjoys, if your mother participates, fine, but if not...fine... This is a problem only if someone defines it as such...

Ask your father to seek some therapy, his resentment is fueled by his own distorted thinking on this, it doesn't sound like your mother is putting expectations on him... this aspect of the dynamic can be changed if he's willing to work on it.

I wish them both peace....
posted by HuronBob at 9:40 PM on June 9, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm going to tell you something: back off. Listen, but back off. You will not change this situation and it is not your place to try to change it.

I had a very similar dynamic with my parents and my Dad did go out and play golf and my Mom did stay at home and they did grouse about each other but they loved each other and didn't want to change it. What you are doing is hearing one side of things and taking sides, and that is just not cool. My Mom was a homebody, yeah, she raised 5 kids that were 7 years apart. I don't get where 70 years old and a hard worker is a thing. What? She should be fine to stay at home and do crosswords if she wants to.

It's okay to listen to your Dad, but at this point in your life, you should be saying, "Dad, that's up to you and Mom." And be nice to your Mom, because she gave birth to you.

My Dad bitched a lot to me too, but he was loyal to my Mom, and he never expected me to fix his grown-ass adult relationship. He was an adult way before I was ever born. My Dad was not my child, and your Dad is not your child either. Jesus. Just leave it alone. Just because someone is old doesn't make them infantile.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:50 PM on June 9, 2015 [20 favorites]

Marie Mon Dieu said what I meant to say better than I could say it. There are things that you can do for/with your parents that they would probably like to do but wouldn't unless nudged -- I have a few of those in the back of my head that need to be sorted out for my parents -- but their relationship isn't yours to fix. It's one of those situations where 'mind your own business' needs to be taken very literally: attend to your own relationships as best you can.
posted by holgate at 10:32 PM on June 9, 2015

Best answer: So what I'm hearing is, your dad is putting his anxiety about end of life / deaths / not having lived enough squarely on your mom. Like, if ONLY she would go do stuff with him, he would get to live life instead of wasting away. Why can't she see this!
It's strange that he isn't able to achieve this without her and shoots down all suggestions to do so. Maybe he's a little helpless and plan-less about this?

Maybe you could talk to him about these things? And yeah, suggest trips. But the underlying wish is never going to be fulfilled and he will never be happy that things are going the way he wants until he finds a way himself.
posted by Omnomnom at 12:59 AM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

If your dad wants to have an exciting life, it's his responsibility to initiate that. He's 72 years old. If he hasn't figured out how to go after what he wants now, you're not going to be able to help him. It sounds like nobody has any objection to him going on trips alone, except for himself.

And yeah, I feel kind of offended for your mom that you think there's something wrong with her wanting to stay home. I'm not 70, I don't have a mood disorder, and I love, love, love staying home. (And lucky for me, my husband likes staying home, too.) It sounds like she likes her grandkids, so if you want her to be more involved, maybe have her visit the grandkids more or bring her the grandkids more.
posted by ethidda at 2:44 AM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

My in-laws were both the homebody type, but after his wife passed away, we took it upon ourselves to try to visit my father-in-law a little more. One of the things we discovered was that, while he would rarely drive more than five miles away from home for any reason, he really did enjoy it if he was picked up and driven someplace "far away" (to him, 30+ miles).

It turns out that when he was younger, he did get out and about quite a bit more, and we had to get well more than 60 miles away for him to be unfamiliar with where he was. He might not have been there in 40 or 50 years. It was usually very pleasant, a nice drive on a beautiful day, lunch at a nice restaurant somewhere far away, a return drive, and lots of time to just talk.

I don't think you'll be able to "fix" what in reality may be a nonproblem. However, you might find opportunities to do things with one or both of them that they might not normally do themselves. Doesn't hurt to try.
posted by jgreco at 3:49 AM on June 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

At the height of his frustration, a couple of times he shared with me that he should just find a younger wife and start living as he should
Tell him he needs to not say this kind of rubbish to you.
posted by glasseyes at 5:01 AM on June 10, 2015 [11 favorites]

At the height of his frustration, a couple of times he shared with me that he should just find a younger wife and start living as he should

My father did just that, at 65 after 40+ years of marriage, he found and married a woman my age. To say I was shocked is an understatement. It was incredible to me.
1 1/2 years after their wedding he died.

And while this whole scenario (the divorce, remarriage, his death etc) was very traumatic to me (and of course my mother), now, some 4 years on I see that really it would have been wrong of me to meddle in any way. I was very tempted, and he actually asked for my permission to remarry - which I refused to give. We did not fall out over it I just told that he did not need my permission it was not mine to give.

The interesting thing is, that after my mother got over the initial shock of divorce after 44 years of marriage, she told me that she enjoyed living alone and being her own mistress and doing exactly as she pleased.

So, yes I can see that this situation is deeply troubling to you but I would encourage you to let them find their own way. There is nothing you can fix or mend, it is their responsibility.
posted by 15L06 at 5:29 AM on June 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

I agree that this isn't your responsibility or your place to fix, and I'm not entirely sure there's really all that much of a problem. But DarlingBri's suggestion of a family cruise is a great one, if money is no problem.

One of my many aunts is a doting grandmother but has a litany of mental health problems that have prevented her from traveling or developing hobbies or really making friends - a lot of it is anxiety and ocd, but there are other things - but everyone else in her family are big travelers. So last summer one of her kids took his family on a cruise to "scout" the whole thing for my aunt, so they could tell her what to expect and she'd, for example, be able to visit many different places but know exactly what her bed in her cabin would be like when she got back that evening, or she'd know what tours would be too much for her in terms of walking, etc, and they just all went on the same cruise, but with the other kid & grandkids & grandma & grandpa, and it went beautifully. My aunt got to spend oodles of time with her grandkids, and see lots of places she'd never imagined she'd be able to visit and stay in a good mental place the whole time. My uncle got to finally spend time with his wife in new places and they've got lots to talk about. And the younger generation availed themselves of all the cruise things. Anyway, my point is, for homebodies who would like to appease adventuresome spouses but comfortably enjoy themselves with lots of foreknowledge of what to expect and opportunities to do crosswords by the pool, a cruise is a really good idea. There are even golf-focused cruises that offer trips to different courses in various ports.

But that's just a one-off special occasion thing. I really think it's best in the long run for you to focus on having quality time with your parents individually or together, but not trying to force them together into anything. Have you considered playing golf yourself? Maybe you or someone else in your family (an older grandkid?) would like to go on golfing trips with your dad.
posted by Mizu at 5:52 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

How about a cruise? Your mom could stay on the ship lounging around / eating / relaxing as much as she wants while your dad could explore a bit more when the ship docks.
posted by aielen at 5:58 AM on June 10, 2015

So why can't you go on adventures with your dad. Why can't he take his Grammys and your siblings, why does your mum have to entertain him. You cold all go on a family cruise, mum gets time with grandkids dad gets to go parasailing. Resorts. Could they buy an RV and take home with them and travel around.
posted by wwax at 6:02 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

My grandfather did this! At age seventy-plus he went on a bunch of golfing holidays with his buddies from the golf club and had a blast. There was no expectation that my grandmother would join him nor the resentment that she didn't - although she is (and was) in poor health so I think that was a convenient excuse all around. The others, whom as I understand were all in their 50-60s, tended to treat my grandfather like a treasured but mildly eccentric uncle and this was perfectly fine.

Your dad should just go on golfing holidays without your mom. It'll be fun for both of them and he can bring back stuff.
posted by Xany at 6:41 AM on June 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Get your dad involved in some activities. Help him start a book club (and not with his regular golfing buddies), have him invite a friend or two to occasional movie nights. Are there local talks, lectures, seminars, classes? Are there nearby retirement complexes that have activities. Contra dance? Bridge? A woodworking class? Help your dad start a wine club. He could join a service organization. He could volunteer (and more than one place). Doing some activities will let him re-connect with old friends and acquaintances and make new ones. Does he fish, sail, bike? Help him start a weekly poker night (perhaps not at his house, or is it large enough that your mom can unparticipate as she chooses?). Help him get in a regular routine of stopping by the local library, meeting friends for breakfast once or more a week, meeting for coffee, browsing the local bookstore, the farmers' market. Take him to garage sales on Saturday morning (or Friday, that seems to be when the cutthroat retiree garage-salers go). Is there a community garden he can help with? Have him start a monthly community film series (maybe '40s and 50s films that've fallen into the public domain?, documentaries?). How's his driving, maybe he can volunteer driving an service to the elderly. Are there classes at his local college, parks&rec, churches? Regarding fishing, he can tie flies in the evenings and during the winter. Find him a local makerspace, or Arduino club. Stamps, model railroading. Perhaps he can take a metalworking class and become a golf club maker. Health clubs and yoga classes can be social.

Once your dad gets going with some (even one or two) new activities, perhaps your mom will join him a bit.

The suggestion of a cruise (DarlingBri and Mizu) sounds great, and an RV (rented possibly) might be a land-based, lower scale version of same.
posted by at at 6:45 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Play golf with your Dad. Leave your kids with mom while you and Dad do things together. Have a once a week scheduled activity with your dad.
posted by AugustWest at 7:41 AM on June 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Can I recommend a book? I've been reading Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, which deals a lot with end of life issues, including what keeps people happiest and functional until the end. It may, at the very least, help you frame how you think of what your parents are going through. It's possible that it's not hobbies your mother needs as much as just a sense of purpose.
posted by hought20 at 7:42 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

This situation is sort of what cruising is for. If they live near enough to a port city, I would recommend trying one. If they have to fly or drive 10+ hours to get there I don't think your mom would be willing. Cruising offers activities for your dad and sitting doing whatever for your mom. If you suspect your mom had some kind of anxiety disorder, I don't recommend a ship that has more than 1800 passengers - that seems to be the tipping point for "tooooooo many people".
posted by fiercekitten at 7:50 AM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your Mom has a serious medical condition, and she's dealing with it as well as she can. If they have a good doctor(s), there may be able to find some good ways to help her have a little more energy and affect, but managing bipolar is pretty critical. There are probably other groups your Dad can be part of, he can go on trips without your Mom, etc., but he has to accept that her condition is real and serious, and the best way to make it work is with a skilled therapist.

You can't fix this. It's rare to be able to fix or rescue other people's lives or relationships, but you are providing a caring voice and you are listening, both of which are valuable. You can also research skilled therapists and provide them with names.
posted by theora55 at 8:42 AM on June 10, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all so much, I truly appreciate all the answers. Re-reading my post, it appears like I resent Mom for this situation, although it's not really the case. I love her deeply and I understand her preference for home as to some extent I share it too. It's just that I wish she was more lively too...

Anyway, I think Omnomnom hit the nail on the head:

"So what I'm hearing is, your dad is putting his anxiety about end of life / deaths / not having lived enough squarely on your mom. Like, if ONLY she would go do stuff with him, he would get to live life instead of wasting away. Why can't she see this!
It's strange that he isn't able to achieve this without her and shoots down all suggestions to do so. Maybe he's a little helpless and plan-less about this?"

Yes, that's exactly the point. Dad worked his ass off all his life and now that he's free to do anything he wants, he has nobody to fully share this freedom with. So he blames Mom for his inability to find ways to enjoy the situation in other ways.

So now I guess the consensus is to leave Mom alone doing her crosswords, since she's happy that way and doesn't require Dad to do anything. Fine. The key now is to help Dad get out of this mindset (I appreciate that for many of you it's not my job, but I love him and I can't simply accept his unhappiness (like my sister does) without at least trying).

Aside from golf, he used to play tennis, go cycling and go trekking on the mountains, however he has a bad leg pain that prevents him to do these 3 things. He doesn't care learning anything new, mostly limiting himself by saying "why should I learn XYZ at 72," or "how can I learn this stuff? I'm not that smart!"... you get the type. He has no passions and spends a lot of time reading newspapers and getting seriously angry at politicians (really).

All in all, I think my challenge is to find something that can awaken his passion and the only way to do it is to try many random things together me and him (as suggested by holgate). It doesn't help that I'm currently on the opposite side of the planet, but I'll figure it out. If you still have any suggestions I'm all ears!

Thanks again to everybody, you are priceless.
posted by caudingo at 9:01 PM on June 10, 2015

The key now is to help Dad get out of this mindset (I appreciate that for many of you it's not my job, but I love him and I can't simply accept his unhappiness (like my sister does) without at least trying).

I think the reason many of us are saying that it's not your job is because there's a high likelihood that if you take on the job of figuring out what he should do, he's likely to shoot down your suggestions, which may very well encourage him to dig in his heels even more, which will likely end up leaving you frustrated. I know your question comes from love, and the suggestion that you may not be able to solve his issues also comes from a place of compassion.

I totally get not being able to just leave it. Having been in a very similar situation with each of my parents, at different points, I've found that my relationship with my father (my mother died before I could get to this point) improved dramatically when I wasn't trying to change him, even when he complains about fixable things. And he actually found his own motivation to make a bunch of positive changes once he wasn't pushing back against my suggestions.

I probably couldn't have gotten to the point where I'm comfortable stepping back unless I had to gone through the period where I was pushing, so, like I said, I get it. And I actually hope that I'm wrong about your parents and that your dad does respond well to your suggestions. Maybe just keep these cautions in the back of your head if it ever starts to feel like you're banging your head against the wall. (And maybe give your sister a bit of a break!)
posted by jaguar at 9:27 PM on June 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

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