Best gift from your adult child?
October 28, 2017 1:58 PM   Subscribe

My dad is celebrating a milestone birthday this year and I'd like to do something extra nice for him but am totally stumped. Hoping that the brilliant people of askme will have some ideas that haven't occurred to me! More about my dad inside...

My dad is tough to choose gifts for. He doesn't want much stuff and can afford to buy what he does want, so there's no special thing he's been saving up for that I can surprise him with. He's also getting older and doesn't really need or want any more stuff unless he finds it really cool/special.

So, that leaves experiences. I would love to take him on a special trip with just the two of us, but some family dynamics issues make that a really dicey proposition. Similarly, overtly sentimental gifts like a scrapbook or a big surprise party are out for the same reasons. So, I'm looking for other ideas. Doesn't have to be expensive, just thoughtful (though expensive is ok too, this is a big birthday), but I just can't come up with anything good.

We will be in NYC together in late November to celebrate his birthday, and will do what we do every year: out to a nice dinner, family party & homemade cake, see a broadway show. So, I'm looking for something to make this year special or different. Assume he's done all of the obvious Ellis Island, MOMA, the Met, Natural History Museum, Central Park sort of stuff. Something fun in Brooklyn or Queens would be cool as we haven't spent a lot of time there together and I've had trouble thinking of activities/sites he would enjoy outside of Manhattan other than the Botanical Gardens.

I'm also looking for ideas for experiential gifts outside of NYC, really anything in the Northeastern US is fair game. Close to Boston or NYC would be ideal, but Philadelphia is pretty convenient too. They can be things we would do together or something I could get him tickets for that would be fun for him to do alone or with my mom. No activity, food, or other restrictions other than he's just starting to slow down a little so no tough mudders or anything like that.

Here's a little more info about my dad, he loves: natural history museums, geology, paleontology, animals (bird watching, dogs, safaris, you name it), WWII history, politics (was seriously involved in the local democratic party for a long time), bar games (pool, cards, etc), hard sci-fi (both books and tv/movies), gardening, opera, juried craft fairs, and baking bread.

He does not like: doing crafts, elaborate cooking/similar projects like making beer except for the aforementioned bread baking, hunting/fishing, spas, offbeat/fringe cultural activities, or shopping (except for groceries, which are his jam).

The most successful gifts I've gotten him have been: an ipad (which he held off on buying for himself so I could get him one for his last major birthday), a whale watching tour, Peter Reinhart's books, and a trip to Ellis Island together.

tl:dr My dad is pretty awesome. I don't know what to do for his birthday. Help!
posted by snaw to Human Relations (24 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Possibly he's been there or heard of it, but the Harvard Mineralogical and Geological museum in Cambridge might make a nice day trip, with lunch.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:13 PM on October 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think that the Harvard Glass Flowers Museum has just been re-done, if he hasn't already been.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 2:33 PM on October 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Does he have a favorite musician he's never seen live that's still around and touring? I flew my dad up to visit me for his bday and took him to see one of his favorite performers at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn and then took him for steaks at Keen's in the city.

Also how about a trip to the Museum of African American History in DC? Same distance as Boston.

In Brooklyn, how about a tour of the Navy Yard? I know there are WWII history tours up there some weekends. There is also a whiskey distillery with a tasting room as well as a rooftop vineyard there too. You could walk from there to a nice dinner at Vinegar Hill house or something and then maybe you could head to Union Hall for bocce or Royal Palm for shuffleboard?

Lastly, and it's a Metafilter favorite, but there's always the Tenement Museum if he's never been there.
posted by greta simone at 2:47 PM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How about springing for a family photo shoot while you're all together? That's what we did for my mom's 70th birthday a few weeks ago (thanks to my sister, who has all the ideas), and it turned out to be really fun. We all went to a local park recommended by the photographer and walked around while she took both candid and more posed pictures - the photos turned out really wonderfully, too. Afterwards we all went to a nice dinner at a nearby restaurant.

I'm really not the kind of person who enjoys dressing up, posing, or any of that, but the photo shoot was surprisingly fun and a great way for us all to do something together.
posted by DingoMutt at 3:05 PM on October 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Is your father at all interested in his family genealogy? If he is, you might get him a DNA test and ancestry report as a present. National Geographic has a kit for $150(CDN), and for that he'll get not only his regional ancestry report, but his deep ancestry report and his hominin ancestry report, as well as being told what remarkable historical figures he might be related to.
posted by orange swan at 3:20 PM on October 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

The best birthday gift I ever got for my dad cost me nothing. I was stymied much as you are so, on my mom's advice, I wrote him a long, heartfelt letter about how he set an awesome example for me, how much I admired him, and how proud I was that he was my dad. My mom was right: he absolutely loved it and told everyone he knew about it. Plus I got to see him cry. (And now that he's gone, I'm very glad I got to tell him just how important he was to me.)
posted by DrGail at 3:23 PM on October 28, 2017 [16 favorites]

Best answer: It's over this year, but the Collings Foundation has one of the most unique living history events I've ever seen. It is on this INCREDIBLE property in Mass. It has this ginormous 3 story garage/hanger with historic vehicles and planes. They have a WWII reenactment with planes landing, bombs going off, old jeeps driving around. The planes land on a grassy strip in front of the lake. I know the soldiers have a WWII dance, etc.

I think it is Oct and you'd have to wait until next year. You could make a history trip. You could start in the 1600's at Plimoth Plantation. So much to see around there, too. You could move on to the 1700's and do some Revolutionary War history - Concord and Lexington. Move on to 1830s - Sturbridge Village. They have programs for adults where in the evening, only by light sources they would have used, you cook and eat dinner in the original buildings from the 1800s. Then on to 1900s with the WWII event at Collings Foundation.

It will be foliage time and a pretty terrific time to be driving around Mass.
posted by beccaj at 4:07 PM on October 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Take your dad to Centralia, PA, the town that became a ghost town when a coal mine caught on fire in 1962 and has been burning ever since. This is a geologically cool place that is (in)famous for its hot vents and steam coming out of the ground. Additionally at the Bear Valley coal mine in Whaleback, PA you can see a giant anticline that has been sloughing off giant plates of shale that you can pry apart to look for 300-million year old fossils from when Africa and the east coast of North America collided. Also very fun for a picnic and day out in nature.
posted by ball00000ns at 4:15 PM on October 28, 2017 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Likes birding you say? Find an expert to take you both on a guided birdwatching tour of NYC or nearby. You could spice it up with a gift of new binoculars per the Wirecutter recommendation. (I got new bins for my birthday and while I didn't see more birds, I did see way more of the birds.) I wish I had experience of NY guides to hand on, but you could start with talking to the people at Birding Pal Tours.
posted by firstdrop at 4:36 PM on October 28, 2017

Best answer: Maybe a day at MassMoCa? You could also go to the Hoosac Tunnel Museum. Then you could jog north a bit into Bennington and check out Hemmings HQ if he's into cars.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 4:42 PM on October 28, 2017

Best answer: If you're both up for it, the Museum of Natural History in NYC does sleepovers. It's something I've always wanted to do - a bit pricey, but for a big birthday worth the splurge, I think. You get to sleep under the whale. THE WHALE.
posted by tealeaf522 at 5:05 PM on October 28, 2017 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: You guys are amazing - so many of these are either great new ideas or things he's already done and enjoyed! Keep them coming!
posted by snaw at 5:45 PM on October 28, 2017

For my father's 50th, we got him RedSox tix on the dugout for him, me, and my two brothers. For his 60th, I went the other way - I took him out to dinner, and then we spent the next weekend working outside on the house building a new deck. Mostly it was just to spend the time with him - something that as I get older, I have less and less time to do...
posted by niteHawk at 5:58 PM on October 28, 2017

Best answer: Natural history museum crawl, but spread over the year. Here's a list to check out, particularly at Yale, Harvard, etc. Parent cherish one-to-one experiences with their adult children.
posted by Elsie at 6:17 PM on October 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Look at how much you'd have to donate to his favourite museums to get something like a backroom tour of the archives and vaults. It'll be significantly more than an annual membership, but if a trip is in the budget, it may be within your reach.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:02 PM on October 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The most ingenious gift given to my dad for a recent birthday was a set of magazines and a newspaper from his birth month and year. The New Yorker, Popular Mechanics, National Geographic and more can be found quite easily on eBay. It was a delightful surprise for everyone to appreciate.
posted by oxisos at 8:15 PM on October 28, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: My siblings and I commissioned a painting of our family home. It was a house my dad was so proud of and it represented everything he worked so hard for - a home for his beloved family. He’s gone now, but I know he looked longingly at that painting nearly every day.

I remember running across a website that created paint by numbers paintings of photos you sent in. Perhaps you can do that together?
posted by HeyAllie at 3:58 AM on October 29, 2017

Not sure how broadly you're defining "craft" but what about a traditional method woodworking class? The two of you could maybe have some together time if the excuse was a multi day Windsor chair making course in some small town.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:06 AM on October 29, 2017

Best answer: This is well beyond your boundaries, but I figure it can't hurt to make a suggestion you won't use, but maybe will. For my FIL's and MIL's 50th anniversary, we took them to France, and spent three days in Normandy. One of those days we took an eight-hour tour of the D-Day beaches, with a personal guide who was former UK military. He drove us around, showed us all the major sites, told a lot of great stories. My FIL, not surprisingly, absolutely loved it. My MIL, quite surprisingly, did too.

My father is a sculptor, and he is fairly frequently commissioned to make a portrait in bronze of someone for a special event. That's another possibility.
posted by Capri at 10:20 AM on October 29, 2017

Best answer: If you haven't been, Longwood Gardens is about a 1-hour drive from Philly (~2.5 from NYC). In addition to vast grounds, fountain shows, seasonal botanical displays, and bird walks, there are classical and jazz concerts, including a huge organ that's played every day. Happy birthday to your dad, and have a great time together!
posted by eyeball at 8:02 PM on October 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Noguchi Museum in Queens is a serene treat with a WWII connection. Noguchi, a Japanese American sculptor, was voluntarily interned in a camp for part of the war. It was hard for me not to touch the stone sculpture.

The Vertical Tour of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is worth all those steps. You work your way up layer by layer, stopping at different balconies, stepping outside for a while and finally ending up in the rafters between the ceiling and the roof. It feels medieval. St. John the Divine also has a WWII connection. Long unfinished, the ribbon was cut in 1941 to begin construction again. The next day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and that was so much for that plan.
posted by jointhedance at 4:25 PM on October 30, 2017

Best answer: Looking to 2018 the Liberty Ship John Brown does day cruises in June and September in Baltimore MD. People dress in WWII era style clothes, there is a band playing WWII music, planes do fly-bys, etc. My military history buff friend prefers the fall over the summer cruise because there's no AC and the summer cruise can be steaming hot.
posted by jointhedance at 8:21 PM on October 30, 2017

Response by poster: So, we're doing the Brooklyn Navy Yard tour, thanks greta simone!

And I'm going to sift through all the great gift suggestions this weekend to try to figure out which one to set up!
posted by snaw at 7:27 AM on October 31, 2017

Response by poster: And a final update - my dad just asked for a bunch of obnoxious Eagles gear so he can troll his Patriots-loving neighborhood throughout football season. So, problem solved for now, but I'm going to keep all of these in mind for upcoming Christmases and birthdays. Thank you all!
posted by snaw at 7:27 AM on November 8, 2017

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