Addicting Hobbies for Retirees
September 27, 2021 8:21 AM   Subscribe

What kind of hobbies could I have "Around" to entertain my father while he visits us in a few weeks?

I had a previous ask where my father was acting out from being bored (and.. other reasons, etc).

I got lots of helpful advice, and I have a plan of dealing with the issues there. But, I kind of want to also think about some solutions to the boredom apart from those. One thing really stuck with me: He just seems SO BORED. If I put out, say, a perplexus Epic toy, he'll play with it for several hours. He grabbed a random book off the bookshelf and read the entire thing in a few days. He's willing to be stimulated, and he enjoys doing projects around the house and having small hobbies. It's just - my house is relatively unstimulating (we mostly watch TV and play video games), and I usually have to work during portions of when he visits.

I know there isn't much expectation to entertain my father, and I know this won't solve many/all the problems, but I'm curious: what kinds of little hobbies could I "have around" for him to play with while here?

Some vague ideas I've had (which do you like?)
Very Difficult little puzzle toys.
Maybe a game on the switch? (He doesn't really play video games so he lacks the technical background, but he's smart, but maybe something like fall guys that's both competitive and simple?)
Some kind of art/sculpture
Magic Tricks/slight of hand
Some kind of building/tower thing?
Farmers Markets/Stores?

Some ideas I don't think would work great (but maybe I'm mistaken?)
Puzzles (we do puzzles a lot and he finds them pretty boring)
TV/movies (he's hard of hearing and it's tricky because other people would maybe want to watch other things)
An online game like tagpro (he'd probably want to play with us or not really at all, I'm not sure it's addictive enough, and besides, "he can do that anywhere")
VR Games (too much work maybe)

So - my actual question - what are some ideas you have, on my list or off of it? What could I have lying around / available for my father when he visits that he has fun with for a few days?
posted by bbqturtle to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (33 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Dare I suggest...more books?

Go to the library before he visits, check out a stack, and leave them on a table in plain sight.
posted by phunniemee at 8:27 AM on September 27, 2021 [19 favorites]

My retiree parents are super into crosswords and sodokus, and reading. My dad also does model-making/painting (planes, cars, trains) as an additional thing which he seems to only pick up when he gets bored. He also does community music-making (local choirs which require only enthusiasm).
posted by Balthamos at 8:30 AM on September 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

What about doing projects around your house? Something like painting a room or building shelves? Perhaps feeling helpful would scratch that itch for him.
posted by mcduff at 8:32 AM on September 27, 2021 [10 favorites]

The facetious answer to this is that this is what hyperactive young grandchildren are for.

Presuming that isn't an available strategy, one thing I didn't really see in this or my skim of your previous ask was does he have any hobbies he's already interested in? If he likes reading can you send him off to the library, or to explore an interesting local used book shop?

Single-player board games in a variety of genres are a much bigger thing than they used to be. Some best-of lists here, and here.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:45 AM on September 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Oh also another idea I hit post before remembering is Thousand Year Old Vampire. It's part game part writing exercise. The game homepage is here. A comic someone made about their playthrough is here (the game doesn't involve making comics, but this is a fun visual example of how a playthrough might go).
posted by Wretch729 at 8:49 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

every one(young/old)loves playing cards.
he can play solitaire,minesweeper,candy crush, fruit ninja in the computer or tablet
+1 for suduko
posted by SunPower at 8:50 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Is he at all musical? You could probably borrow a keyboard/ukulele/guitar or buy an inexpensive one if it's something your family would otherwise use.

Those Sherlock Holmes puzzle kits, or an "escape room" or cold case kit.

+1 for lockpicking, my dad got a set for our household last year and it was a huge hit with everyone.
posted by zibra at 8:55 AM on September 27, 2021

Response by poster: I love the answers so far! I'd like to respond with two concepts - First: that internet/online things aren't perfect, because he would say "I could just do that at home". There's something better about having a physical brainteaser/activity that's available while he's here.

Second, if you wanted to be as helpful as possible, when you have a detailed recommendation:

(Paint a model! Do crossword puzzles!)

It would really help me if you also provided a specific recommendation for your favorite in the genre:

(Buy this toy! Buy him this adult coloring book!)

to help me visualize exactly what you'd recommend!
posted by bbqturtle at 8:55 AM on September 27, 2021

If video games, Fall Guys might be tough for someone who doesn't usually play (platformer reflexes/muscle memory). Maybe something like Baba Is You or Untitled Goose Game?
posted by HtotheH at 8:56 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

If he's political and of the lefty persuasion, he could write Get Out The Vote letters to folks in Virginia (who have their statewide elections, including governor, this November). In a similar vein, there are Postcards to Swing State Voters, thanking first time voters and angling to convert them to regular voters, although the minimum quantity of postcards is 200.
posted by DrGail at 9:17 AM on September 27, 2021 [6 favorites]

in the before-times i spent about a month doing crosswords back and forth with my mom, i'd print it out and fill out as much as i could in a day or two and then send mail it with a blank one to her (either the previous or next week). then she in a week or two she sends it back and i'd send her another set. we were doing the frank longo sunday crossword that is in all sorts of local papers.

if you have time, start some crosswords and leave 'em around. see if he picks them up to finish them! if so, it could be something ongoing that the two of you do via mail!
posted by noloveforned at 9:21 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

if he doesn't mind eyeballing some short instructions or instructional videos, rubik's cubes/twisty puzzles. You can get a package of like a zillion different kinds for pretty cheap. Or there's a couple that teach you to solve them, with an app.

or you mentioned projects: Can you just find every little thing that you wish you had time for, and make him a list? Or lay in supplies and tools, and say "go to town?" Gardening, squeaky doors, that one sink that drains funny, hanging pictures, getting the $*% TV sound to work right, etc etc. When I visit inlaws (and outlaws) I love to feel helpful.
posted by adekllny at 9:35 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

If he likes to read, try your local library instead of his. The collection is different, the staff will have picked different themes/titles to feature, and he might enjoy poking around the building/displays/whatever. When my kids were younger, on trips' to my hometown we would walk to my old branch library and the kids loved checking out a tower of books.

Picking locks is fun when you get it, but frustrating when you don't -- and you need a pile of locks (and some picks!) to practice with. I am lucky enough to know a university locksmith, but not everyone has that.

Does he like puzzles and being outdoors? There may be geocaches in your area.

Has he ever taken a try at writing down family history or his own life story? Or told the stories for a recording?
posted by wenestvedt at 9:45 AM on September 27, 2021

Best answer: Links are mostly by way of example rather than specific things you'll be able to buy (I'm on the wrong side of the Atlantic), but hopefully that's useful too.

From your list, the things that I'd be most likely to pick up and fiddle with myself would be Lego and puzzle toys. I'm thinking in terms of maze puzzles like this, cast puzzles like this or interlocking block puzzles like this. (But the whole list sounds good to me, honestly.)

Some sort of domino rally or marble run kit might be quite absorbing.

You can get all sorts of kits for making wooden automata, including more marble-run stuff.

You could consider books plus relevant materials. For instance:
- a book of modular origami and a pack of 4" paper
- a book of knots or string figures and a ball of string
- a book of yoyo tricks and a yoyo
- a book of matchstick puzzles and a box of matches.

A kendama is fun: instantly obvious what you're supposed to do with it, harder than it looks, and less likely than juggling balls to lead to broken ornaments. There are tricks you can learn once you've got the hang of the basics, so actually this also fits the "book and materials" pattern.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:51 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Do you have outdoor space? Could he mow the lawn/weed the garden/build you a fire pit area?

Any chance a room needs to be repainted?

Shop for and cook something for a meal (perhaps outside of his usual repertoire) apologies for not providing something specific but every smitten kitchen recipe I’ve ever tried has been excellent. Perhaps have on of her cookbooks laying out for inspiration?
posted by raccoon409 at 9:52 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

I like tying knots, but it makes my hands tired. :7)

You can tie up a Monkey's Fist, or tie/braid a dog leash, very easily. Order a couple of 100-foot hanks of paracord from Amazon.

If he likes it, order more cord, and he can give them as gifts or donate them to a dog shelter.

I have also used thicker rope (used climbing rope) to make floor mats. (They lose their shape if you don't stabilize them -- either by sticking or stitching them together. That's left as an exercise for a Handy Dad.) If he gets into it, the bigger door mats require making a jig of pegs on a board, and it's a while fun rabbit hole that I have been saving for this winter.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:32 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

The running list of home repair or improvement tasks is a classic solution for this problem, as many above have suggested.

When it seemed like my dad was actually nearing retirement (reader, he did not retire for another decade) I bought him a book on fly tying because he'd enjoyed some fly fishing trips his friends had arranged. Turned out that going on a trip somebody else arranged was dad's preferred level of effort and commitment to fly fishing, and he never once tried to tie his own. Maybe your dad would be interested, though.

He did, however, pick up the Rush Hour game my niece and nephew had when he had time to while away, and I think he finished every puzzle in it over the course of one or two Christmas vacations. Perhaps more than once.
posted by fedward at 10:44 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Based on answers so far, I bought the lockpicking set, and a yoyo book and nice yoyo. Would love additional recommendations!
posted by bbqturtle at 10:47 AM on September 27, 2021

Might be a longshot, but have him finish off a live edge table. It's surprisingly easier than you think. You can get a live-edge piece of wood for $50-$75. Then just some sandpaper and some polyurethene and you're set. If you have a garage to do it in, great. But we did one in our daughter's bedroom by putting plastic down. The thing is, you can't do it all at once. You have to sand then poly then let dry, and come back the next day. It would give him at least one thing to do every single day for, say, two weeks ... but it's still a thing he could skip a day or two if he wants. But it combines working with your hands and creating something that's showy and useful. And you'll end up with a cool table. I never did it before a year or so ago and I can't tell you how much I love it. Not just for the final product, but for how time and schedule friendly the process is.
posted by lpsguy at 11:00 AM on September 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm an old. I started doing Marching Band Puzzles by Brendan Emmett Quigley [and you can't get more Irish than that name!] while the family were visiting in August. It's like a crossword with the twist that some of the answers have to work forward and backwards. It might work on other levels: 1) harder clues benefit from talking to other minds in the family 2) the winner of the the 1972 figure skating olympic gold can be internetted. The link points to a free PDF but memail for my PDF . . . and bonus Excel 13 x13 grid to save eraser and pencil.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:39 AM on September 27, 2021

No guest has yet resisted my 3d ball bearing puzzle

This gravity maze looks fun also. Honestly, you'll probably want to sit down and put it together with him. Or invite me over and I will.

If you're near Durham/Chapel Hill, NC, I can totally help you set up with a fascinating terrarium and adopt some very charming baby frogs.
posted by amtho at 11:47 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

These is a cream called Armor Etch that you paint onto ordinary glass items, and then wash off. It etches the surface and leaves a white "frosted" effect.

It's ridiculously simple and produces neat results! I have done a set of stemless wineglasses for my parents, each bearing the name of a lake where we had a cabin at some point. We did a fancy Disney image onto a highball glass for a friend, which she liked. Some people do it on bakewear and give it as gifts at showers, etc.

If he is careful, he can freehand his image stuff onto the glass, though a stencil works best (because you need to sort of stir the paste around a bit to ensure good penetration). The planning is fun.

I have made some really cool things for people before. The best results come from producing a good stencil or mat -- and that's the creative part. When I started I used blue painter's tape an an x-acto knife; my trickiest one was done with vinyl sheet and a Cricut machine. We use inexpensive items from Target, but I have been thinking about Pyrex for my next gift.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:47 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Not sure if you have time to order this but a personalized Paint by Number kit might be fun with the right photo.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:12 PM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Instruments maybe. You said he is hard of hearing but many instruments are much more tactile than we think they are. Things with bows and reeds are probably too hard to just pick up and fiddle with, but simpler wind instruments (bamboo flute, panpipes, harmonica?), fun percussion (bongos! glockenspiel?), or guitar type things (banjo, mandolin, ukulele?) might be intriguing and fast enough to pick up. Have a stack of introductory instructions lying next to them. If you have a piano or keyboard in the house, print out sheet music, and check if your library has any beginner books. You can sometimes find instruments in bigger thrift stores, and also a ton of folks have them lying around after their band kids have moved out, so ask on freecycle groups, Craigslist and Facebook marketplace.

My dad is a big fan of jumbles. For some reason they are just the right level of difficulty, and most of them result in a horrible pun that he greatly enjoys reading out loud to torture us. My mom is more of a crossword person, but her favorite is quote acrostics. This also involves eventually reading out the end result, but it’s usually a nice passage from literature rather than a terrible groaning experience.
posted by Mizu at 12:22 PM on September 27, 2021

Ideas based on my own 60-something ADHD dad:

If he's into engineering or electronics at all, maybe a more complex circuitry kit, like building your own weather station? The website has other kit options too.

Would he be interested in piloting a drone?

My dad likes this balancing game too.

Could he get interested in food prep at all? Dehydrating jerky; smoking meat, fish, or cheese; making sausages; the type of BBQ or roasting where it's supposed to take the entire day on a grill outside, that kind of thing.
posted by castlebravo at 1:44 PM on September 27, 2021

This could be either a BAD IDEA or an okay idea, and only you know which: rent a little boat and paddle the Charles River.
posted by Hypatia at 1:58 PM on September 27, 2021

What was the book that your dad grabbed off the shelf? Did he talk about its contents afterward? Have similar books on hand, by the same author or in the same genre.

Have unfinished projects lying around again that he can successfully complete. Have you been weighing installing closet or cabinet organizer systems? (Container Store closet kits, pantry kits, some cabinet organizers, wall-mounted desk system, as examples.) Considering a couple of pieces of small, flat-pack furniture items which will need to be put together? Maybe new wall shelves? Do you keep meaning to paint a room (well-ventilated; can be unused during your parents' stay), or an accent wall in a room, or the inside of the closets or cabinets before any new shelving and drawers go in? Drying paint will give your dad a convenient built-in break from a multi-step project.

You would measure for these projects, buy whatever's necessary, keep the pieces grouped together, and have the right tools on hand. (Unless, for instance, you know you need to replace your drill, and that's a thing your dad loves to shop for, and it's available locally or can definitely be delivered early in the visit.) You'd do this shopping pre-visit, so it's the system/style/paint colors you'd actually want in your home and which would work for your needs. You're trying to avoid additional runs trying to source the right obscure ___ to finish the project. The kind of hyperfocus you've described in your dad is likely to get derailed with last-minute trips to a big-box store. Also, have not-too-nice work clothes and shoes (or overshoe protectors) that will fit your dad comfortably, so he's not concerned about damaging the clothes he's brought on the trip.

(Emphasizing, please don't plan any pre-project, expedition-type shopping trips for the two of you, or the whole family, where you're deciding which system/which paint/which furniture/which new tools? Sort as much of that as possible before guest arrival. A clutter-free home, a collaborative design, and the possibility of occupying some of Dad's visit with exploratory browsing may be appealing ideas, I know. But that kind of outing will just invite problems all the way around. You'll feel anxious and rushed. You and your parents probably have different taste in decorating. Your dad will be bored, and primed to 'act out' as before. And you'll miss supplies required for the task, which will add to his/your/everyone's frustration.)

If he still has a travel blog, maybe a stack of books on hand to research his future trips? Or, over dinner, could you speculate about travel for yourself, and ask if he can do some initial research during this visit? (Provided this request won't turn into "I did all that work for you, and *now* you & S.O. changed your minds about going???" or worse, morph into multi-generational trip you've somehow committed to.) How many entries has he done on your city, and could he take photographs for the blog during this visit?

If you've never deliberately recorded any family history and anecdotes, would your parents be interested in doing a few sessions of that? Solo recording, after being asked to recount ___ story for posterity; interviewing, and an example of interview prompts.

Last idea, which depends on your buy-in and your dad's patience for/interest in teaching: If there's a skill he has that you've admired, you might ask ahead of the visit for a tutorial while he's there. Again, you'd lay in any supplies (two sets of specialized-hobby tools, for example) before guest arrival. But if you already know that way lies madness, or if he's disinterested due to self-consciousness, you could ask to record him demonstrating the skill/engaging in the hobby while you're at work -- and he'd be entitled to as many 'takes'/do-overs as he likes.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:27 PM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Paper craft/models e.g.
posted by oceano at 3:55 PM on September 27, 2021

Clear a table, start a 1,000 piece puzzle. It's surprisingly fun to do with another person.
Get a genealogy book/chart, ask him to help fill in as many blanks as possible. Ask him to tell stories. I was embarrassingly old when I learned that my grandparents were Canadian immigrants to way northern Vermont; maybe you'll learn something interesting.
Do you have tv? antenna for network tv? Roku or the like? Show him how to access his preferred programming.
Have a barbecue, invite neighbors, esp. older ones.
Does he cook? Ask him to make some meals.
posted by theora55 at 6:28 PM on September 27, 2021

Possibly tangental to the question if your tastes in TV or movies do not overlap, but this stood out:

TV/movies (he's hard of hearing and it's tricky because other people would maybe want to watch other things)

One thing I have started doing for my parents and in-laws as their hearing has declined is that, at the start of any visit, I just turn on the subtitles for everything, without waiting for them to ask. It saves them the potential bad feelings of having to ask us for a favor or having to admit that they can't hear very well.
posted by Jemstar at 8:17 PM on September 27, 2021 [4 favorites]

I bought a bunch of the Hanayama cast puzzles from Amazon and they were a huge hit at could buy some varying levels, because some of the hard ones are very hard and might be discouraging to start, depending on the level of experience and patience. I jumped straight to level 4 and higher and have had people return them to me for reassembly after they worked them apart and gave up on getting the pieces back together. They have a wonderful weight for fiddling with.
posted by lemonade at 8:53 PM on September 27, 2021

I second the Hanayama puzzles. I have a bunch and my older ADHD father who NEEDS something to do was visiting and loved them, even though he didn't solve most of them.

Would he like... TO SOLVE CRIME? Specifically this Sherlock Holmes game which involves mostly reading and can be done quietly by oneself, but is still interesting and absorbing.

This style of solitaire game can keep someone going for a WHILE.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 6:17 AM on September 28, 2021

Consider buying a daily or at least a Sunday newspaper. It has a bunch of things he hasn't read and probably has a section with things like recipes, book reviews, puzzles, and crosswords. I love crossword puzzles and so I'll buy books of them. I think sudoku are okay, so i wouldn't open up a book of them, but I'll do the one in the puzzle section while it's out. Which is to say, having it out and just a few of each puzzle makes it more appealing. (We get the Seattle Times on Sundays and I like that it has both the New York Times and the LA Times crossword.)
posted by blueberry monster at 7:23 PM on September 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

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