Making sure my dad has a working phone
December 7, 2007 6:46 PM   Subscribe

Short version: do I just buy a phone and press it on my increasingly reclusive, phoneless, living-alone but working, 71-year-old father? Longer:

Pop has no way of calling anyone from his apartment should he need to do so. This is in keeping with his evermore hermetic inclinations: he gave up his computer, then his business cell phone (this doesn't seem to be a problem with his current employer), then his landline. He won't even check e-mail now. I think he should have a phone, given his age and the fact that he lives alone; my brother seems to think no one has a right to force him to communicate.

Has anyone been in this position? I want to give Pop an easy-to-use cell phone and take care of the bills for it. I'd have to thrust it into his hands ( or gently introduce it to him) at my brother's on Christmas Eve, which is when I'll next see him; but it's possible this will lead to an argument or a chilling or relations between brother, me, Pop, and my brother's wife, who thinks as I do.
posted by goofyfoot to Human Relations (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Your dad sounds like my dad. A lot. He ended up getting a cell phone on his own because the type of work he does almost requires it, but it's not a magic cure-all. When he doesn't want to be reached, he either turns it off or leaves it in his car. So, the battle for effortless communication continues. It's complicated by the fact that any suggestion of "You're getting on in years and it would make us feel better to be able to check on you" is met with a cold, cold shoulder. It's sort of a family joke and we all laugh about it, but we also know it's not the least bit funny. I sympathize.

Anyway, to recap, even if you get him a phone, he's going to figure out how to turn it off rather quickly. But, good luck.
posted by socratic at 6:52 PM on December 7, 2007

hey, this might be obvious, but have you taken him to a doctor? if he's becoming reclusive, it might be because he's having trouble seeing or hearing, or with his balance. he may be becoming more and more uncomfortable venturing out. likewise, he may be having cognitive problems that he's trying to hide. or, he might be depressed.

obviously you can't force him into anything, but sure, get him the phone. if he doesn't use it, cancel it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:06 PM on December 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

hmm the increasing reclusiveness is a bit unsettling. I hope there is no history or possibility of dementia or alzheimers. My gramma started that behavior as her reclusive habits increased so did the alzheimers, but back then we didn't recognize it.

Perhaps you can present it to everyone as a "its there for emergencies" so he has a way to call for help should he need it. Tell him he is under no expectation to use it and that he is doing you a favor by taking this great worry off of you. Tell your brother and sisterinlaw the same thing. tell him you care about his well being, better safe than sorry kind of thing. perhaps give your brother a heads up so he doesn't create an argument in front of your dad. you arent forcing him to communicate you are simply giving him the means to call should he fall, or a fire start or his power goes out or his car won't start or something of that nature. Tell them you dont care if he never uses it (even though you do, and even though most likely after he has had it for a bit of time he will probably see that it does come in handy) the point is getting him to have an open enough mind to take it.

We had the same problem with my other Gran. She is younger er 85 vs 97. She still drives, lives alone ect. We wanted her to carry the cell phone with her because she has been falling more lately. At first she wouldn't hear of it but when we backed off and told her we just wanted her to carry it but not use it she felt less threatened. A few months ago when her car had a flat she decided it wasn't so bad having it around.
posted by meeshell at 7:07 PM on December 7, 2007

Tell him you want him to have the phone so you can call him.
posted by vrakatar at 7:23 PM on December 7, 2007

If you do give him a phone try the Jitterbug. It's a phone for old people and luddites. Unfortunately it sounds like your dad will just forget to charge it and that will be the end of that.
posted by Gungho at 7:33 PM on December 7, 2007

Thank you all for your posts. It's scary territory, isn't it?
posted by goofyfoot at 10:18 PM on December 7, 2007

Why must you give it at Christmas Eve? Couldn't you give it to him before Christmas, privately? (Not as a secret from your brother, but just so there doesn't need to be a big conversation about it at his house.)

I would say the main thing is to determine what your father dislikes about the contact systems. More than likely, it's the same thing that many of us phone-haters don't like - that sense of imperative, that you are forced to talk to someone whenever they feel like talking to you. The phone ringing makes me jump, and I feel a kind of low level dread about answering it; I have no idea why, but I know that there are many like me.

So, it may be that he doesn't want to be expected to make calls, or that he doesn't want to be expected to answer calls, or both. If you can assure him that whatever is unpleasant to him isn't going to happen, and that you aren't going to be giving the number to anyone, he probably won't mind the phone. Maybe he would like you to call him at a sort of set time, once a week or every two weeks or whatever, same day, same time, so he can expect it and not be surprised. Or maybe he'd just prefer not to have to speak on the phone... The main thing is that he have one if he needs it, so it seems like if you can reassure him that it won't be any kind of nuisance at all, he'd probably be happy to have it.

(He also might be embarrassed about admitting that the phone creeps him out because it seems startling and intrusive... I feel pretty embarrassed about my weird phone hang-up [pun!]. You might try the "my friend" conversation opener: "My friend doesn't like phones because he feels like he can't refuse to answer them, and they intrude on his concentration. Is that how you feel?" and etc.)
posted by taz (staff) at 3:12 AM on December 8, 2007

If I were your Dad, I'd switch it off and drop it in the back of the oddments drawer. But then, I'm like that.
posted by flabdablet at 3:56 AM on December 8, 2007

My grandmother was given an answering machine when she first began living alone, and every time I visited her (once or twice a year, because of distance) my first job was to "stop that machine from flashing," which meant deleting an entirely full inbox of messages that she'd never heard or responded to. Similarly, she was given an emergency-response necklace, and it sat on a chest that she used as a hall table beneath the phone for more than a decade. Needless to say, when she fell and couldn't move, it took days for her postman to notice something was wrong. Luckily, he called for help, and everything worked out okay that time.

What I'm saying is, you can give the phone, however you want to give it -- but be prepared for it to be a continuing, frustrating discussion about why it doesn't get used.

In the case of the answering machine, my grandmother didn't understand why people wouldn't just call back later if it was important; but she rejected the necklace because she was unwilling to admit that she might not be able to live alone (in a 3-story house that she had lived in for 50+ years) -- so people are right that there are underlying issues here, although my grandmother's were fairly ordinary and understandable. If your father's reclusiveness is going beyond an ordinary response, which it sounds like it might be, I second the people who suggest some kind of medical advice.
posted by obliquicity at 7:11 AM on December 8, 2007

It sounds like your dad is not ignorant of communicative technologies, but rather does not want to be reached. This is a bad sign, in my opinion. It's one thing to want to be alone sometimes, and another thing to make yourself utterly unreachable. I know there are some people out there who don't have phones for this very reason but personally I can't understand it.

If he was hermit-like his entire life, I might understand this, but it sounds like a recent development. That may or may not be something to be concerned about. My grandma is 84 or 85 or so and is still pretty sharp if slightly batty in a normal grandmotherly fashion, so dementia may not be playing a part at all.

The real concern is, you want to be in touch with him. Please don't make it about him being some frail clueless old man risking a "Help I've fallen" moment. He's your dad, right? You need him in your life. Make it about that. Hopefully you've stayed in touch with him on and off, right? Saying something like, "Dad, I notice that you have gotten rid of your phones and computer, which suggests you're not interested in being in touch with people. But you are still my dad, and I still need you in my life, which means I want to be able to reach you if I need to."
posted by Deathalicious at 9:43 AM on December 8, 2007

How often are you in touch with him now? Do you talk when he's at work?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:14 AM on December 8, 2007

Talking him into renewing his landline may be a better option. Less intrusive, more familiar, does not need recharging in order to work. If you ask the phone company (they do not offer) the cost is incredibly cheap for a bare-bones, "budget" plan with limited calling.

Seconding that he may be trying to hide a loss of eyesight, hearing, or mobility. Also consider that he may be hiding money problems. (Uh, good luck finding out. I've got stubborn parents too.)
posted by desuetude at 11:34 AM on December 8, 2007

You can lead a horse to cellphone, but you can't make him talk.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:43 PM on December 8, 2007

Vrakatar and Deathalicious touch on a (theme? tack?) I've emailed to my father since October, which is that I miss talking to him. And taz is right that he just doesn't like phone calls; he's rarely liked them unless they're from me, and often thinks they're an imposition. But he's had a phone or two all his life until this spring. Lobstermitten, I don't call him at work because he doesn't like personal calls at work, and will not talk there. That's a taboo I may have to break.

And desuetude is right that he's, well, not exactly hiding money problems (his creditors phone me) but is unhappy that I know about them and have told his son about them, as I did on the longstanding operating principle and practice that Pops never listens to me, but will always listen to my brother. Pop's hiding, and I think it's foolish to allow him to continue living without a phone in the interest of hiding.

Meanwhile, sort of miraculously, it seems my brother, over the weekend, has managed to convince our dad that he's being foolish about not having a landline and is also foolish not to check his e-mail. Dad listens to my brother. So we'll see.

I don't think this is over with yet. And I doubt our situation is singular.
posted by goofyfoot at 7:04 PM on December 10, 2007

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