My father, or should I say “my kids’ grandpa,” turned 80 a couple of months ago, and my daughters wanted to do something special for him.
Since he has never been a fan of big, overblown parties, they suggested giving him a themed birthday centered around the release of the movie Ford Vs. Ferrari, which came out a few days before his birthday.
The Senior Fandom: Car Enthusiast
My dad is a life long Ford and Mustang enthusiast, and former mechanic and motorcycle racer. I grew up knowing who Carol Shelby was as much as other kids knew about famous musicians or screen stars, so this movie featuring Shelby came at the right time.
Right now, I am at the age where I am raising my own children, but also helping to make sure my own father’s quality of life and outlook remains high. He had already beaten a bout with cancer, and has undergone surgeries for his back and hips. His posture is more bent, but his mental capacity and biting sense of humor, are still in tact. He is still able to get around on his own, but is very set in his routine.
Would a “themed birthday” party even be something he wants? Failed enthusiasm on the part of the “birthday boy” could result in a big disappointment of my girls who worked hard to do something special. This didn’t matter, though, as my years of making sure my kids learned exercised their creative muscles, there was no turning back on their idea.
On his birthday, we took him to the movie, which was a no brainer. We knew he would enjoy it.
Later that evening, the girls gave him a simple cake topped with small Hot Wheels sizes models of a Ford GT40 similar to the one driven by Ken Miles in the famous ’66 Le Mans race. They bought him a copy of the A. J. Baime book Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans that he had been wanting to read to go with it. Nothing expensive or over-the-top, but as it turned out, my dad loved everything we did for him.
I learned that letting kids help plan a birthday or other special occasion for an older relative can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.
Seniors Citizens Have Fandoms Too
I’m fortunate that my dad enjoys going to movies with his grandchildren, which includes going to the latest Marvel or DC film, but that doesn’t mean that those are his geeky passions. My dad loves cars and the “car culture,” so my kids learned a little about his own fandom when planning the party.
Just because someone doesn’t care about the latest superhero or science fiction franchise, doesn’t mean they don’t “geek out.” Everyone loves something. With my dad’s generation, this could be a sport or sports team, mechanics, model building, literature, tabletop gaming, or countless other things. By taking my dad to see this movie, he had something to talk about with his grandchildren. He talked about his own memories seeing the race, and how important people like Shelby and Lee Iacocca were to the automotive industry, as well as how “Ken Miles was done wrong,” and deserved so much more credit for everything. They laughed and asked good questions, and for once let Grandpa’s interests be the center of conversation.
Even paying attention to little details made a difference. My youngest wanted to make my dad special card to go with his cake a present, and she went on line to research the right color of Ford in the race, as well as logo designs at the time, and what Carol Shelby’s and Ken Miles’ signatures looked like.
She wanted to have their “autographs” as part of the design the card, but also wanted to make sure this was “legal” before she drew them. I assured her if it was just part of her artwork, and she wasn’t trying to sell them, it was fine. Sharing this information with my dad made him laugh harder than he had in a while. Little things like this are great ways for the generations to connect.
Planning For a Different Generation Is a Learning Process.
We all know not every older person has the same physical capabilities, and helping kids learn how to work around someone else’s capabilities of limits can help them be more aware of the needs of others, as well as be more compassionate.
What can or can’t a person eat? What kind of physical activities are they able to handle? What gifts are most appropriate? My dad likes to get out of the house, but he doesn’t want to go anywhere where he has to walk around for too long. A movie followed by cake and our house was a perfect choice.
One gift more precious than anything is… Us!
I’ve read several articles that talk about how many older people are affected by loneliness. Many would forego any party or present to just spend some time with those they love, regardless of the occasion. Making sure we connect with our senior relatives, friends and neighbors is important.
We might not all be equipped to tackle certain health issues or have the money to give elaborate gifts, but all of us are able in some ways to battle loneliness with a phone call of visit, “just to talk,” picking someone up to have dinner or a movie with the family, or even going the old school route of writing letters.
One of Dad’s bigger surprises was a bundle of simple letters. About a month before his birthday, we took advantage of social media and sent out emails and Facebook posts to anyone we could reach, asking them to send simple notes or memories. This included family, friends, former Air Force or high school colleagues, and those who my have worked with my dad during the 50 years he spent in public education.
In return, we received cards, letters, and some online messages we printed out and gave my dad as one big gift. He read everything out loud, and my kids enjoyed hearing the stories of their grandpa, how much he meant to those he worked with and even how some former classmates referred to him as their school’s “Fonzie.” Not only did these simple words on paper help my dad know he was appreciated, but it also gave others something they could do to feel needed as well.
This was a win-win.
Dad’s birthday wasn’t fancy, but it was fun. It wasn’t big, but it was personalized. The little ideas which showed planning on the part of the family made all the difference in making a grandparents’ day.
When my father left for the night, he hugged both my girls big and told them this was his “Best birthday ever!”
I know grandparents tend to stretch the truth to make their grandkids feel better about little accomplishments, but after seeing how much fun they had, I think in this case I believe him.