I always thought “sandwich generation” meant people who grew up eating Subway. Poor souls, they think Jared Fogle meant quality. Now don’t get me wrong: I love the occasional sweet onion chicken teriyaki, but it is probably the most generic of sandwich options.
Last year, I was over at my dad’s house to help him move some “heavy furniture.” Long story short, it was super light, a one-arm job. His once boundless “old man strength” is gone. He is more Bruce Banner than the Incredible Hulk of my memory.
I now know what the term sandwich generation means. I watch my daughters grow up and need me less. Conversely, I watch my father grow old and need me more. In retirement, my dad’s free time increased but his abilities diminished. These limitations prevent him from living the way he once did. Last year, I gave my father a bit of advice for improving in his favorite hobbies.
My dad always barked that “Perfect practice prevents piss poor performance.” Yet, his practice for self-improvement in his own hobbies was suboptimal. Like any coach to an athlete, I encouraged my father to work on the fundamentals. Maybe this approach will help in your conversations with your aging parents.
“Drive by the drive-through and back away from the burger.”
My dad needed to improve his diet. He’s been fit and trim his whole life. But, his daily Quarter Pounder wasn’t helping his mental and physical performance. I told him to back away from the burgers. To put my money where his mouth is, I ordered a subscription to Blue Apron for him. It feels like he’s cooking (it sort of counts), and that keeps him from stopping for fast food on the way home. He will lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and decrease bone loss. It all starts with diet. Plus, when you’re aging, every bit helps. Eat like a champ, be a champ.
“Get your mattress time in.”
Next, he needed to improve his sleep routine. My dad slept four hours a night for most of his life. He “made up for it” by chugging coffee during the day. I encouraged him to put down the uppers and increase his dosage of Vitamin ZZZ. Although many seniors think you need less sleep as you get older, this notion is false. Seven to eight hours of shuteye every night helps keep the mind and body healthy.
While I was there, I checked out my dad’s bed. He had an uncomfortable mattress. I’m pretty sure he bought it during the Reagan administration. It was lumpy and stiff. Just plain junk! He was so used to it he didn’t think it was strange that he woke up sore throughout the night. I threw out that mattress and ordered him a Casper; now he sleeps like a baby.
“Leg work, big homie.”
Then, my dad needed to improve his leg strength. I bought my dad a Fitbit two years ago. He still gets his 10,000 steps a day in, but needed to develop his leg strength and balance. 20 to 40-year-old bros guffaw at BOSU Ball exercises. Those same giggle-worthy moves are lifesavers to an aging man. I encouraged him to stand on one leg and curl, press and lift to increase his strength and balance. We’re less focused on six packs than six more years of enjoying the hobbies he loves.
“No, you don’t have to wear yoga pants.”
I asked my dad to stretch every day. To be honest, this one was hard. I wouldn’t encourage my father to explore his seven chakras. He just ain’t that dude. Yet, a little flexibility will stimulate blood flow and increase his health. He touches his toes, leans right then left and even does the occasional downward dog. Lululemons not required.
With the basics out of the way, we talked about how to get better in the things that he actually cares about. My dad has some pretty typical “guy born in 1949” hobbies. You may need to adjust the tips to your own aging fathers.
In retirement, my dad decided he wanted to own a boat. He always loved the water, but this became something more. He even went out and stocked up on Ralph Lauren boat shoes and polo shirts. His home state does not mandate a boating license, but I wanted my dad to be safe. We took a few classes together to sharpen the basics. I also asked (and paid for) some master swim lessons to make sure the old man’s stroke was still on point.
My father never cared much for Tiger. He was an Arnold Palmer guy through and through. He even still drinks the eponymous beverage on or off the course. To keep improving his beloved (and terrible game), I advised him to trim it to nine holes instead of 18. Also, as he has grown older, focusing on a solid warmup helps, and a couple of hours with the golf pro monthly help to keep his form in top shape.
My dad has always been a car guy. He loves his vintage Alfa Romeo and his 1951 Ford “milk truck.” He and his buddies check out every car show they can and scope out the crazy modifications. Improving has meant trying to make sure he’s always learning. He reads car magazines and watches documentaries to stay sharp.
In retirement, my father picked up ballroom dancing. I’m not sure if he wanted to get “moves like Jagger,” but the stretching and other basics have done wonders for his agility and strength. But what’s helped most is diligent practice. He takes notes on new dance steps and reviews YouTube videos. Filming his biweekly sessions by GoPro has put him over the top. I’m worried he might challenge me to a dance-off next.
I encouraged my math-inclined father to start playing to sharpen his mind. This puzzle is like Sudoku, but with numbers. KenKen requires simple math to a row of unique symbols. My dad jumped right to the most challenging puzzles. Over time he picked up on shortcuts, the various possibilities and solved the puzzle with ease. As with anything, practice makes perfect.
My father worked for his entire adult life. Once he retired, he missed that aspect of his life. He volunteered at a local soup kitchen and while that’s noble, it wasn’t him. I encouraged him to consider what skills and value he has to offer to the community. For him, that wasn’t making soup. To improve at service, he needed to serve in something relevant to him. Now, he does part-time volunteer consulting work. He shares his lifetime of talent, knowledge and wisdom.
One of the realities of growing older is physical or mental limitations. If unaddressed, these can prevent our parents from living the way we once did. So, don’t let that happen! Getting serious about retirement means training for it as you did for life. With a few adjustments, you can make sure your parents enjoy their hobbies for years to come.
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