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How to stay close to Dad when mum has died? (sorry, long)

(13 Posts)
Almanzo Thu 13-Oct-11 10:08:13

I lost my mum about 18 months ago. It was quite sudden and unexpected and now I find myself trying to stay close to my one remaining parent.
I'm sure I can't be the only one with a father with limited social skills. It's the old joke of Dad picking up the phone & just saying "Oh hello, yes fine, do you want your mum?" That's pretty much how phone calls would have gone before she went then I would chat with mum for h o u r s and she'd fill me in about Dad too.

I am one of 6 children. When Mum died they had only just (6 weeks sad) moved back to the Northern seaside town they were from. 4 siblings have stayed in the SE town where Dad worked until he retired about 3 years ago so about a 3 hr drive and I'm about 1.5 hrs away (one is abroad).

Dad is now 69 and has had to manage retirement, widowhood and a change of home in quite a short time so there has been lots of activity and 'things to arrange' and I think it's taken until about now for us all to realise that it's getting harder and harder to stay close with him now he's settled.

He is in a sort of luxury apartment where people keep themselves to themselves and I think that suits him. He was always terrible at social skills. He is highly intelligent (was a scientist) and very logical and must seem very rude to outsiders as he just can't make small talk so seems to be blanking people (yes, we definitely think he's somewhere on some spectrum of extreme personality types!). With family he is very very quiet but also kind, gentle, funny and wise. We do adore him and he lets us hug him after we have made it into a kind of joke. I have seen him get very anxious when he knows he has to talk to someone new or make a phone call so advising he joins a social club would not work and he would hate it.

He is very skilled with IT and has several computers & every bit of consumer gadgetry you could want. He spends his time going on incredibly long walks - about 10 miles every day and is a bit obsessive about his health. He pretty much survives on nuts and berries and is whip thin. He watches TV and does puzzles, Braintraining, wordjong, crosswords. He has lots of money (huge pension, £100s of Ks in bank)but is bizarrely frugal, not mean, just thrifty)

We all miss Mum loads and I suppose we are looking for Dad to fill some kind of gap for us but we DO understand he's not like she was and would leave him quite alone if that's what he wanted. In the mum years his house would have been busy all the time and he seemed content to watch the children (11 grandchildren) running around and be fed and looked after and disappear when it all got too noisy.

We think he does miss people though. He admits he doesn't speak to anyone else at all apart from us when we call but even when we call he mostly answers with one word and never asks questions so it's like pulling teeth. The reason for this post is that I have just called him and he said he does feel 'slightly strange' trying to fill his days and is not sure how to fill some of the hours. I arranged a visit and he said he was really looking forward to it and it was great as he had another visit from my sister the following week so that would 'keep him going'.

My 4 UK sibs and I are trying to visit every 2-3 months each so Dad sees someone fairly often (They can't afford more as flat is small so we need a hotel and then the petrol and time off work). He has gone to their town on the train and back for the day twice (won't stay anywhere but his own home).

He is easiest to talk to when he's given a problem to solve like sorting IT problems or investments so that can be a 'way in'.

Does anyone have similar experience? How do you stay close? I was wondering if anyone knows of any kind of online game, like scrabble or something where he can have a go, then me, and keep a game going over the net so he can at least have daily interaction. My DH has scrabble on his iPad but it's an apple thing and I can't find same for windows.

Between me and DH we have lost our two mums and two grans in the last few years and Dad is all we have left.

mairyhinge Thu 13-Oct-11 10:54:05

HI, although i don't presently have the same problem, I can see where you're coming from!
I'm an only child, and the past 3 months mum has been very ill, spending alot of time in hospital. During this time I have had to virtually beg my dad to come for lunch, tea etc.
He lives fairly close though,which is good, because phoone calls are the same as yours. He never has anything to say! If mum is there he passes me onto her straight away, and then when she wasn't there talking on the phone was soooooooooooooo hard!

Bearing in mind I'm an only child, I have, in the past, rang and when he answers I've said " hi Dad" and he has repllied " who is it?" confused

I seriously dread to think how we will cope IF (God forbid) she dies first. He is a stubborn beggar, and very hard to communicate with.
So I sympathise, I really do.
Sadly tho, I have no advice, but I will watch this thread for tips!

Oh, and I'm very sorry for the loss of your mum, that must also be hard for you to deal with, I can only imagine x

buzzskeleton Thu 13-Oct-11 12:55:42

Um, if you have FaceBook, it has various word-games, chess etc you can add.
I like Lexulous, which is very like Scrabble except you have an extra letter in your rack. It's also online as a site in its own right, but I don't know what that's like: lexulous.

Almanzo Thu 13-Oct-11 13:33:06

Thanks Mairy and Buzz. Yes I guess this is sadly quite common and Mairy so sorry to hear of your troubles too. I love your Dad's "who is it?" grin
I phoned Dad recently and said "Hi, just calling for a chat" and he replied. "Oh, what about?" Gah!
I am able to tease him though so just told he wasn't normal and he laughed.
Buzz I think you've cracked it. That Lexulous thing looks perfect. Am off to start a game now and sign him up for the challenge.
Thanks v much again.

MooncupGoddess Thu 13-Oct-11 13:36:57

It sounds like your father realises he needs more in his life, which is good. He may quite like to hear you telling him about your life etc even if he doesn't have much to say in return. Does he like discussing politics/science developments etc? If he was a scientist he probably still have some contact with his old discipline? I wonder if there is anything he could do locally - being able to help with IT is always valuable, but the limited socialising involved might be a bit much for him. My father (also widowed) does bird surveys for the BTO and things like that.

Does he like having projects to manage? see if you can come up with anything between you? At 69 he probably has a lot of life left. He is lucky to have so many nice children, it sounds like you're doing all the right things.

tb Thu 13-Oct-11 16:34:53

Seeing as he's good at IT, I used to be a member of a family history society, and they were always after people to help with the IT side of things.

Would that be of interest for him?

CMOTdibbler Thu 13-Oct-11 16:52:45

Your dad might enjoy joining REMAP who are a network of engineers and others who work out custom devices for the disabled - so some interaction, but mainly about the work in hand and similarly minded people.

Have you suggested he might like to move back to be nearer family ?

If you find subjects to talk about - like getting him to help you solve a PC issue - then I'm sure he will learn to chat more. My dad was always a hander over of the phone, but now my mum can't manage much of a conversation, so he does most of the talking and tells me what is really going on. My dads passion is carbooting, and he takes huge pleasure in tracking stuff down for us and will talk about it for ages.

Almanzo Thu 13-Oct-11 19:53:46

Hi again (sorry, been busying). Thanks for your ideas. Hope I don't sound defeatist but I just know he wouldn't want to be relied on to do anything for anyone else. It would involve leaving his comfort zone of the people he already knows. He is also the world's worst teacher having seen him trying to show mum how to use the internet!
It's also not that I think that he's bored, just in danger of being socially isolated which is a bit sad for a father of 6!
He actually probably needs people a lot less than your average man. I think I just want to know how he can feel more part of our lives when he doesn't chat and doesn't spend his days with his family.
Moon cup, he was (is!)a metallurgist. They are so not party people. Apologies to any Mumsnet metallurgists grin
I shall be the daughter with whom he plays word games and we shall be content with that and the occasional stilted conversation and awkward hug.

springlamb Thu 13-Oct-11 22:21:57

My friend's dad is a widower and lives 200 miles from her. Didn't want or not ready to move closer. And he also enjoys walking.
They have talked him into buying a holiday home nearer to them, so that he can have his own base for visits, indulge his walking hobby, see family, then go back 'home' when necessary. Actually, he's visiting fairly frequently.

Also, the U3A (???) organisation has a really diverse range of clubs (although I can't guarantee metallurgists) and often the resident 'expert' gets to run the club and boss everyone else about. My MIL is the queen of mahjong, but happily hands over to the King of digital photography and even, I believe, the Leader of the Recorder Players.

I was a bit the same when my Mum died, she had been the conduit between Dad and I, but Dad was nearer and started shopping at a supermarket near me, so took to popping in a couple of times a week. We managed to build up quite a good friendship and even talk about personal stuff. Although his comments on my discipline of my children did cause a few argy-bargies.

I was going to write that MIL submitted to the King of digital photography, but I realise now that would give you the wrong impression of the U3A.

squeakytoy Thu 13-Oct-11 23:27:48

Facebook is quite good for some older people.. when my MIL was widowed 3 years ago, she knew nothing about computers, but she has taught herself, and at the age of 67 is the proud owner of a very well kept farm... ((farmville)) which she loves as she says it keeps her thinking... daft as it sounds, but she really enjoys it.. she also keeps in touch with all her grandchildren on facebook, gets to see what they are doing, and doesnt miss out on seeing the latest photos and hearing about their social lives.. there are quite a few word games on there too "words with friends" is the same as scrabble.

Moodykat Thu 13-Oct-11 23:37:57

My dad also used to be rubbish on the phone but when DM first died (4 years ago) I used to phone him every day and annoy him with all the little things that I would've talked to Mum about. It annoyed him a bit at first I think, well, maybe annoyed is too strong a word but I think he actually liked it. He now phones me if I haven't phoned for a few days! He is 1.5 hours from me but I give him jobs that need to be done and he relishes having things to do and plan for.
Sorry about all of your losses. Losing a parent is shit.

Nanny0gg Fri 14-Oct-11 22:10:03

If your dad is fairly well-off, can't he contribute to hotel bills when you and family go to visit?

Is there no chance he would join a walking club?

2rebecca Fri 14-Oct-11 23:01:44

My dad started doing adult education and university of the 3rd age type stuff. He's fairly acedemic and although he's quite shy found adult education OK because most people start off not knowing people. It's given him lots of new friends. He's also become far more chatty on the phone since mum died, don't think he ever got a chance to chat when mum was about, she was lovely but inclined to dominate conversations.

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