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Published June 15, 2013, 11:30 PM

Minding Our Elders: Learning more about Dad

Dear Readers: This year, thinking about Father’s Day reminded me of a short trip I took with a friend last summer. Two places we visited were my parents’ childhood homes. I have many happy memories of my maternal grandparents’ home because my family visited often when I was young and we spent most holidays there. However, my dad’s childhood home was different, since by the time I was born the house had new owners and I’d never seen the interior.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

Dear Readers: This year, thinking about Father’s Day reminded me of a short trip I took with a friend last summer. Two places we visited were my parents’ childhood homes. I have many happy memories of my maternal grandparents’ home because my family visited often when I was young and we spent most holidays there. However, my dad’s childhood home was different, since by the time I was born the house had new owners and I’d never seen the interior.

During our visit to the community, my friend and I were given a lovely tour of the house, which now has historic significance. Like most children, I’d heard stories about my Dad’s childhood. Still, just seeing the rooms where my day-dreaming, bookish dad spent much of his boyhood helped me feel closer to him than ever, even though he has been dead for several years now. I’m happy that I spent time listening to him reminisce when he was alive, but I do wish now that I’d asked more questions.

While celebrating Father’s Day this year, you may want to take time to ask your own dad some questions about his life as a child. It’s amazing what expanded knowledge of your parent’s backgrounds can do to help you understand them. Even if your dad can’t remember what he had for lunch, he may have remarkably clear memories of his youth. If dementia is clouding his memory, he may wander off track a bit in his storytelling, but that wandering may bring you into interesting territory if you are patient.

You probably already know where your dad grew up, but you can ask him to describe his own room, which likely he shared with siblings. Ask him about the toys he played with and what school was like. Who were his friends? What did they do for fun?

Residents in nursing homes often say that one thing they enjoy is that their caregivers listen to them. These caregivers are generally very busy, but they are trained to listen and the good ones do. If they’ve heard a story five times, they don’t let on. They want to get to know the people they are caring for. Perhaps when you visit your own dad, wherever he lives, you can approach him not only as your dad but also as a person who wants to learn as much about him as possible. That attitude may lend itself to leading questions, sparking memories for him which he can then share with you.

Avoid the phrase “do you remember…?” so you don’t call attention to memory slips. If you say something like, “You once told me about how you skipped stones over the creek near your childhood home,” that question may stimulate his memory. Remember this isn’t about you. It’s about letting your father know that you are interested in him as a whole person. If you learn more about your dad as a person, you’ll have that much more to treasure when he’s gone. Hmm, maybe this is a little bit about you after all.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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