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Four Ways to Celebrate Father’s Day When Dad Has Dementia


When my father-in-law Frank was living with dementia, my husband Ron and I often struggled with how to approach Father’s Day. Even though Frank didn’t know what day it was, it was important to us to celebrate and honor Frank as a father. Here are some of the avenues we explored:

Reminiscing over Favorite Foods
We arranged to eat in the care community’s private dining area. We brought in a meal featuring Frank’s current favorites and some gems from the past. In addition to Frank’s beloved steak and potatoes, Frank’s wife Mollie made her mouth-watering brownies and legendary rice pilaf. As we ate, we talked about meals past. Inspired by the familiar tastes, smells and textures, Frank’s eyes sparkled as he recited one of his favorite phrases: “I’m cool to other women, but I’m hot tamale (Hot to Mollie).”

Naming His Tunes
Frank and Mollie liked to dance occasionally and for one celebration, we printed out song lyrics and sang Frank and Mollie some of their old standards. We didn’t sound like Sinatra and Fitzgerald as we warbled “It Had to be You,” or “Stardust” or “Three Coins in the Fountain,” but we did sound joyful and sincere!

 Scrapbooking Life Stories
Ron and I created a HERO Project for Frank, a story scrapbook that incorporated highlights and photos from Frank’s life, along with a meaningful storyline that captured the essence of his life story. We also created a HERO book for Mollie. We read the HERO Project with Frank and Mollie, using the stories as conversational catalysts. Frank relished the experience, and we enjoyed reading aloud with Frank and remembering all his adventures and all our many shared experiences.

Celebrating Special Qualities and Life Lessons
As we sat together, we talked about some of Frank’s many stellar qualities, which included his easy-going nature, his natural charm, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his willingness to try new things.

 “Did I really do that?” Frank asked, as Ron described the bowling alley Frank and his brother owned and operated when Ron was growing up.

“You did,” Ron said.

“That was really something,” Frank said.

Frank’s comment summed up our Father’s Day celebrations: they were really something. Just being together was wonderful. And taking time to really celebrate Frank with a tender mixture of food, photos, stories, and affirmations was pure magic.

Deborah Shouse is a writer, speaker, editor, former family caregiver, and dementia advocate. Deborah’s latest book,Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together, features dozens of experts in the field of creativity and dementia. These innovators share ideas that engage the creative spirit so you can continue to experience meaningful moments of connecting. Her earlier book, Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey, invites readers to embrace the gifts and blessings in the experience. To learn more, about Deborah and her work, visit DementiaJourney.org.


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