Celebrating Father’s Day is shaping up to be tricky. The country is reopening, but experts have said to remain cautious and limit indoor gatherings. And, with millions of Americans out of a job, this may not be the best time to splurge on a present. What to do instead? Below, some meaningful ways you can honor Dad this year.
Show your appreciation.
Tell your father how much he means to you in a handwritten letter. To make it really personal, use a plain piece of paper, rather than a card, suggests Linda Nielsen, a professor of educational and adolescent psychology at Wake Forest University.
The key is to recall specific moments where he made a lasting impact on you. “It can’t be generic,” Ms. Nielsen said, adding, “It can’t have anything to do with money.”
Thanking him for his financial support places more value on his ability to provide than on who he is as a person, so jot down instances when you truly connected. Younger children can either recite a letter to an older sibling or a parent who can write it down for them, or draw a picture that says it all.
Wendy Mogel, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and author on parenting, also recommends writing a letter. “The gift is a gift of memory,” she said. So many significant moments from our lives are displayed on social media posts that are public, impermanent and curated for a big audience, she added. “This is really intimate, specific and personal.”
Or, make a shared journal. Chris Pegula, the author of a guide for new fathers called “Diaper Dude,” and the creator of a diaper bag company of the same name, says the whole family can write entries in a personalized notebook under the prompt: “I love you because … ” Decorate the pages with pictures or drawings to make it pop.
And the gift doesn’t have to end. You can add an entry every week or month, giving your father new reasons to smile.
Get to know your father.
Take a moment to ask your father all sorts of questions about his life. Ms. Nielsen, an expert on father-daughter relationships, says daughters in particular would have much to gain. “We know from decades of research: Fathers and daughters don’t know each other as well as mothers and daughters do,” she said.
Along those lines, Bruce Feiler, a former New York Times columnist and the author of the book-turned-NBC drama “Council of Dads,” suggests starting a storytelling project.
After his father grew ill, Mr. Feiler began emailing him a question every Monday morning. He got off to a light start: What was your childhood home like? What toys did you play with? How did you join the Navy? Their correspondence went on for seven years, and, Mr. Feiler called it “the most incredible experience that any of us has ever had.”
Men are more vulnerable these days, Mr. Feiler said, but some older fathers (like his) might have kept things bottled up inside to fulfill an outdated stereotype. “There was a standard of masculinity that was not universal, but that was widely regarded, that men and dads were supposed to be ‘Mr. Fix It,’” he added. “Keep your feelings to yourself and be the strong person who solved problems.”
Whether or not your father assumed that stoic role, the storytelling project may encourage him to open up and look back on meaningful moments. Mr. Feiler said his father shared secrets he had kept for decades.
For a more playful approach, rope in the whole family and get to know your father through trivia. Have him team up with a family member to create a quiz about his life. (The questions should be difficult, otherwise you won’t learn much.) Bring out some snacks and make a game night out of it. If you’re all in separate houses, have someone create the quiz in a PowerPoint presentation and share it over a Zoom call.
Harness your creativity.
Are you a painter? Create an artwork that will resonate with your father. It can be a portrait, a sketch of his favorite place or an image that recalls a special moment you shared.
Are you a wordsmith? Write a poem or short story. If he has a favorite genre — say, science fiction or horror — channel it. Filmmakers can create short movies, musicians can record songs — you get the idea.
Mr. Pegula’s three children are now teenagers and young adults, and each has a creative hobby, he said. A gift made personally for him using their artistic talents would be doubly special.
“I love that type of, you know, homemade experience,” he said. “My daughter plays the ukulele, and having her sing something would be so amazing and so memorable.” (Hint, hint.)
Keep it simple.
Let’s face it — these are stressful times. So don’t feel pressured to give the gift of the century. Here are a few ideas that never get old:
Spend quality time with your father, even if it’s over a Zoom call. Bond with him over his favorite hobby — be it exercising, cooking or bird-watching.
A small gesture goes a long way. After schools across the country shifted to remote learning, many fathers have had to take on the role of teacher. Young children can show their thanks by doing a favor in return. “I’d be thrilled with breakfast in bed,” Mr. Pegula said.
Create a book of coupons for all types of activities. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist in Cambridge, Mass., and an expert on the impact of technology on child development and family relationships, said her children used to give her I.O.U.’s that offered help with whatever she needed, “which was a very sweet inversion of the hierarchy.” If you’re tech savvy and your father struggles to manage his email, share some essential tips and tricks. If he has always wanted to learn how to play guitar and you’re the next Jimi Hendrix, teach him the basics.
When all else fails, simply ask him what he wants, especially if the coronavirus restrictions have brought the whole family together under one roof. Some fathers may be rejoicing; others may want some alone time.
“I really feel for those dads who have three kids under 8,” Mr. Feiler said. “They need an hour to themselves.” But, he added, “I think those with older kids would actually love to cling and hold on a little tighter.”