Her gift to her 90-year-old dad: a trip to the strip club
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I confess. I took my 90-year-old dad to a strip joint as a present. It wasn’t my idea; I have a crazy friend who dreams up stuff like this. But it turned out to be one of the silliest and most memorable things I’ve ever done. Though people may cringe at the very thought of a strip club, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend the outing for everyone, there’s something to be said about the benefits of laughter and about celebrating holidays and birthdays with gusto, regardless of age. Creating memories is wonderful, even if some of the people involved end up forgetting the experience by the next day. (That was sort of a joke.)
A friend of mine who loves extreme celebrations hired a high school marching band to parade around her dad’s nursing home playing “Happy Birthday” and other sprightly party tunes. She gave out kazoos to residents so they could play along. Her only regret? She forgot to make a video; she thinks it would have been funny enough to go viral.
Another friend organized his family into an acting troupe and performed a vaudeville show at his mom’s senior center as a Christmas gift. The audience laughed uproariously — mostly because the group was so bad.
Not everyone can pull off a vaudeville show or afford a marching band. But we all can still plan a special celebration. One woman I know made short video clips of friends telling their favorite things about her dad. She played it at his birthday. It revealed the kind of sentiments that unfortunately aren’t usually heard until a funeral. In this case, her dad got to enjoy the words of praise and laugh along at the jokes and stories people told about him.
Laughter is contagious, said happiness expert Christine Carter, a sociologist with the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. “Hang out with a couple of friends or family members who are likely to be laughing. Their laughter is likely to get you laughing too,” she said. But even if it doesn’t, listening to them laugh will lighten your mood.
“Neuroscientists believe that hearing another person laugh triggers neurons in a region of the brain that makes a listener feel as though she is actually laughing herself,” Carter said.
Educators, hospitals and mental health clinics promote the value of laughter. Among its benefits, they have said: It boosts the immune system. It can help to prevent heart disease. It improves your quality of life. It relieves stress. It builds relationships.
I’m not sure my own funny story did all those things, but it has kept my friends and me laughing ever since.
It began when my crazy friend decided that my dad, Charles, and another friend’s equally ancient father, Al, had been spending too much time nodding off in front of their TV sets. She thought it would be nice to spice up their lives with a birthday celebration that would include an outing to the nearest gentleman’s club.
So off we went to Mr. J’s, an unobtrusive-looking Santa Ana bar, on a Sunday afternoon to catch the first show of the day. The timing was perfect, as far as we were concerned. There were the three of us (two daughters and their crazy friend), the two elderly gents and a club empty of everyone except dancers, bartender and bouncer.
The dads rolled into the club, literally: Al sitting in his wheelchair and my dad steering his walker. Everyone looked our way, but if our little oddball parade surprised anyone, they didn’t show it. We noticed some smiles, but the staff was professional, if that’s what one would call it.
The dads took a spin down to the stage, where they parked at the edge waiting for the show to begin. We sat several rows back, unsure what to expect.
Then the lights lowered and dancers began appearing onstage, strutting sexily, snaking around a pole and doing slow strip-teases. The dads weren’t sleepy this afternoon. They were laughing and nudging each other’s arms.
But my crazy friend thought they were missing out on part of the traditional strip club routine. So she pulled some $1 bills out of her wallet, and handed them forward to the dads.
Both put the bills in their pockets.
“No,” she said, “they’re for the girls. Give them to the girls.” They looked at her like she was speaking a foreign language. Two Depression-era guys with a couple of extra dollars that appeared out of the blue? No way would they give them away.
My friend kept on trying. She asked each of them which dancer he liked (both chose Cheyenne) and announced she was buying them each a lap dance. My dad, the birthday boy, would be first. He put aside the walker and stood up, his arms outstretched.
Cheyenne wasn’t sure what was going on. Neither were we. Then my dad stepped in close and began gliding her around the club in a Viennese waltz. He had a grin the size of Texas.
Other parties were held for him that year, including a large family-and-friends gathering. He enjoyed them all. But I never saw that same smile again.
The day after our trip to Mr. J’s, the three of us took Dad out to lunch. “Did you have fun yesterday?” Al’s daughter asked. “I really did,” my dad said. “I don’t quite remember why. But I had a very good time, indeed.”
-- Rosemary McClure
It’s All Relative, McClure’s column on caring for and staying connected with aging parents, appears monthly. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.