Be sure that whatever you are is you.
----- Theodore Roethke
Remember you? Stop here for a minute. Go take a look in the mirror. You really are the same guy underneath that graying (or not), receding (or not) head of hair, that clean shave (or whatever-is-fashionable-facial-hair growth). The brain is still ticking along, actually filled with more than you may appreciate at the moment.
If your vision is a little less clear, or your hearing not quite as sharp, take heart! You’re living in a time when most oncoming signs of frailty are easily remedied and compensated. (Hearing aids are state-of-the-art and virtually invisible.) You have all the best attributes of the old you (count ‘em), and if you’re one of those men who experiences what feels like an identity crisis, you will not only find yourself again but also discover that the self you find will be even better than you ever expected.
I’VE HAD MY COFFEE AND READ THE NEWSPAPER. NOW WHAT?
This was precisely the question asked by Arthur S. of Baltimore, Maryland, while we were chatting over coffee in a diner. We had both attended a library lecture, where we happened to be sitting next to each other, and struck up a conversation. Arthur told me he liked to read and had decided to attend the library lecture that morning. But this was really just a time killer, he told me, and not too satisfying intellectually. He confessed to being a recent retiree and spending most of his time incredibly bored. I invited him to tell me more.
Well, I still awake to my alarm clock every morning. It’s one habit I can’t seem to break. I still put my watch on the counter in the bathroom, shower, shave, and dress. Only now I no longer wear a suit and tie. I go down to breakfast, read the paper, and at 11 a.m. plan the rest of my day. But that’s where the emptiness begins to loom large. I’m forced to confront the fact that there are many hours left in the day and every day the hours seem longer. Sometimes I have a project around the house to complete. Sometimes I have a doctor’s or a lawyer’s appointment. But on most days, I don’t have a plan. And, believe it or not, I almost panic. I read and I play golf, but that’s not enough. Golf twice a week is enough. More than that is boring, not to mention very expensive!
But here’s what’s eating me. I have three grown children. My eldest is quite successful, has a working wife, and I can’t believe what he’s done. He has quit his perfectly good job to stay at home and raise his daughter! He says he’s not worried that it will ruin his career. He’s not embarrassed to go shopping or pick her up at day care with other parents (women) or hang out at the playground with my granddaughter. I’m embarrassed for him when I have to tell people that he’s a househusband. I wonder if he’s a real guy! Here I am, struggling with retirement after a long working life in a successful business, and he’s decided to “retire” in his forties. But he says it’s only for about ten years. I just don’t get it.
We’ll hear more from Arthur later. But first let’s dissect his quandary. Arthur’s situation is not unique. He has two problems: First, Arthur doesn’t seem to have the resources to make his retirement years as rewarding as his life had been up to this point. Second, he hasn’t come to terms with the fact that his son’s perspective on life may be – in fact, is — different from his. Not of less value, just different.
MAYBE I SHOULD HAVE SEEN THIS COMING!
Arthur started to prepare for his adult life when he was a small child. People asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he knew he’d better have an answer. As he grew up, he knew that he was headed for college, probably marriage, a home of his own, and a job in which he would succeed, making a living so that he could take care of his family. Arthur did it all – and did it well. Arthur’s is a success story. But while he was making all that happen did he plan for his retirement? Probably not.
Arthur’s parents and the generation that preceded theirs didn’t expect long years of retirement, perhaps another third of their lifetime, many years of good health vitality, and the means – perhaps small, but fixed and reliable – and the ability (at least through the Internet) to remain involved in the world. In a way, Arthur and the rest of his generation born during the 1930s and 1940s were blindsided by this bonanza of good fortune. Arthur was, and maybe still is, always worried that tomorrow may bring stormy weather and he must be prepared with a raincoat and galoshes. So maybe he wasn’t prepared for the fact that when he retired in his early sixties he would enter a whole new stage of life, that he might have thirty years of vigorous living ahead of him.
Preparation for retirement usually focuses on financial planning and security. And with good reason. A financially secure life is a lot happier than an insecure one. There’s money to be made here by advisors in the financial industry, and, of course, they’ve risen to the challenge. However, emotional security in this stage of life is of equal importance; sadly, this issue is not so energetically addressed.
MAKING THE MOST OF RETIREMENT YEARS
Often, men who have been happiest and most successful in their work lives have conflated their commitment to their work, even their titles or job descriptions, with their very identity, and society conspires by invariable asking “What do you do?” when a man is introduced. “Who am I?” is a serious question when the work identity is no more.
What does it take to make the most of these retirement years when real change is needed? To make them meaningful, rewarding, stimulating, exciting? To also meet the challenges that will inevitably be experienced? There will be losses and diminishing health, energy, and reserves, even as longevity and medical miracles increase. Arthur has perhaps not contemplated the complexities, the opportunities, the trials that are ahead of him. There is work to be done!
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Rowman & Littlefield. Copyright 2017.
The New Senior Man: Exploring New Horizons, New Opportunities
by Thelma Reese and Barbara M. Fleisher.
Like a conversation among friends, the book introduces readers to new ways of looking at the present and the future, so that men may cultivate a lifestyle that not only suits them, but supports a healthy, rewarding, and enjoyable reframing of life. Each chapter presents a topic relevant to this later stage of life: memory, family dynamics, sexual intimacy, loss, and independence, among others.
About the Author
Thelma Reese, Ed. D., is a passionate expert on retirement. A former English and Education professor, she was a pivotal figure literacy and educational initiatives in Philadelphia: she created and was spokesperson for the Advisory Council for Hooked on Phonics, helped found Philadelphia Young Playwrights, directed the Mayor's Commission on Literacy there, and chaired the Board of Children’s Literacy Initiative. In 1994, she organized the World Symposium on Family Literacy at UNESCO in Paris. She has appeared frequently on Philadelphia television and hosted a cable show. She and Barbara M. Fleisher created the blog www.ElderChicks.com in 2012, and are the co-authors of The New Senior Woman: Reinventing the Years Beyond Mid-Life.