Men's Point Of View:
A Snapshot In Time
By Arloa Jane Walter
Older men who have reached retirement age are special. They have "been there, done that" and now have the time, ways and means to do what it is they really want to do. They have wisdom, experience, and strength and lessons learned, gained from living their lives. They have ideas and truths to pass on to their families and to the community and world. They are an untouched resource for their families and the world.The idea for this book really started a while ago. I was out for my morning walk and ran into a man named Elliot I have seen him on my morning walks for the past few years. We always said hello and wished each other a nice day. As time went on we had a few more things to say-small talk, normal life stuff-about his wife playing golf, that he had hurt his heel, that he had seen his grandchildren who live nearby, and soon we introduced ourselves.
So, that day Elliot and I were talking and I wondered out loud about the people we both used to see while walking. He said he still saw one or two at times and that the others had probably died. He went on to say that eight men on his street had died one after the other. I looked at him and asked, "Wow, how do you handle that?"
He said sadly, "That's just what happens. You get old and then you die."
There was something in his voice and in his eyes that made me want to know more about what he was thinking. I wanted to hear more about the way he was feeling. At that moment I thought about the book I had written a couple of years before. It was called Voices of Older Women and it was about the largely ignored population of older women in our society-women who had so much to say, and so much to contribute and yet no one who would listen. I interviewed 100 women for that book-and while I was talking to Elliot I decided I wanted to interview him.
I remembered when I had my first speaking engagement after Voices of Older Women was published. Afterwards, a man came up and asked me when I was going to do a book about men. I told him then that I didn't know. But after speaking with Elliot, my immediate thought was that writing a book about men was an inspiration and the perfect follow-up to the work I had done with women.
Men's Point of View is an attempt to discover what retirement-aged men think about their lives, their family, the younger generation, men and women, careers and work, society, current affairs, retirement, and the personal stories about how they got where they are and what they have to say to the world.
Voices of Older Women came about because of my years of professional work with the older population, especially older women. I talked to women mostly in my community (Lincoln Hills, a senior community outside of Sacramento, Calif.) but also many outside of the community-100 in all ranging in age from 50 to 95 years old. I found that some felt that they were neglected, disrespected, unacknowledged, and forgotten as they got older. The women had suffered many losses-youth and beauty in a youth and beauty dominated world, families that grew up and moved away, spouses through divorce and death, and jobs because they retired. I found that these women really wanted to talk. They had much to say about their journeys and how circumstances had brought them to retirement-30 years or so to live with no guidelines, direction or in many cases anyone to share it with. These women often took up new careers and found new friends and accepted their new lives.
After my conversation with Elliot, I decided I wanted to interview older men and see whether their experiences were the same or different. I didn't know what to expect with the men but immediately found the whole process much more difficult. First, it was harder to find men to interview. Second, these older men were not as talkative or expressive as the women. But I knew that they all had a story to tell, so I designed a questionnaire and went ahead. I interviewed 34 men, almost all residents of Lincoln Hills.
Lincoln Hills is a unique community in many ways; the men and women who live here have chosen to move to a senior community away from the average everyday neighborhoods, exclusively senior populated-no one under 55, relatively well to do-as most have sold a home and have some assets and are free to do what they want to do.
The interviews started with a few men I had come to know living here in Lincoln Hills, then continued after talking about the project to some of the women I knew. They gave me some referrals, but the process was very slow. In the end I interviewed 34 men. We would meet at my home or at theirs if they preferred. I had prepared a questionnaire with about 60 questions. The interviews usually lasted between 45 minutes and one hour.
There were seven men in their 80s, 15 men in their 70s, 10 in their 60s and two in their 40s. Most lived in Lincoln Hills while a few lived in the surrounding area. Most were retired although a few still worked part time. Most had time to reflect on their lives as well as check out all the activities here. All the names of the men have been changed to preserve their privacy.
I'm not sure exactly how or why it happened but as I was interviewing the men and listening to them, and then later as I wrote this book, the concept of Life Review invaded my thoughts. Briefly it is a process that older persons take on consciously or not, at a certain time in their lives and it consists of looking back at their lives and relationships, noticing what is finished and also what is not, and realizing that what is not finished can be amended or changed. Then they can move on to accepting their lives and taking pride in them. They can start telling their stories to family and the community. This is all a part of the developmental stages we all go through in our lives according to psychologist Erik Erikson and others. There is much more on this subject later in the book.
This concept was not apparent to me when I interviewed the women for my previous book, Voices of Older Women, possibly because we talked easily about everything. With the men, who seemed to be more guarded and not so talkative, there seemed to be some missing parts. As I read more about the life review concept, I thought it could and should be a part of the natural progression of retirement in life, when there is time to reflect on things as well as to participate in all the activities and hobbies and interests one wants to explore.
There were some questions in the questionnaire, especially in the "Off the Cuff" section that seemed to encourage and elicit some of the life review naturally. In thinking about this I can say that it could at least have represented the start of the life review process for the men I interviewed because the questions triggered some memories and issues for some.
This is how and why the concept of life review came to be such an important part of the book. We are all doing it at some level after retirement and as we get older.
Retirement… Or Finally Just Doing What They Want To Do?
Compared to their fathers and grandfathers, many men now retire early and will live as a retired person far longer, depending on their individual situation. In past generations, the average lifespan was shorter and some men died as early as 40. Work was also different-far more physical in nature. Men did not have the options they do now and maybe did not have the extra money for travel and pleasure.
Looking at retirement now is different than it was even a decade ago. In the past, men in their 70s and older worked hard and when it was time to retire, they did. Generally, there was no choice and besides, they were tired. It was time and it was the thing to do. Once retired, one could travel, move, take up a new hobby or go fishing. Some would not want to get involved with a new hobby but would enjoy just not getting up every day for work, could sit and enjoy the free time. Others would join a club, serve on a committee, or decide to see the world if they could afford it and many could. They have saved for retirement without thinking much about it and also on their jobs the company often paid into it.
Of course there are a couple of really big issues that can affect and change all of the above. If the person is struggling to make ends meet or with very little income, when that income dries up he can be really devastated and unhappy. The other key issue is health. If one or one's spouse is ill with a chronic condition or suddenly has a stroke or heart attack or any other debilitating condition he is also in a different category and will feel age very soon or at least much before a person who is healthy. Illness can make one feel old very quickly. I refer to this phenomenon as "The Other Side of The Rosy Story" and it is addressed later in the book in Chapter 9.
All of these men have ideas, suggestions and comments on the family, younger generation, and differences between men and women, society, the hot topics of the day. They all have things they would do if they had the influence and power to change things. They all have families with which they are involved or not. Many are married for the second and third time, and only two were widowed.
Their comments are worth writing about for the world to see. Their personal responses are also something for them and their families to see. Just the idea of answering the questions, and letting me hear about their lives is in itself enough to put down on paper. I felt privileged to hear the stories of their accomplishments, disappointments, worries, abilities, strengths, and wishes, regrets and plans. They let me, a complete stranger, into their lives for and hour and shared a lot with me. So I want to share that with the world for them and their families.
Why a book on these older men? Because they have value. They have wisdom, they have learned lessons, worked hard, and have experienced so much. They can teach and direct and advise the younger generation. They can also gain complete satisfaction for a life well lived, and did the best they could with what they had. They can claim their strengths, forgive their enemies, family and friends and realize they are great. They can heal themselves and be proud of who they really are without any external identity labels. They are husbands, fathers, grandfathers, brothers, sons, friends and neighbors. They have so much to say, and I want to validate and acknowledge their value, sensitivity, intelligence, and manhood and humanity.
A Snapshot in Time
This book is a beginning, a start, a brief look at what a few good men, in a certain place, at a certain time in life, a certain time in history, had to say. But it could all change in a day, or next month, or next year.
Arloa Jane Walter
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