It’s always exciting to talk to an author about an important subject too often overlooked, and that’s the case with senior men and retirement. Author and aging expert Thelma Reese says there are plenty of resources for women facing retirement, but few for men actually address the coming shifts in their emotional and practical lives. Reese’s book, The New Senior Man: Exploring New Horizons, New Opportunities, which I reviewed for this site, fills that niche. We chatted about the genesis for the book, and why men deserve far more than investment and golfing tips as they head into retirement.
What prompted you to write this book? Can you talk about your experiences on book tour for your first book?
We loved meeting groups of women to talk with them about The New Senior Woman. New role models appeared at every turn. Invariably, however, when there were men in the audience, they asked, “When are you going to write the book about men?” We found that books for men about to retire or in retirement were about improving their golf game, managing their investments, or even mixing a better martini. Nothing talked about how they felt about the looming changes, what challenges and opportunities lay ahead, or the possibility of discovery – both of outside and inner worlds.
Why do men have their own set of challenges facing retirement?
Men’s identities are often tied so much to what they do that leaving that role can leave them feeling lost. Unlike women, they rarely have a network of friends with whom they share their personal lives and problems. They may be leaving their only set of friends behind when they leave the workplace. Significantly, men over the age of sixty are likely to have been raised – and conditioned – to “man up” when confronted with painful or difficult situations. They’ve been told to mask their vulnerability and swallow hurt rather than accept and deal with their emotional needs.
Can you give a few examples of men who’ve rewritten their own playbook on retiring, and why they’re inspiring?
Every man in the book is inspiring in some way. When I saw my doctor this morning, he mentioned being particularly inspired by Dada, who tells us at 90 that pain need not bring suffering, and how he is distracted from the physical pain he has by his love of classical music, painting and meditation.
David W. doesn’t “need” his Ph.D. or computer-learning expertise in his new career as a voiceover artist, but the joy of reading to his children never left him, and it seems to be reawakened in this new line of work for him. The early-retired holder of many electronics patents still pursues his lifelong interests — in physics (as an online learner) and in tennis (still able to play in his early sixties). But he describes his occupation as “wood turner,” a craft he finds very satisfying. Everyone who reads the book is going to be inspired by a different story.
Why is retirement changing so much?
Two major factors are affecting retirement: longevity and technology. People are living much longer, and they are entering a world in which technological change is moving at breakneck speed. Illnesses and disabilities that used to shorten life are often now chronic or disabling rather than fatal, because of advances in medicine and physiotherapy.
Did you find that men dealt with intimacy and sex differently than the preceding generation? Why?
Let’s appreciate the fact that what is good about sex and intimacy never changes. But making it good, adjusting to the physical and emotional shifts as one ages often requires new attitudes that reflect evolving relationships between partners. Some seniors mistakenly assume they have reached a stage of immunity to sexually transmitted diseases. Wrong! Others may not realize that satisfying the need for and feeling of intimacy and even romance is not necessarily sexual. We found that when men see their partners as equals, that appears to enhance their relationships in every area.
What’s your advice for a man heading into this next phase of his life?
Read this book! Or at least look around you. Explore interests. Surf the Net. Read. Join. Meet. Share. Engage. Give. See this time as a gift.
Live alone, or live with others? What’s the consensus among the men you interviewed?
There are many ways to live. Being or living alone is not the same as being lonely. The important thing is to figure out how one does best. Many seniors in exclusive relationships still choose to live separately, and happily. Different living situations are discussed in the book. In whatever arrangement, loneliness is counter-productive and has even been shown to shorten life. We are social animals.
How can men stand up to ageism — and how is it different for men than women?
Ageism is ageism. It has to be recognized and confronted. In an era of growing activism, fighting ageism is easier than ever — with groups available to join and support politically. Being an engaged citizen who works on this issue will open up yet another new world, and another circle — an acquaintance of friends who meet around a common cause. Best of all, just being an active, aware senior refutes the very stereotypes that ageists promote.
For more about Thelma Reese and her new book, visit Elderchicks