My aging husband falls off a ladder. Bruised, sore - but ever so fortunately, nothing more. It’s his ego that hurts - no even deeper than that. His physicality is such an important part of who he is.
This is a man who just a few years ago scampered across scaffolding painting murals and intricate effects on walls. He skipped stone to stone across fast creeks, once carried our wounded 65 lb Samoyed half a mile on a hard trail back to camp. He has always counted on his body.
(And so have I.)
We have a friend who led treks to the highest mountains, not that old now really, slowly shuffling around the block two strokes later. Don’t suggest books to him, crafts, or afternoons of foreign movies, unless you want the most dismissive look anyone has ever given you. He doesn’t really want to live. « Who the hell am I now» he asks, « and why bother? »
(It really hurts to hear that. )
|The artist Pierre Bonnard Self Portrait|
And there's our friend who is no longer supposed to drive, who promised he wouldn’t but had a set of keys hidden, his partner was gone for the day and would never know, and the car was just sitting there and why pay for Uber?
« Being unable to drive in our culture is a massive blow
to independence. We attach so much attention to self-reliance
and independence as defining characteristics of masculinity, of
maleness and virility that they have deep significance for the lack
of hope and feeling of insignificance in American men as they face
reduced mobility and independence. Dependence upon charitable
programs, friends, neighbors, or relatives further erodes feelings
of self-capability, confidence and usefulness.» David A. Baker
At my age I’m surrounded by these men, and I feel for
them. I've seen the depression that sets in, that lurks and lingers, and hinders appreciation let alone joy. I have heard men boasting of old exploits to their grandkids so the little ones will know that grandpa was once Really Strong.
(It doesn’t sound like macho to me - just compensation.)
David A. Baker continues « Intimate relationships between women where shared feelings are discussed and support is offered freely, is simply absent in relationships between men. «
|Rembrandt van Rijn Self Portrait|
"Long legs that once carried one with some grace and some speed on the hardwood court or playing field morphed into fragile pipestems ....the body, as Richard Pryor put it, (or was it Ali?) should sue the legs for non-support."
"Does that shuffling codger not know his spider’s legs, purple-veined, are pathetic in walking shorts? In the midst of one’s arrogance and intolerance, a discomforting inisght floods one’s consciousness: these pensioners are one’s peers! »
Gordon Weaver, That Face in the Bathroom Mirror
I read the draft of this blog to my husband. He hopes
that men will read it and share it with each other. I hope so too.
David A. Baker, private correspondence
The essays Growing Old on Two Continents and That Face in the Bathroom Mirror can be found in
Duff Brenna & Thomas E. Kennedy, Winter Tales: Men Writing About Aging, Copenhagen and Florham Park, N.J. : Serving House Books, 2011.