Saturday, February 23, 2019

MWW Doesn't Let the Old Man In

He'll sneak up on you.  He's inactive.  He casts a dark and foreboding shadow for men of a certain age.  If left unchecked, he'll kill you.  He aims to take refuge in each aging man.  He surrounds us.  He is the old man threatening to get in, dominate you, and keep you miserable until you die.

I first learned about this intriguingly-named varmint when a friend sent me links to a story about Toby Keith and Clint Eastwood.  After playing a round of golf together, Toby Keith, the country singer, asked Clint how he was going to celebrate his upcoming 88th birthday.  Clint Eastwood replied with his trademark calm, "I'm about to shoot a movie".  Toby Keith had trouble understanding the motive of the actor/director, so he asked, "But, why".  You're going to be 88 after all".  Eastwood's understated response: "I get up everyday and don't let the old man in".

How cool is that?

Although it is not our mantra for Men's Wisdom Works, perhaps it should be.  My key goal in starting MWW was to prevent social isolation.  That dreaded demon for older men can make the road to aging wind downhill with depression, misery, and early death.  Social engagement and active aging transform that journey into an adventure.

Our efforts to "don't let the old man in" are working well.  Permit me to cite a few examples of how our members live to keep the old man out.  Richard paddles his canoe whenever the weather gives him the go signal.  He's most fulfilled when challenging class 5 rivers like the New, the Colorado, and the Green Rivers. The more the rapids, the better.  Richard is 71.

Gene was a couch potato before hanging up his career.  Now, this 71-year-old mega hiker is set to traverse the El Camino De Santiago pilgrimage trail winding its way through Western Europe.  His next hike will mark his 6th since 2011.  Most of his hikes run about 500 miles.  Gene paces the trails in about 32-35 days.

Ed played basketball throughout his educational years, and then for the Third Air Force Europe.  Ed decided to test his surviving basketball skills once more, in a pick-up basketball game at Carrier Park, in Asheville.  The other players were in their 30's and 40's.  When his favorite hesitation, back-up, over the shoulder layup landed him flat on his butt, he concluded that working out in the gym would have to do from then on.  Ed was 84 when his signature shot landed him on his pride and in the gym.

Several men in various MWW groups ride motorcycles in a group or solo.  Many of our members teach classes at UNC Asheville's Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  Even more members take classes at OLLI.

Bill teaches poetry classes.  Dave, from another MWW group, who never wrote a poem, is now prolific in the art as he writes thoughtful and reflective poetry.  Ted has written two books in retirement and he's working on his third.

More than a few of our members took Randy's classes on writing and performing stand-up comedy.  They all shined brightly in the spotlight before more than 100 audience members.  Seventy-four-year-old Bill, dealing with Parkinson's for the past 14 years, lit up the audience in several of those performances with his killer material and delivery.  

Members of one of our men's groups, Givens Guys Group, based at a retirement center in Asheville, range in age from 72-98.  Their average age is in the upper 80's.  They possess a special kind of wisdom that accompanies their remarkable life experiences.  These men remind us of the importance of reinforcing the powerful three-legged stool to keep the old man from getting in.  They define the three legs as physical exercise to keep the body in shape and adaptable; challenging mental activity to keep one's mind open, active, and adaptable; and living a spiritual life to embrace personal peace.  They added that spirituality takes many forms, religious or non-religious.  Larry, 85, summed it all up by adding that ultimately, it's one's attitude that drives the old man away.

The group's cheerleader, Smoky at 98, fends off the old man daily with his zest for life, razor sharp wit, and his personal brand of optimism.  His upbeat nature rubs off on anyone nearby.  The armor of joy shielding this veteran of Iwo Jima, wards off the old man.  It's contagious.

As for me, I love my wife, I hike, ride my bicycle, walk 4 miles daily, exercise at the gym, kayak, play golf, meditate, and travel.  I've morphed into a professional storyteller and writer...of MWW blogs.  These are the elements of my invisible shield.  For all our nearly 200 members, MWW stands as a fortress making it damned difficult to let the old man in.

Here are links to Clint and Toby's back story, and Toby Keith's song in Clint Eastwood's latest movie, "The Mule".

Click the next sentence to find   The Back Story to Don't Let the Old Man In

Click the next sentence to hear    The movie soundtrack to "Don't Let The Old Man In"

Saturday, December 8, 2018

My friend Larry Fincher-A computer wiz for all ages

I've met so many men with long remarkable lives who come together to form Givens Guys Group at The Givens Estates, a retirement community in Asheville.  The group is the only one of our 16 men's groups that is not directly part of Men's Wisdom Works which operates from OLLI UNC Asheville.  It stands alone as a men's group for residents of Givens Estates with 14 members.

I first met Larry Fincher by way of computer.  No, not computer dating.  I was struggling with a complex computer system while teaching a class at OLLI on the mayhem and madness of The Marx Brothers four years ago.  Mayhem indeed.  It was like Grouch and Harpo took control of the classroom.

Typically I solve my own computer issues, but not this time.  Seeing my angst and frustration one class member stepped forward and offered, "Let me give you a hand".  His hand saved my butt in the classroom.  That was Larry; unassuming, polite and an expert on all things computer-related.  Larry was 80 at the time.

At the end of the 3rd of four sessions highlighting the lives and antics of the Marx Brothers Larry devised a plan that was pure comedy gold.  By that session the tech system and I were simpatico.  Finally, it worked without a hitch.  As the 4th and final class began I donned a Harpo get-up as Larry conceived in his plan.  I faked another computer problem.  Larry strolled in from the back dressed like and walking like Groucho.  The Marx Brothers came to life.  Larry's eyes twinkled as he pulled a rubber chicken from under the computer.  His creativity turned chaos into comedy gold, creating the best classroom dynamic I ever experienced in my 37 years teaching adults.

Larry possesses a thorough applied understanding of computer technology.  We're often told that if you need any help on your technology consult with someone under 20 years of age.  Larry tosses that notion out the door at age 84.

Larry's computer expertise came from his personal interest in learning, applying and teaching computers.  He did not major in computer science.

Larry earned a master's degree in physics from Vanderbilt in 1958.  In the early 60's Larry took his first computer course using the MISTIC system (Michigan State Integral Computer).  In 1961-1967, as an Assistant Professor of Physics, he integrated computing into classical lab procedures.  In 1967-69, he worked to complete his Ph.D. in Administration of Higher Education at The University of Michigan.  Larry took advanced courses in computing.

During his time at Michigan he dove deep into computer tech working on the huge "IBM mainframe 360".  He had to dive deep.  His dissertation required advanced computer skills.  It was an era of significant advances in computer technology and Larry found himself at the forefront in understanding and adapting this growth spurt in computer science.

With his Ph.D. in tow, Larry served in administration and teaching at the U of M, UNC Greensboro, and ended his career at in academe at The University of Oregon.  While at The University of Oregon he supervised the installation of the most advanced university computer systems, including a fiber optics network and the first online registration system.

Now at 84, Larry is an influencer and coach for younger and older folks, alike.  At Givens Estates he is the go-to computer guru for the many residents with computer issues.  Larry's son, David, built his first computer at summer camp during his high school years.  David continues the family tradition as an advanced systems consultant in Shanghai China.  Larry and his son have had continual interaction keeping up with the evolution of computer science into the current environment of mobile devices communicating worldwide with social media.  Computers are in Larry;s family DNA.

In recent years, Larry advises his granddaughter on the many uses of her Apple laptop, iPad, and iPhone.  This reverses that axiom of the "under 20 computer expert" we've been programmed to use as our computer expert.  Larry's granddaughter is 18.  He 84 year old granddad is her computer wiz.

As the family patriarch Larry coaches his granddaughter who, because of Larry's coaching, has learned to communicate using social media and other online resources with her father in Shanghai.  Larry shares his excitement with her as they correspond around the globe whether she's in Colorado or Shanghai.  She is a freshman at the University of Colorado-Boulder.  She continues to use the expertise and insights she learned from her Gramps to stay connected with him, her father, and the world.

So, this holiday season of gift exchanges and love of family and friends, I think of Larry, and his gifts of learning, passion for teaching, and his never-ending grasp of advanced computer technology to serve others.  To the Givens Guys Group, his family and friends...Larry is the best gift of all.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Smoky Williams-An American Hero and True Patriot in Service to his Country

Every member of Men’s Wisdom Works brings his special experience, talents, and memories.  Within this mix, one group brings an added richness.  These are the men of The Givens Guys Group (GGG).  These 15 men live in the Givens Estates retirement community in Asheville.  It has been my deep and abiding honor to facilitate meetings for this MWW group operating by a different name.
For several future posts to our blog, I will highlight some of these extraordinary men who, except for two, are all in their 80’s and 90’s.  Their vigor matches the men in all our groups, but it is their experiences that give pause for thought.

Would you agree that the word and concept of patriotism is being sullied by politicians and their rabid supporters in the current climate of divisiveness?  To try to better understand true patriotism I started by looking up the definition of patriotism in the Oxford Dictionary which defines patriotism as “The quality of being patriotic, devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country.”  As the co-opting of the word and concept is under assault for political gain I found the best example of patriotism in its truest sense from a man in Givens Guys Group.

Mansfield (Smoky) Williams had it made.  Born to a life of privilege he graduated from Princeton University in 1942 with a degree in chemical engineering.  Albert Einstein taught as a guest lecturer in Smoky’s physics class.  Upon graduation Smoky secured a defense industry job at US Rubber.
Something wasn’t clicking for this man.  Something wasn’t right for him.  He needed permission to resign so he could serve in the military during WWII.  Smoky felt a duty to his country.  Shortly after graduating from a very prestigious university and landing a job that marked him as essential personnel, so he could not be drafted, Smoky enlisted in the Marine Corps, and reported to Camp Pendleton.

His parents were shocked that their son would give up his safe life to join the war effort.  Then, in a letter that Smoky remembers receiving as if it came today, his father, a veteran of WWI, commended his son and gave Smoky his full support for committing to serve his country in WWII.

As a second lieutenant, he trained at Camp Pendleton for 9 months.  Then his training took him to Hawaii where he continued training and preparing for what was perhaps the bloodiest, most ruthless battle of the war.  Smoky led his platoon as they were part of the first wave of Marines to fight the Japanese at Iwo Jima.  Movies, books, and TV shows try to show us the horror soldiers endured on the battlefield.  They don’t come close to the reality Smoky and every other marines experienced on Iwo.

He fought and led by example.  He worked to secure safety, as best he could, for his men in battle.  Despite his passion to serve and bring his men home, only half his men returned alive.

Once stateside, he returned to Princeton to relearn what he forgot about chemical engineering.  War can have that effect on a returning Marine.  He went on to enjoy a successful career in chemical engineering from which he retired in 1982.

My friend, Smoky, continues to defy norms.  At age 97, he still plays golf.  Smoky took up the game at 70 because his wife could no longer play tennis with him.  Because of his age, he rides in a golf cart posting a white flag so that he can drive his cart anywhere on the course.  But let’s be clear.  This white flag symbolizes anything but surrender for this veteran of Iwo Jima.

He possesses a delightful sense of humor that keeps our Givens Guys Group laughing with him…never, ever at him, as he tells stories laced with humor, energy and playfulness of a much younger man.  Smoky remains passionate about patriotism and serving his country.  For him, patriotism is not about flag waving or bellicose boasting.  For Smoky, patriotism means service to your country, your community, your neighbors.  The military offers one service option, but Smoky sees many other ways for us to give back.

He believes serving on the PTA, behaving decently to fellow Americans of all stripes, serving up manners when behind the wheel, caring for neighbors, joining the Peace Corp or VISTA, and helping in the aftermath of natural disasters, all stand for “real” love of country.  Smoky continues as a role model for his contemporaries and younger folks as well.  More than believing in America, he served his country and continues to do so today as an ambassador for decency, the Marine Corps, Princeton University, and treating all with respect.  Smoky Williams, you are a true American hero, and I’m so proud to know you and to laugh with you and work with you at The Givens Guys Group.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The expression of feelings and the art of diplomatic candor within Men's Wisdom Works Group 3--Buck Bragg

In 1958 Casey Stengel, the legendary manager of the New York Yankees, was called to testify before the U.S. Senate Committee on Antitrust and Monopoly.  Stengel had a great mind for the game of baseball, but while dressed in a suit and questioned by lawyers about baseball’s antitrust exemption, he surely felt as out of place as a unicorn in a nightmare.  Following one particularly disjointed response, Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver, not wanting to embarrass the much revered Stengel, said gently:  "Mr. Stengel, I'm not sure that I made my question clear."

Senator Kefauver likely honed his impeccable sense of tactfulness during his long stint in Congress.  May we all remember well, the Senate was once a place for debate and discussion, almost always carried on with civility and diplomacy.  Sadly, those qualities are demonstrably lacking in today’s Senate chambers, but we try to keep them center stage during our men’s group meetings.

When our group formed seven years ago, I naively agreed to serve as the initial facilitator.  Truth told, I felt as clueless as Casey Stengel before that antitrust committee.  Yes, I understood that we weren’t supposed to talk about religion, or politics, or baseball, or anything else that held even the vaguest interest to me.  We were supposed to talk about feelings and emotions and relationships.  And we were supposed to do so openly and candidly from day one.  “Yo, nice to meet you guys.  Let me tell you how it felt when I first discovered my father was a cross-dresser.”

Learning how to express intimate thoughts in the setting of a group of guys (strangers initially) involves a steep learning curve.  Quite simply, our work careers and our past social interactions seldom prepare us for this. 

Even the language was new.  “Speak from the heart” was the catchphrase I continued to hear, always uttered in hushed tones and with great solemnity.  But for me, they might as well have whispered “Speak French.”  I didn’t know how to do either.

Over time we all improve at these interactions.  We let ourselves become vulnerable.  We learn to trust that our comments and our confidences will be respected.  We value and learn from the stories and insights of others.  And we’re constantly surprised and uplifted by the common threads that have woven their way through our separate lives.

We also learn that to speak openly and candidly doesn‘t mean to speak indiscriminately.  We learn the difference between participating in a conversation, and dominating it.  Do the math: in a typical men’s group meeting of ten guys, each member should be listening rather than talking 90% of the time!  And I mean truly listening, not merely pausing to think about what you’re going to say next.  Look around the room.  Are there members of the group who have not yet spoken?  If so, try to engage them.  In our group, we share the responsibility to encourage every member of the group to participate in every subject at every meeting. 

And we strive to be diplomatic in offering our thoughts and comments.  We recognize that members of our group, like most others, vary greatly in their health, wealth, and family relationships.  So as we express our feelings about travel, physical fitness, and intimate family reunions, we try to keep in mind that these involve means, abilities, and circumstances that don’t exist equally across the group. 

 Finally, we’ve learned that starting a sentence with the words “I feel” doesn’t magically turn it into an acceptable statement of our feelings.  Consider this perfectly appropriate comment: “I feel more optimistic about my financial well-being.”  Contrast it with the boorish and self-congratulatory:  “I feel great about the $50,000 I made in the stock market last week.”  So yes, tell stories with the candor that expresses true feelings.  But do so with the purpose of unifying and strengthening the group, and not in a way that might be perceived as boastful, insensitive, or divisive. 

Oscar Wilde once defined a gentleman as "one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally."  Wilde would have been welcomed into our group.  We would have enjoyed his wit and his candor.  And I’d like to think that he would have been grateful as I am for a men’s group composed of a dozen caring, respectful, and diplomatic gentlemen. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Renewal: A Life Lost and a Life Saved--Douglas H. Geister

I had a career in the health care industry as did my wife Carolyn who died from Alzheimer's after suffering all phases of this cruel disease for eight long years.  She was kept at home with private duty nursing care throughout.  The most difficult thing for me was to observe her fun loving, vivacious personality and powerful intellect gradually evaporate.

Carolyn was a charismatic feminist and renaissance woman.  She was a leader and teacher, and held positions of Clinical Professor at several universities.  Prior to our move to Asheville she was Vice President of Patient Care Services at Cincinnati Children's Medical Center.

And Carolyn changed my life.  She lived large and in "The Now".  She was a tennis player, down hill and cross country skier, golfer, was a great sailor and oil painter.  She loved the arts, traveled widely, and was fascinated by other cultures.  She had a great life and a good ride.  It was my privilege to spend my years with such an extraordinary woman.

My observation of what happened to my wife as the disease progressed through its stages had a devastating emotional impact on me.  As a result, I wallowed in self pity, drank to excess, slept for long periods, had no energy or initiative, dropped out of community activities and cut off social contacts.  I was not a pleasant person to be with.  I was in deep depression.

One day I decided to climb out of the pit I dug for myself.  I ventured out by enrolling in two classes at OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UNC Asheville.  One of them was Men's Wisdom Works, taught by Chuck Fink.  Men's Wisdom Works is Chuck's brainchild, a genius of an idea and elegant in its simplicity.  It is a way, a method by which men can get together and talk about their experiences, their hopes, dreams, plans, fears, joys and concerns.  It is something that men find hard to do because of how our culture has conditioned us, and because there are no organizations that encourage this sort of communication.

I joined Group V, a group of eleven men in generally the same age category, from a variety of different backgrounds, all of them interesting men with diverse life experiences.  We share personal information about who we are and where we are in life.  We learn from one another by sharing our life experiences.  The Group became my lifeline to getting back into a healthy lifestyle.  We have become a brotherhood of sorts, and there is nothing I would not do to support any of them.

I have learned with these brothers that life goes on, but also life is short and unforgiving.  I am fortunate in having met a woman who is my life companion.  I have a boat that we sail on a nearby lake, play golf, attend social and cultural functions and travel together.  My health is good and I'm enjoying life with Julia.  Much of it happened because of Chuck Fink and MWW Group V.  I will always be grateful for Chuck and his Men's Wisdom Works idea.  It saved my life.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Yin and Yang of Men's Wisdom Works

“This must be tough for you”.  Those empathic words of concern were softly spoken by my friend Richard.  He leaned in when my men’s group talked of a mutual friend who passed away in October of last year.  Then, Richard added, “You must know every Men’s Wisdom Works member who dies”.  I stroked my brow as I reflected, and without much of a pause I replied, “Yes, it is difficult losing these men, but there is a yang to that yin.  I’m able to see the impact MWW has on our 150 members and their loved ones while we’re still strolling above the ground."  As our members continue to age, Men's Wisdom Works supplies the shelter for sustaining meaningful friendships.  Our bonds lay the groundwork for living a good life during the latter stages of life.

Since Richard’s supportive statement three more men of MWW have passed away.  The toll grows heavy as I’m asked to speak at the memorial services for these deceased members.
To witness the love and presence our members share with our ailing brothers seems like a mirage when you consider our male-patterned conditioning to keep our feelings at bay.  Men are wired to hold back emotions and move on.  But the depth of friendship, bonding and social engagement within MWW groups changes that worn out paradigm.  As we lose fellow MWW members we cry together, remember together, and celebrate the life of our deceased brothers.  Then we move on as one.

The man who was the first man I asked to join MWW 2009 passed away early January.  Dave cleverly stated that he only joined the first group because he did not want me to be alone in this social experiment.  Dave became the heart of our group, always bellowing that “It is a great day to be alive”.  We made our loving presence felt as we comforted Dave, his wife and their family, week after week as his life slowly ebbed away.  Now, we leave an empty chair when we hold our bi-monthly meetings, so we remain forever honoring his memory and our friendship.  Dave’s widow, Kaaren, knows she is part of our extended group of men and our loved ones

This devotion to a sick or dying member of MWW certainly is not limited to my group, Group I.  The men of Men's Wisdom Works drive our ailing brothers to appointments.  As a brother's illness worsens, MWW group members make frequent visits to the three H's:  homes, hospital and hospice.  We develop schedules for visitation and food delivery.  One of our members even accepted the role of executor for a fellow member's estate as his friend's life wound down.  All 150 of us are there for each other in good times and “not so good” times.  That's what brothers do.

Perhaps our experiences with loss of aging friends may serve as an example, maybe even a role model, for older men losing friends via the ceaseless actions of the grim reaper.  The choice is clear.  One may choose to isolate himself and have loneliness as his sole companion when he rounds third and head for home.  Or, an aging man may choose to surround himself with friends, especially male friends.  The latter life choice offers a living antidote to depression, anger and early death for a man who otherwise would languish as an island in his later years.

In a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, Stephanie Coontz, director of research at the Council on Contemporary Families, cites the following stats concerning loneliness and life span:  One analysis of 148 separate health studies found that people who cultivated a wide network of social networks had a 50% lower early mortality risk than those lacking friends and social relationships.  In fact, Coontz tells us that having a substantial network of friends gives older folks better protection against early mortality than death due to smoking or obesity.

Research of 28,000 people in nearly 100 countries by William Chopik of Michigan State University found that among older adults, relationships with friends are a better indicator of good health and happiness than relationships with family.  A 2017 study found people who often socialize with good friends have partners reporting fewer depressive symptoms as do study subjects.  The evidence supports what the men of Men's Wisdom Works experience daily in our retirement.  
That positive yang I spoke of earlier is the lifeblood for the MWW groups.  Our membership grows.  In that spirit of renewal, our 15th MWW group forms tomorrow.  How does MWW sustain its expansion?  The many stories of the impact on the lives of those of us in MWW seem to go viral in our city of 89,000.  For older men in Asheville, our stories broadcast messages of hope and joy to men in search of meaning in life's third stage.

The members of the newest Men’s Wisdom Works group already understand the uniqueness of MWW. Each man expressed his desire to join by telling me of his eagerness to develop bonds with other older men.  Like the rest of us they’re eager to build a community of male friends.
So, as we mourn our losses, we continue our mission with a growing roster of members and groups.  Here’s a toast to members we’ve lost and to the new members we gain, and to the joyous and meaningful life 150 older men and their loved ones enjoy today.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

In Memoriam

Change is inevitable, but changes can sometimes prove difficult for people as they age.  I’m no different.

I’ve learned the skill of acceptance when it comes to changes within Men’s Wisdom Works.  I’m certain that the same holds true with other areas of my life as well.  The toughest change for me to navigate as the founder of Men’s Wisdom Works is the death of our members.

Today, I want to shine the light on the life of a member of MWW who died November 29th, Nick Jordan of Group 5.  This post includes a reprise of Nick's blog post from four years ago.   You'll find it below highlighted in red.  My post today pays tribute to this most generous man and his MWW group who served as Nick’s “Band of Brothers” from the day the group formed until the day he died.

I first met Nick when I volunteered to join SCORE, formerly known as Service Corps of Retired Executives.  Nick was the chapter president for the Asheville chapter of SCORE.  Nick encouraged me to participate as the training director.  I witnessed increasing signs of growth and strength in our local chapter of SCORE via Nick's leadership.

In 2012 Nick joined the then newest group, Group 5.  He disclosed his terminal diagnosis at the first meeting of his group.  His courage helped solidify this group unlike any other I've witnessed.  Besides his numerous volunteer activities and his devoted membership to his MWW group, Nick gave of himself in the most noble of ways.

Upon joining MWW and OLLI/UNCA Asheville and knowing of his terminal diagnosis, Nick created a special program at OLLI fittingly titled the "Gift of Time".

Nick’s "Gift of Time" program helps folks, no matter their current state of health, understand all of the work and planning one needs so family members and loved ones avoid the many sensitive issues that often arise near the end of life.  Participants learn the value of writing these directives, and sharing the papers and plans with family members well before death becomes imminent.

Thus, the burdens and angst over handling and distributing personal affects, financial matters, medical decisions, and even the details of memorial service planning become clear.   The Gift of Time’s contribution is that tough decisions and possible disagreements between family members will not afflict them during a time of high stress.  That stress easily can grow out of control with emotions ranging between grief and pain, and when the likelihood for conflict within a family rises to a new potential high.  Nick’s gift to us all will stand as a legacy and a loving tribute to Nick.  

At the bottom of the blog is photo taken with Nick's dear friend and companion, Betty Doll.  Their smiles reveal their joyous perspectives on life and the happiness they shared in lives together.

Nick's post was the second ever post on this blog.  Here is the reprise of Nick’s blogpost from November 15, 2013:

"I joined one of the MWW groups about 18 months ago. I was interested in meeting new people and exploring topics that could be shared in confidence and with honesty. Over these past months through the dialogue within the group, I have come to not only respect the different personalities within the group but to care about them as individuals with very different life experiences than mine. Through that sharing there have been insights I have gleaned about myself. I have been given the opportunity to talk about things I would not ordinarily share.

There is laughter, humor, pathos, moments of silence as you know you are listening to a very important sharing from someone else. Bonding is a hackneyed word and greatly overused. But bonds of friendship have been formed and I believe if I said I was in trouble and asked for help, the 10 other men in my group would each respond by saying 'what can I do for you'. 

None of us would give up the group meetings, the informal breakfasts we have, some volunteer work we do as a group. This is one of best things I have ever done for myself. All one needs to do is be willing to keep confidences and to open and share as you feel appropriate." 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Discuss-Participate-Contribute without Prescribing Solutions

     In the 6 yrs that I’ve been a member of MWW.  I have submitted only one blog. That’s because I don’t write unless I have something to say. Now, again, I do.

     Our meeting of August 14 reaffirmed all the reasons that I first joined MWW and why I am so committed to it. In the short space of 2 hours we managed to talk about the following subjects  - not just talk but discuss, each of us participating; each of us contributing something; none of us prescribing solutions or presuming to suggest what someone ought to do or how anyone ought to act. The result of this atmosphere and our respect for these norms is that I’m pretty confident in saying that we each took something away from the meeting, whether it was new knowledge, or a new way of looking at a problem, or even a new way of looking at ourselves; and that this is often how we feel when a meeting ends.

     The range of topics included these:

✦ A painful change in relationships in the family

✦ The dilemma of being so active in retirement that choices need to be made when the timing of some of those things we are now free to do clashes with our meetings

✦ The effect the current political atmosphere has on us – our concerns for the future, our physical and psychological well-being, our determination to “do something”, tempered by our frustrations about the limited impact we feel capable of having

✦ The outbreak of the first world war – inevitable or accidental? - which we got to from the previous conversation that in turn lead to the cyclical theory of history (and climate change)

✦ Our joys and concerns, which continue to be the foundation of our check-in, unfailingly yielding fruitful topics for discussion or perhaps something to think about away from the group

            What particularly struck me about this was how the conversation moved easily from one subject to another – each thought triggering a question or idea that made sense in the moment – and how seriously engaged everyone was. I couldn’t have known it would be like this when I joined, but as our membership has stabilized over the years and, together with other activities we share – breakfasts, the occasional ball game, social activities that include friends or family – the place this group holds for me in my life has taken on great importance.

         Now, a few observations about some of the topics I mentioned.

✦ On the issue of family, a number of us had relevant experiences, but regardless of how we handled it we recognize that every such situation is unique in its agony. That’s why advice would be inappropriate, except to say what works for me and to offer comfort, hope and empathy.

✦ Choices in retirement. It was both understandable and comforting to me that many of us seem to be more active in retirement than when we were working, and that the place of this group in the order of things has such high standing.

✦ The current political atmosphere. Going back as far as the last presidential campaign, a number of us have acknowledged how deeply we have been affected by the tone and outcome, and how repercussions extend to constitutional questions (the place of the electoral college, provision for removal of a president, gerrymandering, to name just a few of the subjects to which the election gave new life).

✦ Clearly, the topic of World War I (known at the time as The Great War, since a replay was unthinkable….except for those who foresaw that the Versailles Treaty contained the seeds of the next war) arose from consideration of the present political atmosphere. Brief though our focus on this topic was, it did raise the question of “inevitable or accidental”. My feeling is that it was both. The alliances didn’t make it inevitable, but their obligations to come to one another’s aid created the condition for the chain reaction that took place upon the assassination in Serbia. That same obligation is the heart, and the entire point, of contemporary alliances.

✦ Finally, on the cyclical theory of history, I do believe there is a tendency to repeat errors, but of course since the circumstances of each are different, and arise in different cultures, it is fairly impossible to recognize at the time, not to mention the difficulty of stopping it even if we were able to recognize this tendency. However I also believe progress is made from one disaster to another. For me though, the jury is still out on whether it’s one step forward two steps backward, or two forward and one back. Either way, the progress is incremental…and v e r y  s l o w.

          It feels good to return from a meeting so filled with recollections and ideas, and stimulated to commit them to paper. That didn’t happen every day that I went to work!


Sunday, July 9, 2017

Crossroads for Boomers and Beyond:  Aging and Technology

Aging for baby boomers appears as polar opposite to the aging and retirement of our fathers and grandfathers--by miles.  Demographic numbers back-up this fact.  Current research findings indicate the following statistics about aging:

  • In 2000 the aging demographic for people over 60 years of age stood at 16.5%.  By the year 2025 that number grows to a whopping 25% of the American population.
  • Americans who are 65 years or older surpassed 50 million for the first time in 2016.  Researchers predict that number will hit 71 million by 2030, and 83 million by 2050.  M.I.T.'s Age Lab confirms that there are 77 million Americans born between 1946-1964.  The report continues by telling us that 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day, and are likely to continue that trend for the next 19 years. Now members of the boomer generation pass age 65 at a rate of nearly one every 7 seconds.
  • People are living longer--life expectancy at birth grew by 10.5 years between 1950-2010.  People who are 65 today may live roughly about 20 more years.  The Census Bureau said almost 90% of that cohort wish to remain in their home as they age.
        Boomers believe life should continue for their generation in ways never before experienced by previous generations on their life's journey.  Are boomers realistic about aging?  Yes, thanks to technology. Technology npw being developed mostly by millenials may well be the link between boomers and a higher quality of life for the "never-say-die baby boomers.
         Boomers created the World Wide Web, tablets, smartphones, Microsoft, and Apple.  Now, as this massive generation ages, technology translates into new research, gizmos, and apps to make life in the "golden years" safer and more enjoyable.  This adds up to potentially newer and easier ways to exercise expected freedoms and independence that boomers see as a must for modern aging.  You may ask, how is this playing out today and tomorrow?  A new world lurks within your smartphone, and computers spurred on by Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the app development talents of millenials.
         Scientists are developing everything everything from mattress sensors that monitor heart rate, to smart walkers that look for obstacles, to belts that deploy air bags if someone is about to fall. Researchers work hand in hand with tech companies to fight the indignities of aging and to help people live longer and better in their own homes.  "Aging in Place", still in its relative infancy, is driven by tech savvy boomers who hate the stigma and reality of getting older, both for themselves and their elderly parents.  Millenials provide the engine to empower boomers to put that stigma to rest.
         Active Protective, a Philadelphia based company, developed a "smart belt" that's able to sense when a person is about to fall.  Small airbags deploy offering protection to that person's hips.  The National Council on Aging said that 2.8 million Americans are treated in emergency rooms for falls each year, and that 800,000 of those patients end up hospitalized.  Falls contribute to roughly 27,000 death per year.
         Tech giant Google--a bastion of youth--has come to realize that baby boomers may well be early adopters of self-driving cars in development.  Other businesses are making it easier for people with arthritis or tremors to wear small, specialized monitors that provide real-time tracking of their health vitals.
         Virtual reality research on aging at San Diego State's Neuromechanics and Neuroplacticity Lab places sensors on a person's brain and other parts of the body as test subjects over 60 experience different scenarios while immersed in a VR environment that turns a lab floor into a virtual reality of a narrow plank 60 feet in the air.  Data collected will assist in creating algorithms to predict when a person is about to fall.
           Ocuvera, a start-up based in Lincoln Nebraska, employs 3D cameras, and advanced software to analyze the body language of patients in hospital beds.  M.I.T. fosters related work producing WiGait, a small sensor that studies a person's gait to observe signs of stroke or Parkinson's Disease.
          An estimated one-third of Americans 65 or older live alone.  That figure jumps to 50% by the time a person hits 85.  Scientists and physicians posit that living alone can cause a profound sense of loneliness and isolation for some people which in turn can lead to health complications--notably depression, substance abuse, and high blood pressure.  Studies continue to show that loneliness can also contribute to dementia and early death.
          Safety and loneliness well provide the hurdles for boomers aging in place, and there's a major shortage of professional caregivers who make in-home visits.  Here comes technology offering significant help for the aging U.S. population.
           People who live alone or feel detached from social engagement also can connect to others through devices such as Amazon Echo/Alexa and Google Home, both of which are voice activated personal assistants. The Echo can be used for person to person phone calls, while Amazon recently added a video screen called "Show".  The competition to Amazon (Samsung, Google and Apple) is developing similar technology to Echo Show.  For older folks with hand tremors and other physical limitations voice activated assistants can be a reasonable improvement to the swipe and wipe features in smartphones. If only Amazon Echo or Google home would remind our kids to call or visit.
           GreatCall markets a network of tiny sensors strategically positioned in the homes of seniors choosing to "age in place".  Sensors monitor whether these folks are going about their daily activities, such as getting in and out of bed, preparing meals, and using the bathroom.  This network of sensors looks for worrisome changes in a person's daily routines, and alerts off-site caregivers if such changes occur.  This technology gives a holistic picture of in-home activities for caregivers.
            One can imagine the awestruck suspicion that parents and grandparents of boomers would give at these "newfangled" approached to aging.  I guess they'd react with their heads a shaking to find "The Clapper" and "Life Alert" to be already obsolete technology for Baby Boomers.

Have to run.  My Echo calls.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Men's Words of Wisdom: A Memoir About Resurfacing from Depression

My greatest joy within the Men's Wisdom Works network remains the deep and intimate friendships our members share with each other.  One such friendship within my treasure trove of MWW friends remains Bill Petz.  Bill was one of our 10 founding MWW members.  He adds value to the lives of so many people with his quiet, calm, and deep perspective on life.  Bill lives with Parkinson's, but that hardly impedes his forward and thoughtful view of life.  On a deep and personal level Bill understands the need for men to connect in order to experience the healing and bonding power we find within our men's groups.

Recently, Bill lent me a signed copy of one of his books.  Interestingly, the author's sister, Betsy Finger, was key to our founding a men's group similar to MWW at a retirement community in Asheville in 2012.  We renamed that group "Givens Guy's Group" to reflect the name of their home, Givens Estates.

Bill Finger's book, The Crane Dance: Taking Flight in Midlife, published last year, sheds light on Bill's life experiences in helping him accept and overcome his depression.  A depression that's been his life companion.

I read for pleasure, yet this book defied my reading habit.  Chronicling his life as a preacher's son from the Deep South, Mr. Finger harnessed every ounce of my attention as he tells of his lifetime struggle with depression from its origin to his embracing his condition.  Embracing his depression led to his recovery.  In many ways I found Bill's methods for working to harness his depression mirroring my own path to feeling whole and balanced.

Bill's work with men's groups predates my own by a couple of decades, Men's group work became the cornerstone for our individual growth.  Bill and I know other men, as may you, living with the dark monster of depression. More than likely, those men may have need to carry a toolbox filled with options, similar to our own.  Mr. Finger and I value the many productive years of therapy that led to acceptance culminating in self confidence and inner strength. 

Medication aided us to open our blinders to change our emotional darkness to the light of hope.  We share the gift of self expression to face our demons.  Only then can we find our basis of joy, that like depression, has always been deep within our being.

Bill employs dance, ritual, poetry, teaching, learning, family love, and internal patience to find that sweet spot within himself.  I substituted Bill Finger's creative outlets of dance, poetry and ritual with my forays into acting, stand-up comedy (brief and foreboding as that was), and storytelling.  Point being, either way we understand the importance of self expression as an important step toward recovery.

To that point, I shared a sense of liberation after reading a story in the news today, April 17th.  Prince Harry disclosed his 20 year battle with depression following the death of his mother, Princess Diana.  Indeed, self acceptance and self revelation serve as conduits to recovery for many a man, even men of royal privilege.  Revealing your true self fosters liberation from the dark shadows of depression.  Most people will accept your truth and may see you in a more respectful light.  If someone doesn't it may be time to reassess that relationship.

Folks, if you, or a man you know or love suffers from depression help him find his internal toolbox to aid in his recovery.  "The Crane Dance" by Bill Finger, should serve as a special resource within his toolkit as a man tries to tame that  consuming monster, depression.  It certainly helped me.  If you'd like to buy this wonderful book about living with depression through the lens of a man: Click Here.

Personally, I offer my deep and abiding thanks to both Bill's.  Mr. Petz and Mr. Finger.  I honor your inspiring work.

Monday, November 21, 2016

I feel a deep sense of gratitude as I'm surrounded by good souls.  One hundred and twenty five good men belong to Men's Wisdom Works (MWW).  These men inspire me day after day.

It is though our male lens that MWW members listen to and care about each other.  We leave behind judgment or the attempt to salvage one another. One more thing.  MWW members socialize in force as well.  Our bonds remain strong and continue to grow.

I launched the first MWW group in 2009.  At our first meeting we were admonished to be “Fucking Authentic” by our 87 year old retired psychologist and resident curmudgeon, Albert.  Albert died in 2010, but his words remain burned into the mindset and behaviors of our now 13 MWW groups.  Personal discussions and authenticity guide us to this day.

I am deeply thankful every day.  I'm thankful for the memories and contributions of Albert and the five other MWW members who joined him in the peace of life eternal.  We miss Albert and the 5 other deceased MWW pioneers; Larry, Steve, Stephen, Jules and Murray.  All 6 men made MWW stronger and more meaningful for all of us.  

I am especially grateful for every one of our 125 members of Men’s Wisdom Works.  Without their dedication, enthusiasm, and commitment to the men in their group my concept of men helping men would still be but a pipe dream.  Thanks, gentlemen.

Cindy, Drew, Andrea and Greg I’m most thankful for you.  Without my wife, 2 sons, and daughter-in-law, I’d be without inspiration, sound advice, and unconditional love.  Besides many other reasons I owe my profound thanks to my wife, Cindy, for her contributions to the lift off of MWW.  Cindy came up with the name, Men’s Wisdom Works.  Now, 125 men feel fulfilled by their groups and remain bound by our name/your name, Men’s Wisdom Works.  Thanks, baby doll.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

     I’m struck by two equally powerful forces upon hearing the words “Father” or “Dad”.  Being the age of retirement I now clearly define my own fatherhood by the expression, “Father is the Son of Man”.  Just as I had influenced my dad, my sons continue to illuminate my path.  Drew, Greg and I are getting together in a few days to celebrate our special relationship.

     The connection I shared with my dad seemed tricky and somewhat distant to the untrained observer.   Complicated, probably best describes the father/son relationship we navigated.  My dad, Joe, never had it easy fulfilling his definition of fatherhood.  He so struggled to make a living for his family of four.  But through a combination of enterprises he kept us afloat.  His worried expression seldom fell from our view.

     My mother was quite attractive, but it seldom came easy for dad to share the intricacies of his life with her given her moods and blast of narcissism.   But, my dad’s devotion and love for his wife still serves as an inspiration and model for me to this day.  They kissed and hugged a lot as do my wife and I today.  We don’t need a reason.  Like my parents, we just do.

     When I was a boy of 4, dad needed a diversion from the pressures of work and home.  He found that positive respite in Masonry.   Here’s dad and our family 63 years ago, just before he joined the Fraternal Order.

     For the many of the next 33 years I resented his frequent evening absences from his family.  What was it about his wife, daughter and me that made it seem like he favored his “Masonic brothers” over us?  I felt abandoned.  My feelings toward him transformed during a long illness I battled in my 20’s.  It was dad who comforted me, encouraged me and supported me.  I had missed the point about his devotion to his family.  Far from abandoned I was loved.  Joe Fink was there for his ill son.  He always was there for me.

     After 62 years I now understand dad joined the Masons not for him, but for us, especially for his son, me.  He was a better man, and a better father.  He rose through the ranks of the Masons eventually receiving the invitation to become a 33rd degree Mason.  Some say it is the highest degree in Masonry.  Some say it is the third degree that ranks supreme in Masonry.  I’ll leave that up to the Masons to debate.  

     A fellow MWW member and Mason, Nevin, told me of the significance of the 33rd degree.  Nevin explained that this degree is based on service to country, family, community, and Masonry.   He told me character was a driving standard of acceptance into the 33rd degree of Masonry.  I never understood the significance that my father made to Masons and his family until my conversation with Nevin.  His service to Masonry was a service to his family because it kept him balanced and happy.

     Nevin wondered when my dad died.  I told him 1995.  Nevin asked how many attended my father’s funeral.  I told him it was a bitter cold day in January with 4 inches of snow on the ground, yet more than 250 people attended his funeral.  Nevin just said, “Yes.  Your dad was a 33 degree Mason”.

     Before my father died we exchanged powerful words of love.  I gave him a plaque I had made for him honoring his service to Masonry and his love and devotion to his family.  I never saw his tears cascade until that moment.

     Then it was his turn a few weeks later.  In his own poignant way he confided, “Son, you are a far better father than I was to you”.  Life came full circle.  As they say, “Son is the father of man.”  It wasn't that I was a better father.  I learned fatherhood from a 33rd degree Mason.  I only hope my sons see their father as half the man their grandfather was. 

     Often, I’m asked why I started Men’s Wisdom Works.  Truthfully, I was having a difficult time finding meaning in my life after closing my business and retiring.  I needed to talk with like-minded men.  Thus I founded MWW.  But, my inspiration was and is 100% Joe Fink.  I learned from this past Master Mason, that inherent in fatherhood is brotherhood.

Joe Fink, I miss you and I will forever love you.

By the way, dad loved a party.  Here he is in his true colors.

Happy Father's Day to the men of MWW and fathers everywhere.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Importance of Social Engagement for Men--Terry Fields, Facilitator Group VII

It’s the second Tuesday of the month and Group VII is again targeting a local pub for their alternate week social get-to-gather.  By 4:40 everyone has arrived and ordered some refreshment and the conversation is beginning to focus on the Sunday game, the status of the election, the recent registration, the recent storm or any number of other essential topics.  The mood is easy and warm with some good-nature jabs, and a clear sense of the affection we feel for each other.  Attendance changes at these gatherings but generally six to eight of the 10 group members show up and it seems like everyone makes an effort to set this time aside for getting together.  The social gatherings seldom last longer than the regular groups on the first and third Tuesday of the month and by 6:30 everyone has bid farewell and is gone.

The pattern of regular group meetings with discussions that typically focus on values, issues or immediate concerns of the group or a group member, juxtaposed with weekly social gatherings, has provided our group with a way to stay focused on our original “charter” while including an opportunity for the free form banter and easy conversation that seems to accompany close friendships.  We very seldom need to refocus during regular group meetings and our social encounters have fostered the topic of the next regular group on more than one occasion.

There is more than a small measure of comfort in knowing that this is a group of friends that will be close for the rest of our lives.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Poem Reflecting on Social Bonding for Men's Wisdom Works

Recently, Group I of Men's Wisdom Work engaged in an activity in which all groups partake.  We partied.  It was our cigar and scotch smoker, held at a member's neighborhood outdoor party place.  Neither smoking nor drinking is expected at our social events

One of the founding members of MWW, Bill Petz penned the poem below to mark the occasion.  The event and poem really emphasize the importance of social engagement for older men.  Lack of male bonding and socializing often lead to isolation and depression as men age.  All MWW members realize the importance of social bonding within MWW and in other areas of our lives.  We know our bonding strengthens us.

I encourage you to read Bill's poem below:

Smoker Truth

Historic patriarchy nor
sarcasm’s sting nor
feelings buried or bare
can deny the smoker truth:

gentle men, courageously transparent,
amid gifts of food, drink, self
and holy smoke wafting spirits
high, glory days remembered,
strengthen links today, proving
Men's Wisdom Works.

Bill Petz
Men's Wisdom Works
Group I