Turns out circle time might benefit war veterans more than toddlers. In an article in The New Old Age blog of The New York Times, Paula Span reports that the new men’s group at the Riverdale Senior Services Center has spawned vast improvements in the members’ happiness, camaraderie, and sense of purpose.
The center used to host a men and women’s joint group, until the discussion leaders noticed an unfortunate trend: the men didn’t talk. Women dominated the conversation, while the men “either clung to their wives, or, if they arrived solo, sat by themselves.”
As Span writes…
The men themselves observed that uncommunicative pattern, though they didn’t quite know how to alter it. “The average woman has about six friends,” explained Dr. George Kaufman, one of those attending the Wednesday session. “The average man has one, a wife or girlfriend, and if he loses her, he’s up a creek.”
“Women have a network,” Mr. Asher agreed. “Someone gets on the phone with my wife and they talk for half an hour. Men don’t do that.”
Here, they do. Four showed up the first time Mr. Heron assembled the group, in a room with a closed door; now it routinely draws 16 to 18 retired teachers and lawyers and small-business owners, many of them veterans, all over 60 and most over 70.
Previous attempts to lure them into a group had foundered. What made the difference, the participants say, was that the Riverdale Mental Health Association provided a skilled — and male — facilitator. Mr. Heron, who calls himself “the balding Welshman,” is 48, of a different generation, but he understands the dynamics. “They’re used to being in positions of power,” he said of the members. “Then they retire, and it’s almost like they become invisible.” Part of his job here is to ensure that the outspoken don’t dominate the proceedings, that those more reticent also weigh in and no one is invisible.
What do they talk about? “Sex and money,” was Mr. Heron’s immediate reply. “Relationships, power, financial concerns, security — everything important to us is rooted in those things.” Dr. Kaufman, perhaps not coincidentally a retired internist, boasted that they’d had a good discussion about masturbation one Wednesday.