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Friday, April 16, 2021

Great Groups for Retired Men

Retirement can be a hard transition for men. A pair of guys-only groups is starting to address the need for male friendship.

The probability that a man will become clinically depressed increases by almost 50% in the two years following retirement, according to national studies. Men who were previously VIPs suddenly find that no one needs their advice, and there is no routine to their days. They have become PIPs, or previously important people, overnight. 

Men’s Wisdom Works

At least, that’s how Chuck Fink, the 69-year-old founder of Men’s Wisdom Works, describes it. Fink retired at age 58 from a career in organizational development and quickly found his mood sliding downhill into depression. “I just wasn’t prepared,” he admits. His wife noticed the change and brought him to a conference at a nearby university that held classes for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.  The keynote speaker happened to be then-AARP Vice President Rick Moody, who spoke about the difficulty men have in making the transition to retirement. They don’t have as many social networks as women and typically bottle up their feelings. 

It was as if a lightning bolt had struck. Fink decided then and there to begin a support group for men in retirement. Started where he lives in Asheville, North Carolina, the movement has grown to include 17 chapters in western North Carolina. A group of eight to 12 men meet twice a month for breakfast, lunch or happy hour (or on Zoom over the last year). They chat among themselves, catching up from the last time they gathered, and select a topic, such as:
  • How have you recovered meaning in your life since becoming a PIP?
  • How has your relationship with your spouse changed in retirement?
  • How have you changed and grown throughout each decade of your life?

“We have guys who were big shots in their careers who come in listless and sad,” says Fink. “We introduce ourselves, one at a time, explaining how we handled the existential crisis they’re experiencing. After a few months, the depression usually lifts.”

Women Need Activities, Too - Sisters on the Fly 

No men, no kids, be nice, have fun. This is the credo of Sisters on the Fly, the largest women’s outdoor group in the country. Started by real sisters who liked to fly fish, it has grown into a group that embraces a bevy of outdoor activities, from trailer tours to cross-country skiing. The women support each other on a “journey to become more adventurous.”

While not specifically for older adults, this is a diverse group that welcomes one and all (females) into their culture, with no upper age limit. Take Bernice Ende, an author and equestrian who ventures out on rides that may cover 10 to 30 miles in a day. She never knows where she’ll be sleeping each night. For that reason, she had “always been a solo traveler” until she discovered SOTF. “But now I am very excited about all the possibilities, meeting Sisters at my talks, but also that Sisters are inviting me to join “events” when my travels meet up with them,” says Ende. “One of the reasons I ride is to encourage women leadership. I love independent women!”

Seize the moment, or actually a whole year, of sisterly bonding for only $70. 

Men's Sheds

On an international level, Men’s Sheds are workspaces where guys can gather to learn new skills while collaborating on community projects such as building park benches or fixing appliances. Founding member Mark Winston, 61, says, “We want to break the cycle of social isolation. When men retire, they lose their work identity, which is important for us guys. When they participate in a shed, they reconstitute their personalities, which helps a great deal on the path to staying active, feeling good about yourself and not falling into pits of depression.”

Originating in Australia in the 1990s, there are now thousands of Men’s Sheds around the globe. America is behind, with only 14 Sheds in the U.S. and Hawaii, and another nine in development. Adoption can happen quickly though; Men’s Sheds came to Ireland in 2009, and the country now boasts more than 500.

“Men don’t talk face-to-face, they talk shoulder-to-shoulder whilst working on a project,” says Barry Golding, author of The Men’s Shed Movement: The Company of Men. “Lulls in the natural cadence of those conversations is where one might mention a medical issue he’s dealing with, leading to a potentially important conversation.”

Shed members are there for each other in the good times and the bad. “A member’s wife died two years ago, and then his daughter died suddenly a few weeks ago,” relates Victor Maltby, president of the Hackberry Shed near Ottawa, Canada. “We all showed up at the wake, and he burst into tears. His sister said, ‘You guys are from the Shed?!?! He talks about you all the time!’”

David Helmers, executive officer of the Australian Men’s Shed Association, summed it up nicely when he said, “You work your whole life, save up and plan to retire from work one day. But we should be retiring to something, not being retired from something.”