I can only answer this question, “what does it mean to be a man after fifty?” from my own experience and ask that YOU will all comment and share YOUR answers as well. I hope to create a dialogue which will help me expand this “Men After Fifty” Community and Website in directions that will serve men and their loved ones.
As of the time of writing this article, I’m in my early fifties and I’ve really been contemplating what that means to me. Although much of the time I still feel like I’m twenty-five, I also must admit that I’m “over the hump” and most likely have less time left on the planet than I’ve already lived.
To be honest, that part doesn’t really concern me too much. Having experienced the death of my parents as well as the death of a child, I can honestly say that death doesn’t frighten me. Like everyone else, I don’t relish the idea of dying in pain and agony, but I can accept death as an inevitable part of life. I’ve experienced enough to have no doubt that there is more to existence than this lifetime. I’m not sure what it is, but I’m got a firm conviction that there is more. These are topics for other articles.
Given that I’ll be living for a bit longer, I have to admit that there HAVE been some changes in my body that I am beginning to notice. Not huge ones, but changes nonetheless.
There are more little nagging aches and pains in my body that either take longer to go away. In fact, MANY things seem to take longer.
It takes longer to get back into shape if I miss a few weeks (or months) of exercise. It takes longer to bounce back from a cold or flu (fortunately I still rarely get sick). There are also WAY more tests during my yearly “routine” physical including that never fun DRE (digital rectal exam).
It takes longer to get my office, my house, and my MIND organized. I used to be able to juggle large numbers mathematically in my head to do my bookkeeping and find it’s not as effortless as it used to be.
Sexually, things take a little longer as well, not that I’m saying that this is a bad thing 😉 And the really GOOD news, is that I’m slightly less preoccupied with sex than I was in my twenties, thirties and my forties. It allows me a little more time for other areas of my life.
And having extra time raises the next question, which is HOW to best use my time during the next period of my life. My daughter, Alana, graduated a high school recently and like many men after fifty, I will be going through that empty nest syndrome. It doesn’t only affect women.
Launching my child into the world is a huge milestone and one I am very proud of, for both of us, yet the question now is, what’s next? For almost eighteen years, a huge focus of my time, energy, thoughts and finances has been on my daughter. That will be freeing up considerably soon.
Being a father has been a major source of meaning in my life and while it still has great value, there is a growing vacuum, an emptiness, a void as my daughter begins to live her own independent life. For me, and perhaps for other men, I am driven by meaning. Meaning, value, significance, these are what gives me pleasure in my life. Yes, I can be a hedonist as well and indulge and overindulge in life’s pleasures, yet meaning is what lasts.
And so, I began to ask myself each day, “What do I want to express in this next phase of my life?” I don’t have the answers yet, it’s all too fresh, yet I MUST continue to ask the question.
In the psychosocial model of human development of Erik Erikson, a well regarded psychoanalyst of the twentieth century, the life stage that men between forty and sixty-five face is called “Generativity versus Stagnation”.
Generativity is broader than simply wanting or having children, it relates to establishing and guiding the next generation. Making a contribution to society that is bigger than ourselves may involve raising a family or creating a business or a foundation or some other type of legacy. It is about contributing to society and supporting/guiding/mentoring future generations.
When we achieve this generativity, we can feel good about ourselves and have a sense of productivity and accomplishment. When we are more self-centered and self-absorbed, we are unwilling to contribute to society, to making the world a better place and we face stagnation in our lives.
There is another Erikson stage at age 65, “Integrity versus Despair” that I will write about at another time, but for me, “Generativity versus Stagnation” is more relevant right now.
I’ve experience a piece of generativity, both in launching my daughter into the world and professionally as well. In addition to my private psychotherapy practice, I have also supervised and trained new psychology interns on their path to licensure for over ten years. This is another very personal and satisfying way to contribute to society for me, by helping to create new mental health professionals who I know will offer healing to many more people than I could offer on my own.
Now, however, I am at that place of “what’s next?” and that is the question I ask myself. Whether it is a new career path, a variation on an existing one, or some other new endeavor, I am definitely ready and willing for the next phase of my life.
And so I ask YOU the same question, “what’s next” for you? I would love to hear your answers and your comments about this topic of “what does it mean to be a man after fifty?”
Thanks so much,