Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Learning to love – by Walter Michka

Aug 12 2013

There wasn’t a lot of what I’d call love in my household growing up. My parents were cold, unemotional, verbally and physically abusive to me, and each other, at times. I can’t remember my father ever saying he loved me or giving me a hug. My mother told me once when I was a teenager: “I love you,” she said, followed by “but I don’t like you.” The years of psychological therapy after my quadruple bypass helped me reprocess my parents’ behavior and put it in perspective. It didn’t excuse how they acted and it didn’t erase the mark it left on me but I more or less understand the kind of people they were.

All four of my grandparents were immigrants from Belarus; they were icy and stoic. The two on my mother’s side lost their first three children in the 1918 flu pandemic. The two on my father’s side suffered through a loveless, arranged marriage. Their lives were a struggle.

I learned love by my parents’ example. I had a steady girlfriend in high school and quite a few more in college— dates, hook-ups, I even lived with a few women. I never had strong feelings for any of them, really, not feelings of love. I didn’t know what love should feel like. I certainly never experienced the kind of love toward them you see in movies, the deep, yearning, stare-into-each-other’s-eyes gushing kind of love.

When I met my wife it was far from love at first sight. You know those stories they tell on talkshows where the guy says: “the moment I saw her I told myself that was the woman I’m going to marry?” That wasn’t us. She liked me, flirted with me, hung out with my friends and me. But I barely knew she was there. Months later, I bumped into her again and I asked her out. We dated and moved in together. It took years before I asked her to marry me and only after she pretty much threatened to break up.

I didn’t think much of marriage. There weren’t a lot of great role models to encourage me that it was something I wanted to try. My parents’ shouting and fighting, the cold, distant marriages of other relatives… I wasn’t in any rush.

My children showed me what love is.

When our first child was born, I was smitten. I finally felt that deep, yearning, stare-into-each-other’s-eyes gushing kind of love you see in movies…  Sharing that love with one, then two, then three more kids didn’t diminish that feeling one bit. In fact, it was more like love to the fourth power. It was a sinking ache in my chest that could make me well up with tears just seeing them play with Legos. Sometimes I’d be watching a video with Jack, let’s say, Thomas the Tank Engine for the 20th time, and he’d catch me looking at him instead of the TV.

“I’m watching The Jack Show,” I’d tell him. “This is my favorite episode where Jack watches a movie with his dad.”

My wife worked nights and weekends as a stage actress when our children were little, so that was my time to step in as Mr. Mom. That really helped me get closer to my children, helped me become the kind of father I never had growing up.

With time and the help of my psychologist, I’ve come to realize what love is— to me. My wife and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this past April (although we’ve been together 29 as she’s quick to add). My love for my wife has grown over the years, matured, or maybe I’m just in better touch with it. And while it still might not be the yearning, gushing kind of love of a romantic drama, it’s become the loudness and laughter and warm hugs of a Neil Simon play.

 

Walter Michka is a guest writer for MB50 and currently writes for the Chicago Post, along with other publications. We recently posted his insights to life following his major heart surgery.

 

Dads through the ages: a history

Aug 12 2013

fathers and sonsFatherhood changes with the times, and wasn’t always as we’ve believed it to be. Adrienne Burgess shows how fatherhood was shaped through culture and economics (mainly in Northern Europe) and how it continues to shape YOU as a father. And we ask: “how new is ‘new’ dad?” . . .

 

Families and the ‘Father’s Desert’

Aug 12 2013

There is a father’s desert in the UK: according to the latest ‘Fractured Families’ report from the Centre for Social Justice at least one million children are growing up in the UK without a father.

The MB50 community of older men has an important part to play in this sad story. Let’s pause to consider what this is.

The serious absence of Dads is a sad story primarily of course because children model on and learn from their parents as they are growing up. The lack of male role models is leaving a big gap in childrens’  life experiences, and this can lead to continuing impoverishment and bad outcomes in their adult lives. This can be both personally with low self-esteem and more mental health issues, and socially with the repetition of fractured families experiences from generation to generation.

The report further shows that the father’s desert is a rising trend, and that it is worst in communities which are under the most stress or most disadvantaged: the poor, the badly housed and the displaced come out  worst . It is also a bad bet to predict the government of whatever political persuasion are going to fix it: the parallel trends of the “cuts”, and less state resources and expenditure. Add to this the steady erosion of the principles of the welfare state, and what do you have? The desert is looking dryer all the time.

 

So it is time for the MB50 community to bring out the watering cans and hose pipes. In other words, let’s start small and not get lost and discouraged worrying about the big picture. Let’s also start with BEING, then DOING, and lastly THINKING – go to the water source first, and then work out where to spread it best!

BEING

‘Love is all you need’ – it really is the source of everything. Wouldn’t it be great for loving older men to show themselves, their love in their families and in the world: grandfathers, grey haireds and grizzle chops together! Families work through more than two generations and so does the world in general, and what older men have to offer far more than anything is our kindly presence. This isn’t a campaign, or a social programme. This is about smiling presence with younger men, talking with them, and undertaking small acts of loving kindness, and so on.

 

“My father didn’t tell me how to live;

he lived, and let me watch him do it.” 

Clarence Budington Kelland

 

DOING

All the above is well and good, you say, but is it all a little bit ‘Hippy’? So let’s get real. Lots of older men are themselves hurting, isolated from their families, and unsure about how to express themselves. Lots of older men are equally unsure how best to hang out with younger men – Do they want us to be with them at all, you may ask? The answer based on the experience of MB50 Groups is a resounding ‘yes’!  Trying out conversations across generations, modelling on how each of us do it differently, exploring where we are with our feelings in the process are some of the great things that can happen in group work. And then little by little put into practice in the rest of our lives!

 THINKING

The issue is happiness – beginning, middle and end. And let’s get even more real about this – it is social and political as well as about personal and family relationships (and everything else). In MB50 we welcome difference and diversity, and we are not a campaigning organisation. But as older men we are generally in favour of more equality than less, and more fairness and social justice than less – across generations, and across genders for that matter. So upholding these qualities in the context of happiness means speaking out and challenging entrenched positions and  views both at the local level in our own families, and in our communities – wherever we find it. The time to remain silent is over!

 

Useful links relating to this topic…

 

http://www.separateddads.co.uk/ – loads of useful information about the practicalities and emotions of being away from the kids

http://www.separateddads.co.uk/psychological-effect-separation-children.html – how do the kids feel??!

http://www.dad.info/fatherhood/being-dad/how-dads-affect-kids – Why is a Dad important!

http://www.separateddads.co.uk/SupportForSeparatedFathers.html – help and guidance for loads of stuff you might experience if separated from children.

http://www.fathermag.com/905/over40/ – insights to being an older father by three men

http://www.dad.info/fatherhood/being-dad/the-biggest-myths-about-dads

What you can expect from siblings – especially when the crisis of a parent’s death approaches?

Sep 06 2012

The writer, who must remain anonymous, wonders what you can expect from siblings – especially when the crisis of a parent’s death approaches.

Funny (or sad), isn’t it, how little is written and said about what happens between siblings as we get older? Here’s a cautionary tale, built on my own experience. It carries a warning. Pay good attention, the best you can, to siblings when a parent approaches death. Listen to each other. Don’t make assumptions. Keep doors open, not slammed shut.

I was 56 when my mother, who I’ll call Eve, had a stroke. She was 88. The thing about Eve was that she was never going to die! A very attractive woman, she’d been robustly healthy all her life, was dismissive of others who were ill, had survived four husbands, many lovers and was still on the look-out! She’d even enrolled at art school well past the age of 80. She had indomitable willpower, was worshipped by other women of her own vintage or younger and was a whirlwind of hungry energy, wanting more experiences than time allowed.

The stroke was a warning to her but also to her five children (age ranging from 63 down to 47). She had always played us off against each other – comparing one favourably or unfavourably with another, dividing and ruling us. We all knew this. We even talked about it, separately, but never together. Now, the endgame was upon us.

When she had her stroke, we reacted differently. Youngest Daughter, apparently, couldn’t bear to see her mother laid low and kept away. Oldest Daughter wasn’t sure how much power she should wield. The three men in the middle knew there must be changes – but how to make them?

Eve became very disinhibited. She had to be brought back from a holiday abroad by sons Number Two and Three because she had been taking her clothes off, dancing naked and doing other hitherto repressed things. Exhilarating for her, but alarming to others.

Sons and Oldest Daughter managed Eve’s admission to hospital. She had to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. She was wildly angry about what she thought a betrayal by her eldest children.

She appealed to the youngest – the one who had not been able to face the sight of her mum in such a psychotic state. And what happened next? You’ve guessed. The youngest charged to the “rescue”, took control of mum, declared that the rest of us were behaving terribly. Then came an avoidable chain of recriminations (including a court case) ending a year later in our mother’s death. Youngest Daughter did not come to the funeral. Two of us, hurt by her accusations, have not spoken with her since. An ongoing silence of nine years and it’s difficult to know how to break it.

This is just one version of what can go wrong for men beyond 50 when already damaged relationships with siblings are worsened by the decline and death of a parent. If only we had seen the shift in power better, managed it better. If only we had had some help from a neutral outsider. It has made me think hard about what older men can expect from a brother or sister. I’d be glad to read others’ experiences.

Son One

Getting married at 50?

Sep 03 2012

Recommended – if you’ve got the right woman!

I first got married at the age of 22.  It’s painful for me to look at those wedding photos from 1971: I look so young, and naïve.  And it’s true: my experience of life and relationship was small.  No one in their early twenties can have an accurate sense of how a marriage will work out.

Let’s take a giant leap forward, to July 21, 2012, my second marriage.  How is it different, getting wed in your maturing years?  At 63, I feel a much deeper sense of who I am, who I want to be, and quite a good perspective on the years ahead.

For the record, my first marriage lasted 27 years, so you could say I have form for the long term.  Linda and I have been together for six years, and after three years of extensively knocking or polishing corners off each other, it was clear that we wanted to continue, and settle down – an attractive idea at my age.

In 2010, we bought a house together, where we hope to live for the next twenty years, maybe to the end of our lives: an idea I have never considered in any previous house purchase.

There’s plenty of research showing that most men are happier and healthier in a relationship than single.  The great majority of men beyond 50 that I know are in a long-term partnership, and the others are usually seeking one.  What I’d like to explore is why get married at this stage of life?  Surely it’s more flexible just to live together?

Part of the answer in my case is that Linda had never been married and she would like us to be.  I try to please, so it took a real effort from me, over a couple of years, to keep my boundaries on this and say nothing until I was really clear if I wanted to get married.

I want a partnership that’s both deep and stable over the long term, and I believe there’s more depth and stability in a marriage: depth of love, of mutual support, of potential growth for both individuals.  Plus spiritual depth: meaning a clearer connection to the highest good, and to the purpose of the relationship.

Even the wedding ceremony started to bring some of these qualities to us.  We felt bathed in the love of our family and friends: it was so strong that it melted a lot of my terror of intimacy and openness.  And we learned more about the good qualities our relationship already embodies, from the speeches, the cards, and the conversation.

I know many long-term couples who are happily unmarried, so I’m not suggesting this would suit everyone.  And there are big questions about finding the right woman, and being a suitable partner.  All this is covered in a long chapter in my forthcoming book, Men Beyond 50: Enjoying it Now!