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July 20, 2006

Call to Action from the Retirement Home

Kelly Corrigan's column appears with permission from The Hills Newspaper Group.

I HAVE a friend who’s turning 85 soon. Her family calls her Grandma Bea and, feeling as I do about her, that’s what I call her too. We sat together last weekend, talking about the comings and goings of her retirement home, a veritable Melrose Place for Bay Area widows and widowers. She said the women do well; they play bridge, they cook for each other, they meet at the pool and laugh about their sagging bodies. The men, she said, aren’t as communal. “They seem a little lost” was how she put it.

I nodded. This seemed predictable. Men, in my broad estimation, have a tenth the innate social aptitude of women. Or maybe it’s a tenth the interest. Or a tenth the time. Whatever it is, men don’t fall into connections the way women do. We counsel each other, we confess to each other, we track each other. How many men do you know that keep the social calendar for their household? As far as I can tell, they all defer to their wives, using the standard line: “Sounds great, but I better check with the boss.”

No, men work. And when they’re not working, they’re working out, usually alone. Then they head home, to kiss the boss.

So, Grandma Bea notes, when the boss dies, men find their social muscles have atrophied, leaving them with the same choice corporations face when they find a hole in their product line: buy or build? It’s a crass comparison but stick with me. “Buying,” in the case of the widower, is to find a nice widow who will pick up where the first wife left off. “Building,” always the more daunting option, demands that the widower relearn social skills and establish his own circle of friends.

Which brings me to golf. And mountain biking, tennis, and sports bars. It’s long been accepted that women bond by talking and men bond by doing. Consequently, much male bonding requires special shoes, which tend to be expensive mud-magnets that never quite find a suitable home, but I digress.

Golf and it’s counterparts (henceforth to be collectively referred to as “golf”) are often pooh-poohed as thinly veiled attempts to shirk family responsibilities, mainly because sometimes that’s exactly what they are. Just like the tenth grade field trip that was cancelled because a couple of hooligans tried to sneak a flask of Jack Daniels on the bus, a few self-indulgent men have ruined “golf” for everyone. But for most of the guys out there, “golf” is actually a path to fellowship, the very fellowship that will keep them emotionally alive and connected. So, at the risk of losing some girlfriends, I say here that “golf” is an essential component of a man’s emotional health.

Unfortunately, “golf” keeps fathers from children and husbands from wives for hours and hours on end. “Golf” essentially makes a Saturday just a sixth weekday for women. And, thinking about it from the man’s perspective, “golf” is short-term thinking. See, many of the activities I’m calling “golf” prefer the young. When age walks off smugly with a man’s youth, that man better have a Plan B for staying connecting.
So, here’s my big idea, 533 words into it. How about men start bonding over play dates, as we women have learned to do. I ask, would it be so laughable to imagine men organizing a weekend coffee? I mean, at the very least, they’d gorge shamelessly on the pastries instead of nibbling regretfully, one 15-calorie bite after another, as we women do. The conversation can still cover Barry Bonds, IPOs, Swimsuit Models; it just has to be clean enough to be overheard by minors.

The man play date corrects two flaws in the current arrangement: men practice connecting through conversation, sparing themselves the 11th hour Build or Buy conundrum, and women actually get a proper weekend, sparing them that low level resentment that builds up over decades of “golf.”

Huh? Whaddaya think?

July 06, 2006

Nothing To Do But Laugh

Kelly Corrigan’s column is reprinted here with permission from The Hills Newspapers.

So, it’s almost 10pm. My column was due today and I just opened a new document. I’m 700 words from bed. I had something going earlier today, but then I went to a t-ball game and realized that my column was all wrong.

See, I’d been stewing on this idea about kids and sports. I thought I wanted to write about the drawback of downplaying the differences between ringers and scrubs. As cold-hearted as this may seem, I thought I wanted to question the overt, “everybody’s-a-winner” message of t-ball. The truth is I find it suspect that every player gets a trophy and no one keeps score. The absence of ranking and competition is bound to ring false, even to a bunch of nose-picking five year-olds. Pretending that everyone is the same is a. impossible, b. unnecessary and c. confusing. I mean, just in the last month, my daughter has watched a World Cup soccer game, waited while Dad finished his tennis match, and overheard twenty-some conversations about winning and losing. And then there’s her natural inclination to make a competition out of everything from getting up the stairs to finishing her popsicle.

So basically, what I was gonna say was that kids know when we’re snowing them with Pollyanna lines like “Good try!” Say it ‘til you’re blue in the face but if they just saw the sea of painted faces on the sidelines of Brazil v. Ghana, the know that there’s something big about the ball going in the net. Even at t-ball, they notice that all the adults stop chatting with each other and tune back into the game when a kid hits a ball over the pitchers’ head and they hear us chuckle when a kid makes the ball dribble off the tee by whacking the plastic stand like a frustrated log splitter.

But I just got home from a t-ball game and tossed my draft about all that in the trash. While we may be giving them mixed signals, and that may be hurting our credibility and overemphasizing success in sports in the process, it’d be a sin to overlook the pure joy of t-ball. Honestly, tonight, watching the Indians take turns at bat with the Dodgers, well, I haven’t felt that pure in six months. It was exactly what I hoped parenthood would be when I was a dreamy college girl whose biggest ambition was having my own family.

Sure, a player I’ll refer to as “Number Two” was a natural slugger whose swing made my daughter look like she’d just had a body cast removed. Yes, all the adults scattered around the perimeter of the field sat up when he was at bat, and, yeah, the other kids probably picked up on that energy.

But the most palpable feeling there was joie de vive (and you know I must be serious if I’m resorting to French).

I sat next one of the dads, whose wife happens to be in oral chemotherapy. We couldn’t finish a sentence about doctors, new drugs and MRIs without pausing to laugh at something on the field. During the first “inning,” a kid ran from home plate to second base, diagonally, since the boy on first seemed like he was pretty settled in there and didn’t intend on moving. Then, a batter fielded his own six-foot hit, diving for the ball before the other team piled on. Eventually, the coaches had to intervene. The confused young batter kept saying, “But it’s mine!” My daughter, after her second at bat, did this little booty dance when she got to third base. “I have three!” she called over to me.

There’s time to question how we communicate to our kids about the spectrum of abilities, about winning and losing, about making the All Star team or getting cut from the Varsity, but for tonight, I wouldn’t dare cloud the t-ball experience by over-analyzing it. It was a Technicolor Keystone Cops movie and I’ll go to bed happy, with that old time piano music from Black and White movies bouncing around in my head.