Find Kelly on Facebook

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?