Throughout history, fathers have played an important role in weaving the fabric of family life and their actions and attitudes have helped shape us into who we are today. Typically, the American father plays an integral part in our culture: breadwinner, advisor, playmate, savior and friend. While mothers are considered the backbone of emotional sustenance and physical upbringing, fathers are quite often the rock most family members lean on for support in different ways. Fathers frequently provide solid, steadfast and silent strength throughout life.
Fathers often play the role of the stoic figurehead within the family unit. Mothers are known to kiss our bruises and wipe our tears, providing nurturing emotional support that we carry through our own lives. Fathers are generally less sympathetic, at least outwardly so, encouraging us to “buck up” and move along. Both qualities have value in shaping children into successful adults. However, just as women should not become too emotional or needy, men should not become aloof and indifferent in regard to their own emotional and physical wellbeing.
Research shows that many older male adults who have developed stoicism may be endangering their health. Male stoicism has been found to be the root cause of older men dying of illnesses that could otherwise have been prevented or treated. These men are less likely to visit their doctors for routine exams, more apt to write off chest pains or other ailments as insignificant, and prefer to follow the advice upon which they were raised: “man up” and show no weakness. For this reason, men often do not verbalize their thoughts and feelings or relay other information that may indicate underlying physical or mental health issues.
The critical challenge as these men age is in encouraging them to talk openly about their lives, especially if they are living home alone in their senior years. This does not mean Dad has to sit down with you and have a good old-fashioned womanly cry. However, it does mean is you have to find a way to have a conversation with the senior male that provides information without making him feel uncomfortable. To do this, start by asking open-ended questions that require more of an answer than a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead of quickly making assumptions or verbalizing immediate advice, practice the art of truly listening to what is being said. The more information you are able to gather this way can help you determine the facts or indications of possible health issues. You might decide that discussing male stoicism and its effects on the aging male’s health is an effective way to start a productive conversation. Offer to accompany your senior loved one to doctor’s visits to ensure proper oversight and care of illness.
These conversations may be hard at first, especially for your male loved one. Remind your father or grandfather that you are not belittling him or negating the essence of who he is. Rather, you are celebrating his life and trying to help enable him in continuing to live a healthy, independent life for as long as possible.