Father’s Day is this month. Two things come to mind:
1. Where are the men?
In our Creative Aging workshops around the country, no matter where we look or what arts discipline is offered, the ratio of women to men is about 8.5:1. It’s too simple to say that women live longer than men, and so there are more women around to participate in these programs. But there are almost 9 times more older women than men, and most participants are not the very old, so why the great disparity?
While baby boomers have been dubbed by the mainstream media as an enlightened generation who will change the face of aging, we can’t forget their primary influencers. A man of 70 today was raised by parents who were likely born in the 1920’s. Values and gender roles were much less fluid than they are today. A man’s worth (and his self-worth) was determined by the extent of his ability to earn money and support a family. With the advent of “leisure time,” male pursuits tended to be physical and traditionally excluded women (i.e. sports and outdoor recreation).
These are roles that are transmitted and internalized. And they are not easily shaken off despite attempts in every generation to tie creativity to positive self -worth. From The Jazz Singer to Dead Poets Society to Billy Elliot characters had to confront the premise that engaging in artistic pursuits is unmanly and unproductive. There are of course exceptions, but for every older male who signs up for a poetry workshop, there is the (true) story of the 62 year old retiree in Pennsylvania who hides his oil painting from his friends for fear that they will impugn his character.
I’m optimistic that subsequent generations will have the benefit of being raised with a more balanced view of what makes up an integrated and productive life.
2. My Father…
would have been 98 in April so he falls pretty close to the demographic I’ve described above. Typical of my upbringing, and very much like my peers, I had virtually no exposure to the arts growing up.
There was a brief flirtation with clarinet lessons when I was 10. This came about solely because someone left a clarinet on the back seat of my father’s taxi. That endeavor was doomed to failure because a) my skinny 10 year old fingers couldn’t cover the holes on the clarinet; and b) I couldn’t bring myself to practice when my friends were playing ball in the street outside my house.
That was the extent of my “arts exposure” with exception of trips to the local movie house to see masterpieces like House on Haunted Hill. I have no idea how I became interested in the arts, and specifically theatre. I did not see my first stage play until I was 21 (Jesus Christ Superstar) which I’m sure I did to try to impress the young woman I was dating.
I actually have no idea why my interest in the arts developed the way it did, to the point now, that I take it for granted. While I can’t attribute it to anything my parents did, I do wonder about their influence. I didn’t perceive that much rubbed off on me from my father, with the exception of his hunched posture and flat feet. He was an outgoing guy (not me), a good dancer (really not me.) But, he liked to tell stories, and he was a terrific storyteller. Some of the stories were from his life. Some of them started out as true but contained embellishments or exaggerations (often created on the spot) to make them more interesting.
I finally saw the DNA strand. My plays are my stories-inspired by something real but using my imagination to create something to capture your attention. I can only hope they’re as entertaining as my father’s.
My father never made it to “older adulthood”. He was 53 when he died. I like to think that if he lived longer he’d attend a Creative Aging workshop where he’d have a whole new audience for his stories.
And I’d have more to write about him.
Artwork by Lisa Curran
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