Being a Man

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He Played the Game by the Rules, but Why?

He Played the Game by the Rules, but Why?

His e-mail was filled with the quiet despair of a man who never had learned how to ask for help.

He was, he related, a man of my generation. A man who had been a husband, a father, a businessman. A man who had played the game by the rules as he, and most men of our generation, understood them. And now, he says, "I have lost."

His wife died more than a dozen years ago. His kids are grown. He no longer works. He has lost contact with his friends and acquaintances.

"I can't help but have the feeling that all my life I have worked to further myself for the benefit of my family, but now they are gone. So what does it matter?  I have played the game by the rules and I have lost."

He has considered, he wrote, all the standard answers. None of them has helped. "I have stopped my volunteer work, nor do I attend church anymore. I do not exercise, play sports, entertain friends nor family, travel or do anything in which I once found so much enjoyment.

"Some people have said I should talk to someone, go see a doctor, do something. I find that easier said than done. I have always been the strong one, the leader, the quiet influence behind the scene.

"So whom do I talk to?  My children? They call me for support when they think of who can help them. My doctor?  He will think I'm some whiny old guy crying sour grapes. I'm sorry, but I have always been from that generation that said: If you have a problem, you fix it. My problem is that I have this problem, and for the first time in my life, I don't know how to fix it."

I have neither the credentials nor the temperament to deal with the problems of others. I have a low tolerance for self-pity. An impatience with whiny old guys. My approach to my problems, and to the problems of others, has been pretty much the same as his. Pretty much the same as for most men of our generation. If you have a problem, you fix it. We were the generation of men who never asked for help. And we took pride in that.

But if age does snot automatically give you wisdom, it sometimes helps you find empathy. And, if I do not have answers for the man who is asking "now what?" at least I understand what he is saying.

My guess is that there are a lot of men in our generation who are, or soon will be, asking "now what?"  Men wondering if they have lost. Men raised to play the game by the rules who now have discovered that the rules have changed and the scoreboard has lied. That the things that were supposed to be important turned out not to be.

There are, I'm sure, plenty of women with the same unanswered questions. Women whose husbands have died and whose children have gone and who wonder "now what?" But they seem better at coping when the rules of the game change. More likely to have a circle of friends. Less likely to worry that a doctor will consider them old and whiny if they ask for help.

As a man who also as raised to believe that if you have a problem, you fix it, I have no answers for the e-mail writer.

Maybe the best I can do is to let him know that he is not alone. That one man's quiet despair might just be the echo of an entire generation of men.

Source: Tribune Media Services. D. L. Stewart (59) is a columnist for the Dayton Daily News. Write to him c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N Michigan Ave, Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611 or

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