Book Chat: The Care and Feeding of the Aging Human Male Species – A Sassy Primer

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Patricia Dubroof:

Okay, well, it’s three o’clock. So it’s another great day for a Book Chat. I’d like to welcome all of you to Assisting Hands Home Care’s monthly Book Chat. And I’m your host, Patricia Dubroff. I’m glad you all could join us for this informal half-hour of learning. And I think, in this case, it’s going to be entertainment as well as enjoyment.

Patricia Dubroof:

As you probably know, Assisting Hands Home Care Potomac provides meaningful caregiving support to our families in Montgomery County and Fairfax County. And as director of community relations, I get to do fun things like this. And I have the honor of working closely with all of these families in our senior community. We provide information and education about home care and aging well. And to that end, I am delighted to introduce Irene Shere who created a new must-read called The Care and Feeding of the Aging Human Male Species: A Sassy Primer.

Patricia Dubroof:

Woo, so let me just show you. Oh, this is a throwback picture of my mom and dad at their wedding. And the reason I show that is because it’s all about the elders. So, my mom is aging well at 93 and I’m here helping her do that. And it comes from a very impassioned place to help folks in this time, especially with the COVID weirdness. So, I’m going to let you read through this, and I’m just going to tell you that Irene has had… Come back, no come back here. Irene has had many careers over the years. And she’s been a computer systems analyst, a high school math teacher, a preschool teacher. She was an early childhood consultant for over 25 years in this DC area. And she worked with especially challenging three to six-year-old boys, which may have prepared her for living with and loving the aging human male species.

Patricia Dubroof:

We are thrilled that she was able to join us today because Irene and I have known each other for a long time and share the love of her daughter, who’s a good friend of mine as well. And when she moved to Florida in 2017, she became immersed in this other scene of aging couples and connecting differently because her other connections in Maryland were no longer her connections, or they were over the telephone. But she was drawn to this subject matter. And this primer, which I have read cover to cover and felt delicious during the reading of it like eating ice cream, includes not only great stories, but worksheets and guides, and glossaries, and teaching moments. And it’s a real primer. It’s such a great word for it.

Patricia Dubroof:

So, I thought it would be nice for Irene to talk to us a little bit about how this book got started, and we’re going to take it in small chunks over the next half hour. And just let her give us the guideline of why bother making this book and how it started. So, she has written other books and had other books published, so she wasn’t new to the book world necessarily.

Irene Shere:

Okay. So thank you, Patricia. Thank you so much for welcoming me and thank you all for joining today. And at any point in time, feel free to just chime in with your own experiences, or questions, or sage advice that you want to share. And it’s always, as I said to Don, it’s always nice to have a man and have someone coming from the other side.

Irene Shere:

I started writing this book three… well, actually I did start writing this book. This book started writing itself. And I think a lot of books come out of people’s passion and out of their interests and out of their studies. And this book actually came out of Caesar Salads. When I moved to Florida four years ago, along with Helen Weels, if you notice from the cover, there are coauthors Helen Weels and Rae Jean Beech, we’ve been joined at the hips for a long time and they came down in spirit.

Irene Shere:

Helen, couldn’t be here today, but her spirit will be here in conversation. Her introduction in the book is basically humor, eases the heart, and lets us love flow in. So, there’s a very humorous vibe throughout the book. And then, Rae Jean Beech, the other listed coauthor, her motto is a badass with a good ass. So she’s the sassy part of the primer. Okay.

Irene Shere:

And I can read to you parts of the book to let you know how the book got started. And I’ll read from just Helen the beginning part where she says, “To be honest, this book was plagiarized. It was copied directly from the lives of aging human females.” And I should note that every single anecdote in the book, there’s an anecdote in almost every chapter is a real-life anecdote from my friends and my family. I’ve just changed the names to protect the innocent and to protect the guilty.

Irene Shere:

“The Sassy Primer is a collection of literary selfies of real aging women as they talk, eat, sleep with and without sex and share their bathroom sink with their real aging men all while during their best to cope with the accompanying, awe, frustration, disbelief, confusion, and love.

Irene Shere:

When we moved to Florida years ago, all of us descended together. And to our delight, we’re ready to form friendships and we found a very eager population in Sarasota ready to make friends. During every conversation with our girlfriends, common themes of living with an aging man caught us by surprise. It was almost as if we were all married to or partners with the same man and struggling with the same challenges. There seemed to be a universal aging human male species. Our men were they new aging men or newly aging men, were acting out their anxieties and fears about aging in similar ways, ways that had us shaking our well-clocked heads, and as we women often do, sharing our concerns helped us cope, bond, laugh, cry and sigh. And we learned a little bit too.”

Irene Shere:

And so, this book was started over three years ago. Every time I’d have lunch with a friend, usually, a new friend I’d come home and I’d start writing a chapter. And then, I’d come home and write a chapter. And then, maybe my partner Bill and I would get in a fight and I’d write a chapter. And that went on for about two or three months. And then, all of a sudden I started waking up at 3:00 in the morning and I would have a chapter title and the first couple chapters already written in my head.

Irene Shere:

And at 3:00 in the morning, I crept into my office and sat down at my keyboard, and just started typing away. And some of the stuff I thought was pretty funny. So, there I was sitting at my keyboard at 3:00 in the morning, cracking myself up and I thought, “Oh if anybody can see me, they’d think I was a lunatic.” But I started to feel like something was happening. 3:00 in the morning was there’s some subconscious coming through. But I think that what was happening, and I believe it more and more as I wrote more of the book, I almost felt like my ancestors were talking to me.

Irene Shere:

I love the picture of Gilda and Sol, Patricia’s mom and dad. And I did get the feeling as I was writing this book that I had my mother and my grandmothers and my great grandparents, just sharing all the ancient ancestral wisdom of how women have coped over the years. And so what did emerge over the three years developed into four different pieces. And I will say that it’s amazing how much the world has changed in three years.

Irene Shere:

When I started writing this book three years ago, I thought about, “Well, women’s groups are so important, what should I call them?” And I thought, “Well, I love whales, I love dolphins, pods of whales, pods of dolphins. Let’s talk about pods of women.” And then, I decided to call the pods, Precious Old Dames, an acronym for Precious Old Dames. Now, three years later, PODs are part of the vernacular of our culture. And three years ago, I just thought, “I need a strong cover. I need Rosie the Riveter.” And Rosie, three years ago, wasn’t so popular and now she’s popular and I’m even wearing my Rosie earrings, the red and white polka dot earrings. So a lot’s changed in the last few years.

Irene Shere:

But what really hasn’t changed in some ways is basically what women need as we age and what men need as we age and what’s needed in our relationships. So I can take a pause or a breath here right now. I don’t know if anyone wants to comment or ask a question. And then I can describe the different pieces of the book and read some from the book, or go into other things.

Patricia Dubroof:

So I thought what we do is have the Q and A for the last bit, just because there’s so much to get through. This is a 320, 30-page book and there are lots of different sections. So I thought it would be fun to alert you to a few things. How many of you, just by a show of hands, have actually gotten the book and read it or have it on your bedside table already? Yay, Leora. Thank you. And I have to say Leora was a former Book Chat friend of ours, and we interviewed her about her book, which is still sitting next to my desk, Catch Me If You Can. Catch Me a Catch, sorry.

Irene Shere:

And I read that and I loved it. And that’s wonderful. It’s a wonderful, very fascinating story about Leora’s work and her life.

Patricia Dubroof:

And it’s a good segue to this because Leora’s whole concept is about finding true love and partnerships for elder aging folks. And so it was really fun to have Irene on her Book Chat and Irene and Leora on your Book Chat but the one thing that I like-

Leora Hoffman:

I loved this book and what really jumped out at me was just the warmth, and the love, and the humor that infuses the whole experience of reading it. It wraps itself around you and I just felt so great reading it.

Irene Shere:

Well, thank you, Leora. Thank you.

Patricia Dubroof:

Unsolicited opinions, I love it. So I wanted to tell you that what I love also about this book and maybe it’s part of the computer analyst side of you, but it’s laid out very simply for people to figure out. There’s a chapter, there’s a great quote. I think the titles of the chapter and the quotes could be a book all on their own. And then she’s hooked up with this great illustrator who really… It’s kind of a retro look, but it’s also very modern and telling our yoga, are you a Guinea woman here, for example, and there’s sex in the book. This is something that feels still so taboo and loves that. But I think, that’s a piece of this that makes so much sense to talk about. So tell me about the concept of the guy of the guide.

Irene Shere:

Okay. So the book was written in pieces and emerged over three years. Okay. First, it was just what my coauthor, Helen called a treatise. But some people call Rae Jean’s party complaint as it was basically a sweetened sour snark on men and how hard they are to get along and how different they are. The first part of the field guide is about two main things I think that I came to conceptualize along with my friends over the three years that the book took. And one is about how men’s needs are so different from women’s needs and about the issue of competence. And there’s a great picture. I don’t know if you can hold the book up, but what I conceptualize as the geezer triangle of needs. Okay. There’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but this is a geezer triangle of needs.

Irene Shere:

And it’s taken after is that Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. It’s the guy who’s naked and you’ve probably seen it from… So, and the triangle needs for men are sex, sports, and sustenance. Okay. And there’s a whole description. There’s a whole chapter in the book on… Well, there’s a lot of chapters in the book on sex and sustenance and sports and how men have those basic needs. And then there’s a comparison with what I call the Dame Diamond, which is a more faceted section of needs for women. And basically, it’s about feelings and revealings how our inner passions are expressed through art and volunteering and connections and bodies, all our different issues around body issues for women and also pods, precious old Dames. And so the first part, the field guide does a contrast where men’s needs are so different in a lot of ways than women’s needs.

Irene Shere:

And I think those become clear, especially when most people have retired and they’re kind of, there’s not that 9:00 to 5:00 job. You’re looking at yourself 24/7. And so that’s one important part of the field guide. And the second part is something that my friends and I came to realize as I was writing this book, the importance in, especially in aging man, in terms of his self-concept of competence. Okay. And there’s a really great quote by Helen here that a man’s sense of his own competence is as crucial to his well-being as a woman’s sense of her lovability. And it’s just so interesting when we would get together and talk over lunch, and we described some of the conflicts and fights that we’d be having with our aging man, we talked for five minutes or 10 minutes or 20 minutes or 40 minutes.

Irene Shere:

And then someone would say, Oh, it’s the competence thing. Oh my God, whatever I said or did, or didn’t say, or didn’t do called his competence or capability into question. And that was such a difficult thing that it caused a lot of conflict and challenges in the relationship. And before we, as friends and formulated some of this, and it was almost every discussion now where there’s been a conflict between an aging man and an aging woman at the seed of it, of course, we aging women have our own issues, but there’s something where a man’s felt like his competence or his need to be needed is called into question.

Irene Shere:

There’s another great quote in there I can’t remember by who, but women need to be loved and men need to be needed. And there are just some basic feelings that ring true. And that’s in the field guide. There’s a lot of different questions and anecdotes and examples and quizzes related to these main concepts. So they dovetail into the second section. Okay. So let me stop there before we get to the second section. I don’t know if you wanted to say something, Patricia.

Patricia Dubroof:

Well, I was going to show you the diamond version.

Irene Shere:

The dame diamond. I don’t know if you can see that. It’s the feelings and revealings, and then on the left are BODs, all about body image, body perception, bodies breaking down memories, all the body issues that women seem to deal with more. And then PODs, precious old Dames. And we can talk a little bit about precious old Dames and there’s… I amplify in… So the first half of the book is the field guide, and then we get to partnerships. And then the third one is the Dame digest about women. And the fourth one, instead of a discussion group, I have activities and games that women can play. One thing that really became interesting in the book was that emerged for me was that the importance of women’s friendships in their lives in terms of researching men and men’s health, it was interesting that I found out that the men who live the longest are the ones who are partnered or married.

Irene Shere:

And the women who live the longest are the ones who have strong women friends outside their marriage or partnership. And there’s even been physical… there’s even been medical research that has shown that when women connect with each other, their oxytocin levels go up and women with friends. And when they get together with friends, their blood pressure’s better. The immunity system gets strengthened. It’s almost healthy. It’s almost like as we’re talking here, I know Don, okay, your pheromones are a little different and your hormones are different. But as we’re talking here, this is actually adding to our health. That female connection is so important. And I’ve thought of the saying, old age is not for sissies, but for old women, old age is for sisters and sisterhood. And so that was one thing that emerged as I was doing the book. Okay.

Patricia Dubroof:

Other things, some other topics that you touch on-

Irene Shere:

Don, did you want to say something?

Don:

Yeah. Your statistics are quite interesting, but it makes me want to ask, what do they say about men with friends? Do they play no impact? No advantage?

Patricia Dubroof:

To go and get-

Irene Shere:

The research that I read, excuse me, their oxytocin and go up when they tend to befriend other men, but not nearly at the level of women with women. So much stronger woman to woman response, health-wise and physically. But that’s a good question. And it’s-

Patricia Dubroof:

I’m going to let you finish copying and drinking while I say in a general way. Irene speaks very clearly that this is not the everything book, that this is about heterosexual, mostly experiences. Although you could swap out males for me, it’s not equally divided, but then, it’s a person of a certain age. It’s a person that can retire and has an income. That’s what she’s talking about that particular group of demographics. Not everybody has that privilege. And so for those who have to work until they’re 85 years old and then go on disability or social security, it’s a different picture. But I think that’s part of what the treat is about reading this book is seeing it from that perspective that it’s not eaten, pray the love of the 35 something who’s in a bad relationship and goes off and finds food and whatever else she finds.

Patricia Dubroof:

But more about this aging population, who’s part of the baby boomers, who’ve lived a great life who had that American dream of we’re going to retire someday to Florida and have our kids come with their grandkids. So that’s the perspective of this book and some of the fun pieces of it, even when she talks about, talking about money and talking about sex and talking about grandchildren and travel and whatever the pieces are that come into a relationship, she has a fun angle on it. And it makes it readable to the point where you might actually open up and discuss it with your mate.

Irene Shere:

Feels good. I do think in dealing with a lot of these topics, if you just take the topics without the fun titles, they’re serious topics, and one theme that really runs through the book is that laughter’s the best medicine. Almost maybe the only medicine and laughter is available over the counter, over the kitchen counter, no bottles where you have to open it with arthritic hands, no Medicare copay, and if you’re talking with a friend and you’re laughing at the end of the conversation, there’s no one saying, “Do you want to take a survey after this conversation?” It’s like, the humor has to be there.

Irene Shere:

And I think that’s what’s been missing in the pandemic. I mean, it’s been so tragic and so dark, it’s hard to find the humor, but actually, I do have coming out in two weeks, is my first pandemic primer newsletter, where I have an article every month that’s going to come out. Hopefully, the pandemic influence will, or tragedy will end within six or eight months, but every article kind of a humorous take on pandemic partnerships just to lighten things up. Not that it’s not serious.

Patricia Dubroof:

Yeah. I think it’s through the humor though, that it opens the door to having those conversations that are often uncomfortable.

Irene Shere:

Right.

Patricia Dubroof:

And you do that beautifully.

Irene Shere:

Thank you. Thank you.

Patricia Dubroof:

Talk a little bit about what your biggest vision is for folks who do read the book and then want to contribute back. And because this is a building a community book, this isn’t just a one-off.

Irene Shere:

Right. Right. Basically. And there’s an epilogue to this book, which is really just a lot of my raw feelings about the book. I did end up feeling like I wrote the book myself, and if I never sold the copy, I felt like I learned so much from writing the book. But at first, I thought, well, gosh, this book was three years in the making. That’s a long gestation period. But then I realized when I was a teenager in the summers, I used to read a book a day and I’d always read a book with a dictionary next to me. So I’d look up a new word, find out where it came from, all the definitions, the spelling, all that. And I loved writing and I had wanted to major in English in college, but my father who was paying the bills said, “You can’t. I don’t think you could get a job with English afterward.” Graduating an English degree.

Irene Shere:

So I ended up getting a math degree, but I realized that I’d always wanted to be a writer. So just like last month when I was preparing for the book launch, I had that, “Oh my gosh, this book has not been gestating for three years. This book has been gestating since I was 15,” I just turned 75. So this has been gestating for like 60 years. And I thought, “Finally, this book is about me finding my voice.” And I think that’s was what’s at the heart of this book is people finding their voice and especially women finding their voice. My mother’s in this book a lot. And my daughter and I were talking about her a couple of months ago and my father was a very narcissistic strong personality and he dominated everything until in his 70s, he started getting all time and that’s when there was finally room for my mother to find her voice and make friends.

Irene Shere:

And I got to know her. And I think one of the overarching themes in this book is women finding their voice as they get older. May Sarton in her book on 70, says that everyone becomes more themselves as they get older. So I think in this book, I feel like this was me coming into my voice as a writer. And I think a lot of this book is about coming into ourselves and finding our voice as women, finding our voice within ourselves, finding our voice within our relationship with the man in our lives, and finding our voice within our sisterhood and within our PODs or precious old Dames. And so a lot of this book is, okay, what are we going to do with our one wild and precious life? We’re going to try to find that voice no matter how old we are.

Patricia Dubroof:

That’s a great way to segue into Q and A.

Irene Shere:

Okay.

Patricia Dubroof:

let’s open it up. If you have a question, just unmute yourself or raise your hand or do something and I’ll help.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So one of the things that I think is also interesting and probably should be mentioned is simply that, I mean I think there are real differences between men and women and things like that, but there’s also always these gradations. And so one particular instance that my dad would definitely fall into what you would expect from a man, but then a friend of mine, her father was really the very warm one that the real caretaker of the family. So it was really interesting, but then he died fairly young, which was too bad for my friend.

Speaker 1:

So it was a little different there, but as one of my experiences, I mean the competency was very interesting to me because I tend to think of women as to being, and certainly the women that are my friends that I have those really special relationships, but in general, I think of the women as being the real competent ones, but they don’t tend to talk about it. They don’t make a big deal about it. They just go quietly do their work. And so in our family, it was my husband who… It was really funny that when my son was just in nursery school, instead of calling him daddy, he called him Joulwan. And then as soon as the nursery was over, he stopped. But that’s just a funny story, but-

Patricia Dubroof:

I’m going to… I want to see if there are other questions because we only have a couple of minutes left.

Irene Shere:

And I did want to just comment on… Well, I could comment on a couple of things, but just quickly what Anne said. I do think certain people take different roles that, and I’m not trying to stereotype people. I mean, when I worked with families, when I worked with gay or lesbian families, they felt just like heterosexual families and same issues in couple issues. But I do think the competence issue goes a little deeper in terms of DNA. I mean, certainly everyone on this, all the women here are competent women that’s for sure. But I do think, I mean, when I think how many times, not in the pandemic of course, but how many times do you check yourself in the mirror before you go out?

Irene Shere:

How many times a day does a woman check her competence meter? I don’t think so. I think a woman usually texts her how she’s doing a little differently than a man does. And I do think some of it’s… A few years ago there was this guy who did a great presentation called Defending the Caveman. I do think some of this is hot hardwired and in terms of DNA. I mean, I don’t remember rarely having a fight that had at its roots, my competence, maybe about my lovability or being heard emotionally. But I think certainly there everyone’s on, not to stereotype, there’s a spectrum, of men and women, but I’m talking about some really core basic needs that I think at least have to be considered, even though they’re not overriding. I don’t know if-

Patricia Dubroof:

Any other comments or questions?

Irene Shere:

I think Don had a question.

Patricia Dubroof:

Don, you want to jump in?

Don:

Well, I have a number of questions starting with the trivia. Is your subject a real person or is that just a joke?

Irene Shere:

Well, you could take a look at the epilogue. Okay. The epilogue is there are four sections to the book and the epilogue is tying the previous four sections together. So I would encourage you. I hate it when people say, read the book, but you’ve asked a great question.

Don:

Well, I’m looking at the table of contents online and so many of the titles are jokes that it’s making me think, maybe the third author it’s just a joke.

Irene Shere:

Yeah. Oh, you mean Rae Jean Beech?

Don:

Yeah.

Irene Shere:

Yeah, well, she’s the bad-ass one and Helen’s the goody-goody. So it’s good… I would encourage you to find out that answer for yourself.

Don:

Fair enough. Well, I’ll go to a different question and that is so many of the topics that you are bringing up really have little to do with aging in particular and is something that deserves attention, no matter how old you are or no matter how young your marriage is.

Irene Shere:

Well, it’s an interesting point because I tried to find older women to work with. My editor turned out to be in her 30s. My cartoonist, I looked for an older woman in Florida and ended up finding a 49-year-old cartoonist in England. My designer was an older woman and some of my social media people were in their 30s and 40s and they all found elements in the book in their own relationships, but also saw them reflected in their parents’ relationships. So I think some things are universal. I think my opinion is that especially in the demographic, the way Patricia described it, these may be issues in every marriage, but when you’re 24/7, especially the pandemic, oh my gosh, they almost become neon sometimes, almost like neon signs.

Irene Shere:

So, and especially with the pandemic, you don’t have the usual structures and distractions and fun things just waiting for you out the door. It’s also internal. So I think you’re right. Some of them are universal, but in my experience and my sample among my friends in the DC area and Florida, somehow these things get highlighted. And when you don’t have your job for whatever, all the things your job fulfilled, then there can be more conflicts or some of these things come to the fore more. That’s just experiential. [crosstalk 00:31:43] Are you retired Don, may I ask?

Don:

Yes, I’m retired.

Irene Shere:

Okay. Okay.

Patricia Dubroof:

And he’s a familiar face on our Book Chat, so it’s always-

Irene Shere:

Oh, good. Good.

Patricia Dubroof:

… good to have a dialogue. I wanted to say too, that I wanted to connect the fact that one of the chapters that are not in there yet, but maybe it will be on the blog is what happens when one of you gets sick and need support. And what does that look like? And have you had that conversation and our guest, I guess she went off, Jane Markley, is all about advance care planning and making… You did have a section in your about wills, but it’s really from our perspective in the home care world. It’s one of the things that a lot of couples haven’t really talked about. They talk in broad circles, but it would be interesting to hear your take on that at some point.

Patricia Dubroof:

So I want to thank Irene so much for coming over here from her sunny Sarasota to our wintery wonderland of the North and I know that her contact information has been up. And if you need that information, you’ve got my email. So you can always email me back. It’s easy to find on Amazon. And I know that she loves hearing the comments back once you’ve read chapters or the whole book. So, Don, you’re going to have a big email conversation with Irene on all those pieces once you read it.

Irene Shere:

If I could just add Patricia, I have a website, sassyprimer.com, and it has a lot of… This book wasn’t just about… The book was also building a community and changing the culture and the language around aging and the website is where you can sign up to get my monthly newsletter, but it also has an interactive element to it where you can write in questions and suggestions. And so there’s a community there. So if you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to go to sassyprimer.com and share whatever your thoughts are or your questions or your solutions. So that would be great.

Patricia Dubroof:

That’s a really fun website to play in. Thank you for remembering to say it out loud.

Irene Shere:

And can I also add one other thing, Patricia, we’re starting on March 5th on Friday from 12:00 to 1:00 Eastern time, from 12:00 to 1:00, that one hour, we’re going to start precious old Dame parties, or precious old dude also parties? And we’re going to talk about some things in the book or whatever issues other people want to bring up, very similar to what we’ve done with Patricia. So we’re going to try to get an online community exploring some of the things and maybe offering tips and anecdotes also. So thank you so much for coming today.

Patricia Dubroof:

Great to have you, Irene.

Irene Shere:

Yeah.

Patricia Dubroof:

And for those of you who would like to continue doing some fun things with Assisting Hands in our educational programs for March, we have yoga for self-care. What’s your plan with Susan Warnick? She’s a specialist in Parkinson’s and speech. She’s a speech pathologist. Of course, we always have a monthly Death Cafe. And our next Book Chat is actually unpublished. It’s by Tim Truett. He wrote haiku to go with photographs related to Al Gore’s, An Inconvenient Truth. And it’s a really lovely book. And I thought boy, with all the climate change and everything crazy around here, this would be a great time to feature his book. I so enjoyed this today and appreciate all of your support. And of course, if you have any questions about how to age well, live well with support for your loved one, you just give me a call and I’ll help out in any way I can. Thank you all so much.

Irene Shere:

Thank you so much for coming.

Speaker 1:

Yes.

Don:

Okay.

Irene Shere:

Okay. Bye-bye.

If you would like to schedule an appointment to discuss your Alzheimer’s and Dementia care needs or to set up a free in-home evaluation with one of our nurses, call us today in (301) 363-2580, MD at (301) 363-2580, or VA at (703) 556-8983. We are located in Reston, VA, (703) 556-8983.

 

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