No girls allowed.
Hesh Reinfeld, a business humor writer with a marketing background and a giving nature, noticed this "invisible man" attitude and decided to do something about it; he's gathered the guys together at a number of Pittsburgh-area not-for-profit nursing homes and CCRCs for a little "man talk."
One day he and his 85-year-old mother had stopped by to visit residents at The Jewish Home. "I love to talk," explains Reinfeld, "and that day the activities director and I discussed how few outlets men had for expression in the long-term care setting. Although many events, such as lectures, entertainment, and classes, are gender neutral, they are attended predominantly by women." After that conversation, he thought long and hard about what format would appeal to these retired gentlemen.
"In our society, wives initiate and maintain most social relationships; men usually make their friends through business relationships. After retirement, many of those friendships fade away," notes Reinfeld. How do you restore that camaraderie and fellowship to the male resident? "Throughout their lives women have been able to bond at a variety of places, such as the beauty salon, which continues to be a gathering place even in their later years. I know this is true because nearly every facility has one. For men, it was the local coffee shop. Neighbors and coworkers would sit around to talk and joke. You just knew that as soon as one guy got ready to leave, the others were just waiting to start razzing him," says Reinfeld.
The level of community and fraternity found in the coffee shop inspired Reinfeld to replicate the experience for men in long-term care residences. "I'm trying to re-create something that most people take for granted until they become frail and lose their social networks," he explains.
Women--even women on staff--are banned from his bull sessions. "It creates a mystique. The married guys like to get away from their wives occasionally, and the single guys just want to hang out." This is not a formal program, and it has no agenda because Reinfeld prefers it that way. His first group met over coffee and doughnuts. Other men's club meetings are held during lunch. He might get the ball rolling by tossing out a question, or the conversation might evolve naturally to exploring their interests on a particular day--sports ... news ... war experiences ... philosophy ... women--whatever the topic, the men are in control.
"In the beginning, one lady insisted on coming with her husband," says Reinfeld. "One day, I asked him if he believes in God and she began to answer for him. I gently reminded her that I had asked him the question. She got a bit defensive and asked, 'Are you a psychologist?' and I told her that I was just interested." Because the wife was there from early morning to evening, staff felt her husband needed to separate from her for a while to learn to do more on his own. Staff reminded her that it was a men-only program, and that did the trick. "In the long run, the wife also benefited because she had a little break from watching over him and made friends with other women," recalls Reinfeld.
Although he hosts men's clubs at all levels of care, Reinfeld has found that it's easier to accommodate men in assisted or independent living settings. "Mobility and mental alertness are big factors in the group dynamics," he notes. "In nursing homes, it is more difficult to arrange a meeting time because so much of the day is prescheduled for therapies, bathing, dining, and so on, although we still manage to meet."
Reinfeld advises that people are willing to talk if you ask them some questions. "I joke about competition and how these guys are not really competitive anymore. When I suggested wheelchair races, they looked at me like I was out of my mind!" Serious discussions occur, as well. To stimulate talk about relationships, for example, Reinfeld has taken a cue from his wife, who has asked him, "Am I your best friend?" One day he walked into a session and could tell one man was ready to corner him with a comment. Reinfeld cut him off at the pass by asking, "Meyer, is your wife your best friend?" The man began hemming and hawing and wouldn't give a direct answer. Reinfeld said, "I just want an answer. Is your wife your best friend?" The other guys started laughing because it seemed like a very strange question, but as Reinfeld explained to them, there is no right or wrong answer; it initiated a discussion among equals.
One of the surprising things Reinfeld discovered in these conversations is that the men in the club are all Democrats. "I went to an upscale suburban facility because I was interested in the senior Republican's perspective on various issues and I thought that's where I'd find them. This is a first-class CCRC that borders a golf course. Imagine my surprise when they were all Democrats there, too!"
Although there is a lot of playful bantering and fun involved, Reinfeld cautions that it is imperative to be careful in conversation. "Because of the friendship and connectedness in the group, the men are comfortable with me. But one day, a guy handed me a medical form and wanted me to explain it to him. It is not my position or desire to do that. I simply told him the doctor ordered a test and would call him with the results." If the facilitator is mindful of potential pitfalls such as this, men's clubs are a wonderful way to meet the social needs of these sometimes-forgotten residents.
"I don't consider myself a volunteer," says Reinfeld. "I don't sign in or out, record my hours, or need training. Actually, the clubs are like a radio talk show. There's give and take, opinion, laughs--even silence is acceptable. If the size of the 'audience' varies from week to week, I don't care. It's about quality, not quantity."
Whether the topic is baseball, weather, relationships, the past, or the future, there's a lot to talk about. And men will talk. Just ask Hesh Reinfeld.
BY SANDRA HOBAN, MANAGING EDITOR
Hesh Reinfeld is a syndicated business humor columnist based in Pittsburgh. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To comment on this article, please send e-mail to email@example.com.
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|Title Annotation:||NOT-FOR-PROFIT report|
|Date:||Nov 1, 2004|
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