Throughout my career as a physician, my profession has been opposed to any arbitrary retirement age because it is a health hazard. There is increased mortality in the first few years after retirement especially in males. Retirement may precipitate depression, which not only has its own mortality in the form of suicide, but also increases the mortality of chronic illnesses such as diabetes at least partly because of carelessness in applying remedies. Do women survive retirement better than men because their retirement is more like a man stopping moonlighting? After all, most of them still have their homemaking career. Years ago a few of my patients and acquaintances were maiden lady school teachers whose sisters had kept house for them through the years. This made their retirement more like that of males in respect to “enforced” idleness. Technically, the idleness is not enforced but lack of initiative, mild depression and long term career commitments combine to make older people reluctant to take on new interests especially those who need new interests the most.
Recently I have noticed almost as many men as women volunteers supervising the outpatient surgery waiting room at our hospital. When I tell the men that their presence is a backlash of women’s lib, their response indicates some awareness of what I was discussing in the previous paragraph.
Young people making career choices spontaneously seek a field that excites their interest and sense of service. Not all succeed in finding such a field and they may become mired in making a living in a dull and uninspired way from their point of view. Many have little choice but to get these satisfactions in their off duty hours. Let me tell you about an inspiring exception whom I met many decades ago. I kept no notes. Such things really make an impression.
This man came from Chicago for a check up in honor of his retirement as a tavern keeper. He was in good health but wondered about his prospects in terms of health: was it worth it to move? should he have his teeth fixed really well? It was like doing a compression test on an old car before undertaking extensive body work. In the course of his exam it naturally came up that he was a teetotaler, but he seemed satisfied with his life as a tavern keeper. After finding him in good health, I mentioned that I wondered if there was any story that went with his satisfaction with life and the apparent disconnect between his personal habits and his occupation. He replied that there was a story and he didn’t mind telling it. If I hadn’t asked for it, I would not have heard his wonderful story. On a bad day one might worry about missed opportunities to draw people out.
In high school he had ambitions of going to college and entering a profession, but his father became ill and as the oldest child he felt obliged to go to work for a time because jobs were hard to come by during the depression and he already was well liked where he worked part-time tending bar. Soon the owner of the tavern died and he ended up running the place even though he was just old enough to be employed. The tavern in an ethnic Chicago neighborhood prospered. He sent his customers home when they had enough to drink and their women wouldn’t let them patronize any other tavern. He helped new immigrants with citizenship papers, job applications, becoming an all around social worker/consultant. This success in fulfilling the essence of his professional aspirations explained the paradox of his personal aversion to alcohol and his occupational satisfaction. In later years there were many early customers returning from success in far away places like Pueblo, Colorado, to visit their first American neighborhood. It became almost a tradition for them to cater parties at his tavern.
His ability to accept his fate as a child of the depression and make the most of his life has been an inspiration to me and many to whom I tell the tavern keeper’s story. The lesson for all of us: when things seem to be going badly, don’t just cry in your beard, but get busy and become part of the solution in life. Perhaps this is the reason that I write these columns.
John A. Frantz
Chairman, Monroe Board of Health
distinguished from the love of money as a
means to the enjoyments and realities of life—
will be recognized for what it is, a somewhat
disgusting morbidity, one of those semi-criminal,
semi-pathological propensities which one hands
off with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.
John Maynard Keynes, 1931, British economist who showed
Franklin D. Roosevelt how to overcome the great depression.
As I was shuffling through my mind this week, a process that in my case is akin to meditation,
I stumbled on the first case of multiple personality disorder. The date was 325 A.D. Have you guessed the identity of the patient? The diagnosis was made by a group of theologically minded “shrinks”. The patient was God and the diagnosis permitted several points of view to be correct, thus obviating the need to martyr quite a number of heretics, a worthy cause in itself.
This puts the doctrine of the Trinity in perspective and should expand ecumenism to include Unitarians and their ilk. Let us hope for the expansion of ecumenism to include more and more of the world’s religions, a process I have been calling transcendental ecumenism. Liberalizing of existing groups can occur simultaneously with establishing of new, more intellectually consistent doctrines, and it already happening, illustrated by how little offence I have caused by widely mentioning the foregoing.
Later I researched about Emperor Constantine and the council of Nicea in the Encyclopedia Britannica. The emperor had indeed been critical of so many early Christian martyrs and had influenced the Council in the manner inferred above.
January 31, 2000