VIEW FROM THE HILL

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN PAUL PENNER
The book Male Menopause, written by Jed Diamond, is certainly not designed for romantic bedtime reading. But it should be required reading for anyone, man or woman, destined to live beyond the youthful age of 30.

I’ve mentioned the book before, nearly three years ago. I am not particularly fond of the title. Most male readers who responded to me after reading the column were not especially fond of the topic either and might have questioned my sanity in bringing it up. But that’s O.K. Other people have been known to behave in stranger ways.

After a grueling workout in the racquetball court on a cold, winter evening, we-my younger, more energetic, partner and I-happened to discuss a few topics mentioned in the book, as well as other harmless topics, like agriculture and putting spouses through school. The question of focusing on unusual topics and the varied readers’ responses came up. In my defense, he responded, “They just don’t know you like I do.” I appreciated that note of affirmation.

Anyway, regardless of my alleged insanity and recklessness of treading into dangerous waters of the here-to-fore, forgotten male psyche, I once again visit the subject.

Diamond includes this footnote, which I believe clearly focuses the discussion of male menopause: “In her 1993 Vanity Fair article, The Unspeakable Passage, author Gail Sheehy concluded: ‘If menopause is the silent passage, male menopause is the unspeakable passage. It is fraught with secrecy, shame and denial. It is much more fundamental than the ending of the fertile period of a woman’s life, because it strikes at the core of what it is to be a man.'”

Diamond put forth a definition which begins with hormonal, physiological and chemical changes that occur in all men generally between the ages of 40 and 55, though they can occur as early as 35 or as late as 65.

The common misconception is that men don’t menstruate and therefore do not undergo physical and hormonal changes like women do. But, ask any middle-aged man, and if he were honest, he would recite for you a litany of changes, including hormonal changes, that would confirm one’s smallest suspicions.

Out of more than 55 symptoms, the most common include less endurance for physical activity, weight gain, memory loss and feeling depressed or withdrawn. Sexual side effects include reduced interest in sex, increased anxiety or fear about sexual changes, anxiety about loss of sexual appetite and increased relationship problems and fights over sex, love and intimacy.

There are more symptoms on the sexual side, but I will stop here. For more information, do a search for the book on the Internet and buy it. The information it contains is well worth the expense.

Few women, including the female counterparts of mid-life men, understand the dynamics of aging in men. One would think they, having also experienced at least some of the same effects in female menopause, would be able to offer a little insight and compassion.

Diamond counters that women can’t understand what men are not willing to voice, and men are just now beginning to talk about the changes of male menopause.

Change is happening here in our community, albeit very slowly. I did receive a number of positive responses to the earlier column on the subject of male menopause from both sexes.

What do I hope to gain by initiating a public discussion on this obviously sensitive subject? I certainly am not interested in a meeting where we all get together and tell each other our bad- luck stories. But I do believe that a gathering of men, in small groups, would encourage them to explore common topics related to this transitional time of life.

Beyond a few lofty ideals, I am personally interested in learning how to negotiate my own menopausal passage without experiencing too many setbacks on the way. I’d kind of like to get to the other side in one healthy piece.

I am interested in the potentially positive outcome when men are able to address their fears and are empowered to successfully negotiate the passageway to the place in life where they can become productive elders and mentors for the younger men who need the perspective only men can offer.

I would like to encourage others, especially the younger men who are or are about to become fathers. Their newly acquired role as father of their children is the most important responsibility they will ever have in their lifetimes.

Diamond quotes David Blankenhorn, author of Fatherless America, who writes, “Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic trend of this generation. It is the leading cause of declining child well-being in our society. It is also the engine driving our most urgent social problems, from crime to adolescent pregnancy to child sexual abuse to domestic violence against women.”

I cannot explain my reasons for aiming at lofty ideals any better than that. It may seem a bit crazy once in a while, but there is method to my madness. We men have an important job to do.

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