Opinion Column

Men really do have a lot to learn from women

By Victor Schukov

My mother-in-law is in her 80s. She is a widow who cheerfully runs on a full daily schedule, teaching yoga to seniors, followed by a swim, visits from friends, shopping and back home for supper and a good book. She has a genuine interest in all things. She loves to sit and talk about people's lives, asking questions and doling out opinions. Her life has purpose.

One fact strikes me: In her retirement condo, there are 72 units; only four have men. In virtually all countries, women outlive men sometimes by as much as 10 years. In the United States, the average life expectancy is 79 for women and 72 for men; in Canada the margin is 88 to 77.

I wonder why women outlive men. As usual, scientists will give you all sorts of clinical explanations, like women get evolutionary bonus points to live long enough to help bring up grandchildren. Men, by contrast, wear themselves out working too hard. Some researchers (with way too much funds and time on their hands) think that it's because menstruation releases a hormone called estradiol which basically gives women's hearts a health workout.

But I think about the few widowers that I know: My friend Kenny, a retiree, joined a basket weaving club with a bunch of women, a few years ago. Now he travels and sells his creations at arts and crafts fairs. He lives in a trailer and is busy and happy.

I think about a friend Anton, 78, who volunteers twice a week. He calls it the "hard drive," taxiing chronically ill people from their homes to their therapy clinics. He is more than a charitable ride. He is an understanding companion. He once told me his thoughts on why his work gave him such personal satisfaction: "When they see someone who listens, they are anxious to talk. You learn that there is a lot of sadness out there, stories about suffering, and they are very grateful when you listen. If you have your health, please don't complain. I always return home very grateful." One day, Anton came to pick someone up and got the sad news that the cancer person had died. But he left Anton a message: "Give the news to Anton, that I appreciated his help."

Throwing off the cold scientific explanations, I came to my own conclusion as to why women outlive men: In all cases of thriving widows and widowers, the common denominator is a reason to live. They realize that although their spouse is gone, their own time will come soon enough, and they have introduced meaningful outlets into their daily routines. These creative, sometimes volunteering interests, ultimately enhance their social interaction with mankind, making them feel a part of a greater whole.

Women have always been more inherently social, more nurturing and nesting, searching for meaning, in effect. From early childhood, women are drawn more than men to seeking a broader purpose than a good time.

We need to teach our children from an early age to find their centres of gravity, to discover what creative outlets give them personal joy and fulfillment so that when the time comes when they are suddenly cut off from loves one or they retire, they will not only persevere but continue to flourish.

Many of my men friends lived for the office or plant job, and retirement scared them. My friend Bill Murtha says, "Never retire from something, but retire to something." We should all stand for something more, something that gives us a sense of personal accomplishment, aside from a pay cheque or even good marriage because eventually the rug may be pulled out from under of us.

The ladies get that. They have a clear view of the big picture, and so they live longer than men. And guys, we can learn something from them in that respect.

Victor Schukov's column appears each Thursday.