What Aging Men Really Want

367

BOOK REVIEW

WHAT AGING MEN WANT; THE ODYSSEY AS A PARABLE OF MALE AGING

Author: John C. Robinson

Publisher: Psyche Books

ISBN: 978-1-78099-981-4

The Iliad and The Odyssey are staples of the liberal arts, long poems written by a Greek 2500 years ago. The first tells the story of the 10 year-long Trojan War. The second, crucial to this nonfiction work, is about a hero experiencing its troubling aftermath (perhaps metaphorically analogous to what we call Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome). Men leaving the workplace battles today in this condition are improved by coming to a personal understanding of the monsters in these mythological tales.

Timely though it seemed, my husband refused to read this book with me. He is 72 and still teaching English literature to college students. He has had to concede that Robinson seems to truly understand the text, but he disapproves of using literary works “this way.” I reminded him that Hamlet has been used by many artists to stimulate personal growth, with varying interpretations to appeal to the changing needs of audiences. He had to concede that also. He just doesn’t want to think about retirement.

This is a beautiful book that is well-written and expertly designed to serve men meeting in groups to help each other ease into the last stage of their lives by recognizing its benefits. The ancient story of Odysseus is still exciting and terrifying, even in its condensed version here. What Robinson makes of it seems natural and now even obvious to me –it should be prescribed reading for all wives who are frustrated by their husbands’ refusal to give up the battles to enjoy the comforts of family. It may help to prepare a softer landing.

The author has written several books to document human growth in aid of his professions, both clinical psychology and spiritual counseling. In this one he does not stand above his audience; he confesses his own resistance to the aging process. He represents the experience of an entire generation of traditional males who came to crisis during the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1960s and 70s. Some of them broke with tradition then, and learned to pound on drums and to cry, as in the subsequent men’s liberation movement inspired by another poet in Iron John (Robert Bly, 1990). These are the men Robinson says now must reinvent themselves yet again.

Here’s how it works: In the poem, the war weary Odysseus is trying to reach his home, but there are challenges. While a college student might view these as “cool” (and sexy) fantastical adventures, Robinson says, “Each challenge comprises a threshold of understanding– an experience that must be admitted to consciousness, understood and accepted for the journey to continue”. He summarizes each dangerous encounter; gives it a psychological interpretation; discusses its relevance to contemporary male experience, e.g., the competitive workplace; then poses a challenge and “growth questions,” stimulating further self-exploration and discussion. At the end of the book there are several more chapters of discussion and guidelines for creating a group that can carry this exercise out in a supportive environment (i.e., with men who don’t mind talking about their feelings and personal lives). Importantly, Robinson does not paint retirement as all bliss waiting for them. He acknowledges likely troubles at home during the hero’s absence, complicated by longevity. “Retirement” is a matter of leaving wars we no longer believe in, and coming home to love, spiritual awareness, and death.

It will help the prospective reader to become reacquainted with the methods of “depth psychology.” We benefit only if we consider our own dreams important, and the Odyssey as a series of cultural dreams that have meaning for each of us. It is using stories as our own dreams that offends my husband, but I don’t think too many of us outside academia will have that problem. Many of us have read The Hero With A Thousand Faces (Joseph Campbell, 1949) which Robinson also cites.

I love this book for what it offers and how clearly it is written, and I appreciate the author as someone careful to make good on a revered piece of literature. I do hope, though – and this is not a paid announcement – that readers take the trouble to read the entire work by Homer. Robinson has used Lattimore’s English translation, which my husband considers top notch.

 

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This review was written for and originally published by www.bookpleasures.com.

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