Men being honest about their feelings is a strong theme in a new book featuring stories of 20 men aged 50-plus. It’s especially timely with Men’s Health Week around the corner, this year from June 11-17.

Blue Mountains entrepreneur Julie Ankers asked a diverse range of men to write their own life stories, which she helped edit and has published as Call Me Frank: 20 men over 50 tell it like it is.

Men from all walks of life
They include a journalist, entrepreneur, a man who “changed his body shape” through fitness and became an award-winning artist, another who was bullied while at school who shares how it affected him, a priest/comedian/teacher (all the same man!), a farmer with a passion for sustainability, and an Indigenous man who did not quite feel accepted by either of his two cultures.

“It’s not all Pollyanna, so to speak, but some of the stories have a victorious quality about them, how each man overcame certain situations in their lives. Some men are still haunted by what happened to them as children,” says Ankers.

Dealing with alcoholism and abuse
One writer, David Mason-Jones, reflects on his father’s alcoholism.

“There was no violence or abusiveness in his alcoholism, but his boozy state was always obvious when he was on a binge.

“The lesson I have taken from this is that even the people you admire may have flaws … and conversely, people you distain may have redeeming aspects,” says Mason-Jones.

Perhaps the most harrowing story is written by a man who was sexually molested as a child, with ensuing alcoholism, later marrying, getting “dry”, working as an ambo, then re-engaging at 82 with his first wife, finding love and intimacy for the first time.

“He’d never told anyone about the molestation before he wrote it for this book,” Ankers says.

Contrasts with women of the third age
The stories contrast with the 21 women’s stories Ankers featured in her first book, Feisty, Fabulous & 50+.

“With the women, there was very little emotional reference. It was ‘I’ve done this, I went to that’. Women primarily just get on with the cards life deals them and they get on with their lives. By this age, 50-plus, women have already established their social network.

“With men, it was different. They seemed more vulnerable. The book gave them permission to open up and reveal things they’d not revealed to others. It was confronting, but also important to acknowledge the issues they’d raised,” she says.

“When I’ve held author talks for the first book, many women who attended said they want to know how to help men in their family. With this second book, they find they can buy it and give it to that person. The book doesn’t preach; it just demonstrates what other men have done to cope with what life has handed them.

“The best way to get people to think about their circumstances or change things in their lives is by reading a story.”

How long will your story go on?
A man born in 1968 in Australia — who’ll turn 50 this year — has another 32 years and three months to live, according to the Sydney Morning Herald’s online quiz “How long have you got left?”, backed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). And it’s the same for women notching their half century this year, too.

Overall, though, boys and men suffer more illnesses, accidents, and tend to die earlier than females. Four times as many men take their own lives than women, according to the Men’s Health Week website.

Capturing your legacy
Ankers says men have so many options in their lives and shouldn’t be “restricted by the stories we tell ourselves”. She encourages men to write their own story.

“It’s really important — it’s your legacy. You think your family know you, but often they don’t know everything about you, what you thought and felt in your life. It can be very insightful if you have issues. Even if you don’t show anyone the story, perhaps burn the paper, it’s getting that story out there.”

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