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Am I Less of a Man?

Retirement was hard for me. Sure, the first few months were great – like an extended vacation. But even vacations grow stale if they last too long. It also came too soon; I had to retire early at 62.

I no longer have a job where I pull in a good income. An empty bedroom serves as a small office where I write. My work areas include the kitchen and laundry room. Conference meetings happen in the living room.

Fieldwork once meant travel and video shoots. Now it’s just outside the door, near an actual field.

When my wife was still working, I’d often drive her in so I could have the car. I had mixed emotions as I watched her walking the red-bricked pathway to her building at the university.

Am I still contributing to my family?

I was very proud of her. She’d put in 30 years there. A strong, hardworking woman, she was half of a two-person team. But now the male half of that team had dropped out. I was driving back home while she went off to work. It made me feel like I was no longer contributing to our family.

This is a hard thing for a man. At least it was for me. I still find some value in the work I do around the house and in my writing, but I wonder what it will be like if I get sicker. My male ego is already bruised. Will it be worse in the future?

I was raised in an era when men took off their hats when they went indoors, opened doors for ladies, and found worth in the work they did. I also learned that a couple was a team; my mother had a resort business and my father worked at a trucking company.

Cancer can erode our self-worth

I grew up with a certain idea of what it meant to be a man. I carry within me the need to provide and protect. I feel like cancer has taken some of that away from me. Am I less of a man now?

Of course not. But cancer is more than a physical disease, it can erode our self-worth if we let it. I fight that by realizing I am still contributing. I have my writing and photography, I do repairs and work around the house, and, last year, I even built a treehouse for the grandkids.

It’s not what I do, it’s who I am

But, if someday my cancer keeps me from doing those things, I will still be able to love. I’m beginning to realize that a man’s value isn’t just in what he does. It’s in who he is.

We need to look into the eyes of those who love us and see what they’re seeing. If the day comes when we can’t do much more than love them, well, maybe that will be enough.

So, if any of you are feeling less valuable, stop it. Your spouse, your family, or whomever is close to you needs you to simply be the man they love. In the end, that’s really what being a man is all about.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator
    1 month ago

    Jim, this was such an insightful piece! I think when our day to day norm is robbed, it mixes up the roles and household just a tad; I’m happy you’re okay in just being…and that is you. Great post!

  • Jim Smith moderator author
    1 month ago

    @yolandabrunson-sarrabo Thanks, Yolanda. I try my best at “just being,” but this old Baby Boomer still struggles with his macho foibles.

  • Dan122
    1 month ago

    Beautiful and honest words Jim.
    Cancer gets us not only in the body, but in our minds. So it is so important to know how we really feel. No doctor can help, only other patients.

  • Jim Smith moderator author
    1 month ago

    @dan122 Other patients like you, Dan. Thanks for all you comments. It is good to be able to share stuff that healthy folks might not quite understand.

  • Ann Harper moderator
    2 months ago

    You are so right. The man you are is the man they love. With that being said we evolve all the time – every minute, every day, and every year. You changed the minute you became a husband, then again when you became a father, and once again when you became a grandfather. This didn’t stop or begin with those changes and you will continue to evolve with your partner and teammate – you wife. Overall, your last paragraph said it all! You are loved!

  • Jim Smith moderator author
    1 month ago

    @annharper Thanks, Ann. When we’re young we don’t even realize we are changing and evolving. We think we’ll last forever. Then, suddenly one day, we’re old(er). Not sure where all the time went!

  • Susan Gonsalves moderator
    2 months ago

    @jim-smith It’s difficult to remember sometimes that you are still “you,” deep down no matter the changes, physical and emotional that come with the disease. It is something I struggle with all the time. Concentrate on the people who support you and just do the best you can, day by day. It’s all anyone can ask. Thank you for your insightful article.

  • Jim Smith moderator author
    1 month ago

    @susanmae It weird, isn’t it? Cancer can make us have to redefine ourselves and that can make us wonder if we are still us. But we are still the same person, just with different priorities.

  • Ramae Hamrin moderator
    2 months ago

    Wow, Jim, this is so relatable, regardless of gender. I think cancer forces all of us to drop the roles we play and look at ourselves through the eyes of those who love us. And yes, love is what being human is all about. I’ve struggled with finding a purpose since I gave up my teaching job. Like you, I write, I’m learning photography, and I do things around the house. We humans tend to get so caught up in productivity that we forget to just be. Your family is so blessed to have you, cancer or not, progression or not. Thank you for the lovely piece of writing from your new office!

  • Jim Smith moderator author
    1 month ago

    @rhamrin It sounds like we have a lot in common. Writing and photography are a good outlet for me. I’m sorry you had to give up your teaching career. That must have been tough. But I’m glad you are finding new purposes in life. Take care, Ramae.

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