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by Louann Brizendine, M.D., AARP Bulletin, April 15, 2010
The years after andropause (male menopause) are a major transition for the male brain. The fuels that are running a man’s brain circuits change more toward oxytocin and estrogen and away from vasopressin and testosterone. Men are also winding down careers and looking for new and interesting projects to keep them busy and “in the game,” or at least on the sidelines. Up until maturity, many men feel burdened by family commitments and even by intimate relationships. But after andropause, they may, like [my client] Tom, have the time and temperament to appreciate family and friends more.
Tom told me he felt a deep sense of satisfaction in having raised an accomplished daughter and that both he and his wife, Diane, loved spending time with their grandson, Tommy.
To the amazement and delight of Diane and their daughter, Ali, Tom had recently morphed into a doting grandfather. Tom’s mature brain had more patience with his grandson than he ever had when Ali was growing up. The difference between Tom’s daddy brain and his grandfather brain was working in everyone’s favor. Much to even Tom’s surprise, the love circuits in his mature brain were being hijacked by the adorable little Tommy. The highlight of Tom’s week had become cheering his five-year-old grandson on at his tee-ball games. Soon, not even golf was as much fun. He was amused by everything his grandson did and said and felt a deep pride in all of Tommy’s achievements.
Evolutionary anthropologists argue that grandfathers have been important for our species’ survival. They found that in hunter-gatherer cultures, grandfathers can produce or procure more food than they consume, and therefore aid the flow of food from old to young. We now live in a world where the intelligence and knowledge of the grandfather—along with his financial assets, the modern equivalent of food—get passed on as his legacy to his kids, grandkids, and community.
In many cultures, grandfathers also function to informally teach motor skills to grandchildren, for children learn best by imitation. And for Tom, not only did he love teaching his grandson how to throw and catch a baseball, he enjoyed teaching him about saving money and bought him his first piggy bank. He remembered how he got his own work ethic and the advice to save and invest his money from his immigrant grandfather, and he hoped to pass this on to Tommy. By the time his grandson was approaching his sixth birthday, Tom felt closer to him than he ever imagined was possible. He said, “If you’d told me ten years ago that one of the highlights of my life would be having a grandson, I’d never have believed it.”
From the book The Male Brain by Louann Brizendine, published by Broadway Books, an imprint of Crown, a division of Random House Inc. Reprinted with permission. Read an interview with author Louann Brizendine.
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