Working Dogs

I read this link from Insty with open-jawed astonishment yesterday because while I was out earlier in the day, I’d already started to put together a similar essay on the topic.

Maria D. Fitzpatrick of Cornell University and Timothy J. Moore of the University of Melbourne said they analyzed the mortality rates in the U.S. and noticed that many older Americans – but disproportionally men who retire at 62 – are affected by sudden increased rates of death.
“A lot happens in our early 60s. Some change jobs, scale back working hours or retire. Our health-care coverage may shift. We may have fewer financial resources, or we may begin collecting Social Security,” Fitzpatrick told The Wall Street Journal. “About one-third of Americans immediately claim Social Security at 62. Ten percent of men retire in the month they turn 62.”
The numbers, according to the study, show that there is a two percent increase in male mortality at age 62 in the country. “Over the 34 years we studied, there were an additional 400 to 800 deaths per year beyond what we expected, or an additional 13,000 to 27,000 excess male deaths within 12 months of turning 62,” the professor said.
The researcher blames the increased mortality on the retirement as retirees tend to withdraw from life and no longer see the point in engaging.

Quite honestly, I think I have a better take on this than the study. Here’s why.

I took an older guy somewhere during my early-morning Uber shift, and we got to chatting about retirement. He was in his early sixties and was thinking about retirement in the next couple of years or so — he’d reached all the retirement “qualifications” in terms of his age, length of service, and so on — and when I asked him what he was going to do after retirement, he said quite simply, “I don’t know.” He had no outside interests other than his work, he said, and had no hobbies or anything to keep him occupied when he would quit working.

This set off all sorts of alarm bells in my head, because I’d confronted the very same thoughts when I planned on retiring back in 2016 on reaching age 62 (which seems to be the “killer” age discovered by the researchers).

Worse than that, I either know men personally or have heard of many instances of men who have died soon — very soon — after retiring early. (When men retire at a later age, they paradoxically seem to live longer, as the study shows.) Sometimes, men die within six months of getting their gold watch, after many decades of working with little or even no time off for illness. Where I differ from the study is that I think I know the real reason why this happens.

We’re working dogs.

As long as men have work to do, we do fine. We have a purpose in life, we get up in the mornings with a day’s work ahead of ourselves, and this gives us a reason to live. It’s all tied up, I believe, in our inherent nature as providers and all that goes with it. When that activity stops earlier than expected — at 62, most of us have at least fifteen or even twenty more years to live — subconsciously we still feel that we are capable of working, providing and in short contributing to ourselves and others.

But when that ends, it’s as though a switch is turned off somewhere and our brains simply say, “Oh well, that’s it,” and we die. It may be that illness has been kept at bay through our industry and now given an empty playing field, so to speak, it takes over; or it may be that we do things that are more dangerous (the study mentions driving more as one activity), or perhaps we working dogs just feel useless and our existence, pointless.

It’s one of the reasons why I started blogging (i.e. writing) again after Connie passed away; all those years of caring for her had given me something to do, a purpose in life and now, faced with a life impossibly empty, I could well see why some cussed old fart would just say, “Ah, fuck it.” And die. Believe me, the thought of letting go crossed my mind often.

But this isn’t about me. This is about all men — and a couple of close friends withal — who are contemplating retirement, but without having any kind of backup work to do after they retire. And I’ll bet there are more than a few of my Readers who are looking down the barrel of this very gun, if not now, but soon. (My reader demographics skew towards cantankerous old farts because I am one, and we tend to seek each other out.)

And let me tell you, I fear for these men’s lives. We can’t handle boredom — not those men who have heretofore led active, fulfilling lives working.

Some men try to hold on, become consultants in their erstwhile fields, and either fail (because the market isn’t as great or as receptive as they thought), or they discover that consulting means selling yourself on a daily basis — and can’t bear the job because failure, in almost all cases, means (to them) that they are worthless. So instead of leaving the workplace as successes, they have to quit ignominiously as failures.

Even in our old age, we need a purpose in life, something that gets us out of the house and outside our own heads (the latter being a dark and unpleasant place, trust me on this) and something that will occupy our hands and minds. We are men: we are supposed to work.

And this is why, I believe, that men who retire at an older age are less likely to croak soon after retirement than the younger ones; their minds and bodies have finally said, “Enough!” — and they can let go, be inactive and just play with their grandchildren. But the younger ones are at risk, and they die, tragically in numbers disproportionate to the expectancy.

Some men just refuse to quit working and work until one day they keel over. Some men do charity work in their retirement, but others (e.g. myself) are just not cut out for that kind of thing. Some men take up hobbies which consume their time — just visit a model railroaders’ show and see the demographics of the stallholders — but I have to tell you that a hobby started late in life is seldom going to hold your attention for too long. Some men dream of adventure, and do stupid stuff like exploring the tropical rainforests — like hobbies, a lot of this stuff is best begun when you’re a young man — and sadly, what men discover is that even though they may have retired “young”, their bodies can’t do what a younger man’s can. More failure.

I don’t have an answer to this. I wish I did, but I just don’t. The sad fact of the matter is that without work, we die. And the younger we are when we quit work, the sooner we die.

I welcome any and all ideas, experiences, anecdotes and advice in Comments. It may all be for nothing; but what you say may save a life, and what you read may save yours. And if what you have to say is too personal, feel free to send me an email — I’ll anonymize the thing, take out all the personal details and post the distilled content later. Have at it… please.

This might be the most important post I’ve ever written.

Quote Of The Day

“Political idiocy, growing more violent and malicious every day, may eventually sweep the whole of western culture to the ground with its muddy sleeve.” – Paul Renner, circa 1933.

…and just so we’re all clear on the topic, he’s not talking about conservative politics, either. He was referring to the National Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany.


My friend Doc Russia is a very intelligent man. When we got the final diagnosis of The Mrs.’s cancer — that it would be a question of months or even weeks, not years — Doc told me that he was not going to let me stay by myself “in some little apartment, looking at four walls” (his words).

So, true to his word, when the end finally came, he moved me into his guest room where I’ve been ever since — except for when I’ve been living with Mr. Free Market’s family and The Englishman’s family, that is.

Until now.

Now, of course, I’m staying in Cornwall in a lovely cottage owned by The Englishman, and for the first time since February this year, I’m completely on my own.

So how does it feel, this living by yourself thing?

Many people talk of how when they finally come to live on their own, whether after death of a spouse or divorce, that there’s a wonderful sense of relief — that being on one’s own means that all your time is your own, that you have freedom to do whatever you want, even that you find things exactly where you left them, and so on. Last night, for example, I felt a little tired so I went to bed at about 9pm instead of my usual midnight-ish bedtime. Big mistake. As I’ve got older, I’ve come to need less sleep — or, to be more precise, a measured amount of sleep: about six to seven hours — so going to bed at 9 meant waking up at, yes, you guessed it, 4am with absolutely no chance of going back to sleep. Shit.

After a while, though, a thought occurred to me: I didn’t need to go back to sleep. I had nowhere to go in the morning, no place to be, and nothing that absolutely needed my attention. It’s called retirement, and I’m retired. Furthermore, if I were to feel tired later in the day because of my early awakening, I could just take a damn nap because I had nowhere to go, no place to be, and nothing that absolutely needed my attention.

Having established all that, there was only one thing to do, of course: I fell asleep in seconds and woke up just after 9am.

Then I walked downstairs after doing my Morning Things (meds, etc.) and walking into the kitchen, to find everything exactly as I’d left it the evening before: tidy (I’m a tidy person by nature) but with stuff lying on the counter that I would need to make breakfast. I still needed a few things so I walked up to the little grocery store and bought them, and when I got back to the cottage I put everything away and made myself breakfast. Which is when yet another realization came to me: this will be the pattern of the rest of your life.

I also don’t have a car, which means I can’t spend my days driving around the countryside like a dervish, being too busy to think. Now I have to take my time, literally, and in that time, all I really have are my thoughts for company.

Let me get one thing absolutely clear, at this point: I don’t mind being by myself — or at least, I’ve never minded being by myself before. The problem is that when you’ve lived as close to someone as I lived with The Mrs. for over twenty years, you get used to being not alone; and when you love your companion, that constant companionship is not a burden, it’s addictive.

For the first time in my life I feel alone, and it’s not a pleasant feeling.

This won’t last, of course. At some point I’ll either get used to being on my own, or else a miracle will occur and I won’t be on my own anymore.

This post, by the way, is not a cry for help, nor is it a gloomy one. In ten days’s time, I’ll be driving along the Midi with one of my oldest friends, and after that, I’ll be spending Christmas and New Year in London with an even older one. My time in Cornwall is therefore just an interlude, but it may well prove to be the most important part of this sabbatical.

But Doc sure called this one right. At this point, having spent so much time in other people’s homes and having been so busy doing things like hunting, carousing, watching cricket and football and driving all over the place, the shock of February has pretty much worn off. Had I moved into an apartment back then and spent my days looking at the walls with a future that was going to be just that, I’m not sure I could have coped. No, let me tell the truth here; I would have fallen apart.

Instead, my friends, my wonderful, caring friends have given me the chance to recover, a time to heal and a time during which I could put my mind at rest.

Now I’m ready to move on, to face what the rest of my life may bring me, and I promise you all, I intend to live it to the full.


When we have our pictures taken for ID docs like drivers’ licences in the U.S.A., we usually have the option of smiling or unsmiling poses. I tend to smile, because in repose I look like this:

That’s my picture as it appears on some British railcard ID — and it’s a perfect example of what my kids call my “hitman” expression. (I think it’s more like “Wanted In 25 States For Murder”, but that probably means the same thing, really.)

When I had said pic taken, the photographer told me that H.M. Government doesn’t allow smiling pictures on IDs, because if you smile, their facial-recognition software can’t identify you.

Ponder on the implications of that, if you will.

Happily, my passport photo is of Smiling Kim, so the BritGov may never be able to identify me — and as I have no intention of breaking any of their poxy little laws, there’s no problem with that… right?

One of the reasons to travel abroad is that we can see how other countries screw their citizens / subjects over, and we can therefore resist similar bullshit on the part of our own government, which is already too fucking big for its boots.

Now read this.

Seldom Spoken, Truer Words, Mankind For The Benefit Of

Sarah Hoyt sometimes makes me want to give up blogging, because she so often makes me think, “I should have written that. Why didn’t I?” Her latest, on what constitutes duty, starts off high with a brilliant Heinlein quote, and then soars up into the heavens. Sample:

Fulfill those duties you freely assumed, yes, even unto death, because that’s the price of your honor and your adulthood.  But those obligations imposed on you by force majeure?  Accept the need to do it, if there is no other alternative, but do NOT under any circumstances internalize it as your duty or feel guilty for not fulfilling it.

This is why you should harbor absolutely no feelings of guilt about avoiding taxes as much as you legally can, why you should never volunteer information to the police unless you’re an uninvolved witness and why (in 2020) you should tell the government’s “census”-takers to fuck off with their snooping and intrusive questions. And those are just the first three which came to me as I was reading it. Feel free to add your own suggestions in Comments.

Read Sarah’s whole post, please. It will clear your head and make your whole day brighter, as it did mine.