A Gerontologist Gets Older

"David Petty, author of Aging Gracefully, has long taught about the process of aging. Now, he is personally learning that one of the most important aspects is the spiritual side"

For years David Petty taught courses on aging, led pre-retirement seminars, and coordinated the gerontology program at Stephen F. Austin State University. And now, he is personally experiencing the joys, challenges, and lessons of retirement and growing older.

Petty, author of Aging Gracefully: Keeping the Joy in the Journey (Broadman and Holman, 2003), says that among the important lessons of aging is learning to have the right attitude about God's plans for us.

What made you want to be a gerontologist when you grew up?

The older people I had been around were important to me. I wanted to see what I could find in a professional, academic way that would relate to them. One of the most influential persons in my life was my maternal grandfather. I was named after him. We always spent a lot of time together.

How has society changed in how we treat the elderly?

Things are largely negative toward older people, but they didn't start out that way. We started out revering the elderly in our society. Some other cultures still do even now. You went to [older] people, you talked to them, you sat at their feet, you asked them questions, and you drank in what they shared with you. Now, we sort of put them out to pasture.

Terms like "old fuddy duddy" for men and "old busybody" for women are fairly commonly used nowadays. There is just this idea that as a person becomes older and leaves the work force, they're useless. It is as if they have nothing more to offer. That's really unfortunate.

You point out in this book that aging takes place "between the ears." What are some of the ways we change in how we think about life as we grow older?

The biggest factor [in aging] is our attitudes. That drives how we are thinking about wherever we are in life. ...

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The Dick Staub Interview
Dick Staub was host of a eponymous daily radio show on Seattle's KGNW and is the author of Too Christian, Too Pagan and The Culturally Savvy Christian. He currently runs The Kindlings, an effort to rekindle the creative, intellectual, and spiritual legacy of Christians in culture. His interviews appeared weekly on our site from 2002 to 2004.
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