Retired Baptist pastor Ken O’Rourke, 70, is the co-creator of a new website targeting retired men - RetiredBlokes.com. The grandfather of three, who is based on the Gold Coast, talks about why he started the site and the pros and cons of retirement… 

You’ve described RetiredBlokes.com as an "online men’s shed for retired men". Why do you think the men’s shed concept has become so popular in recent years?
“One of the issues that men face when they retire is that all of a sudden, their life is changed. For many years, they’ve been going to work and doing things every day, sometimes with somebody telling them what to do…then all of a sudden that stops. There’s a few things that [can] happen as a result of that – one of them is that depression sometimes follows fairly quickly after that point in time. Men struggle with what to do in life and a men’s shed becomes, if you like, a work substitute for many guys. There’s also, I suppose, within each of us a creative side and we like to be creative, we like to make stuff, and a men’s shed is good for those sort of guys.”

Ken ORourke

 

IN SHORT - KEN O'ROURKE

A Bible verse that’s influenced me…"My favorite chapter of the Bible is Psalm 90 and I think it’s verse 12 – 'Teach us to realise the brevity of life so that we may grow in wisdom'. I think at my stage of life, that’s very important."

A book I’ve been inspired by…"Anything written by John Ortberg including If You Want To Walk On Water, You’ve Got To Get Out Of The Boat."

A person whom I admire…"I admire my senior pastor, Matt Hunt (of CrossLife Church). A man after God’s heart."

You are a retired pastor and your friend Warren Heck retired from the IT industry. What led you to start the site?
“Well, Warren was visiting one day and we were discussing what he could do – he’s an early retiree – and we threw around a few ideas and came to the conclusion that we should start this online blog for retired blokes. So we thought, 'Yeah, we could make a lot of money out of this fairly quickly’. So I set him the task of deciding how we were going to set it up which he went home and did and then I did some research on retired blokes and discovered some rather horrifying statistics. Retired blokes currently [have] the highest suicide rates in Australia of all men and in addition to that, [among] men aged 55 to 65, the suicide rate has increased by 50 per cent in the last 10 years. So it seems to me we have a crisis and what started off as a money-making exercise suddenly became a ministry.”

You said mentioned the statistics on what's facing retired men - is that something in your life as a pastor you’d encountered?
“This is the second time I’ve retired and certainly there was a ‘lostness’ the first time I retired. Because I was a pastor I was required to leave the church that I’d ministered in for 10 years so therefore I left my circle of friends and I left my work at the same time and it was a bit tough to fit into other places at the time. So, yeah, it was really something that I’d experienced firsthand. Then a church down here at Southport called me and I spent another seven or eight years here but the second time I retired I was much better prepared for what lay ahead.”

Is the purpose of the site a place for men to come and share their experiences with other men?
“Not exactly. One of the of things that very few Australian men experience is the advantage of being part of a church. I’ve been going to church since probably nine months before I was born and have probably been to church every Sunday for 70 years. So, from my perspective, every week we have sung songs that put us in the place where we are part of something bigger than ourselves and in addition to that, I’ve had positive messages…poured into my life on a weekly basis for 70 years. Many Australian men have not experienced anybody giving them positive messages for years and years and years. So RetiredBlokes.com is designed to be a place where they can go and where they can find some positive messages about life [and] their purpose in life but also they’ll find the work substitute things like [articles on] photography, there’s articles on travel. That’s the whole idea. However I also have a RetiredBlokes page on Facebook and it's much more interactive – it’s in the early stages of being transformed into a place where men can tell their story about how they retired, what they experienced in the early stages of retirement and how they overcome the difficulties. I’ve put three stories there so far and I’m looking for other retired men to write me 200 word stories about how they’ve done that…”

The articles on the website are they specifically Christian in perspective and is the Christian nature of the site overt?
“It is but I’m desperately trying to rewrite things. For 25 years I’ve been writing stuff for Christians and there’s a certain language they - we  - understand. So when you’re writing for the general population, you have to change your language. The message is the same but the language ought to be language that is used by everyday people. There’s a button on the website called ‘Feeling Lost’ and if you click on that, there’s like an evangelistic message behind that but I’ve tried desperately to write it in common language without using the usual technical terms we use in church like repentance and things like that.”

What sort of subjects do the articles cover?
“I’ve got a friend that’s a psychiatrist and he wrote a story about his retirement and I’ve got another guy who wrote a few articles about loneliness…and Warren, of course, writes a lot of stuff about photography – that’s his passion in life. And one guy from our church went on a YWAM cruise and so he write an article about a cruise with purpose. So different people have written [on a range of subjects].”

Is loneliness the key issue that faces retired men?
“Depression is really the big deal because there is a huge loss in the life of a man when he retires. And coping with loss is not something that we as Aussies are very good at so depression often follows and sometimes that results in withdrawal from society and therefore loneliness follows. So it’s sort of a battle then between depression and loneliness.”

You mentioned before some of the difficulties you faced when you retired the first time. But what’s the greatest thing about retirement?
“The greatest thing about retirement is that, if you have your mind in the right place, it gives you a chance to worship God in ways you’ve never experienced before. It gives you a chance, in my case, to contribute to the church in ways you haven’t done for years. This Sunday, for example, I’m on sound - I spent the first 25 years of my working life in the ABC, so it’s, if you like, a return to those days. On Tuesday I went to our English class and was able to volunteer as a leader in the English class for people that are new to Australia. So there’s lots of things you can do in retirement that you don’t have time for otherwise.”

So for someone who is about to retire – any particular advice you’d give them?
“The first thing is – don’t believe all the superannuation people who tell you you don’t have enough money…It’s not true…You can actually survive on the aged pension if that’s all you’ve got – especially if you own your own home…In addition to that you really need to do some planning about what retirement will look like. You don’t have the pressure of work, you don’t have the pressure of having to go there everyday…so you’re free but you’ve got to use your freedom to enhance who you are. Maybe it’s time to discover new things to do, maybe it’s time to connect with your family like never before. Maybe it’s time to pick up the guitar and learn to play the guitar again – there’s lots of things that you can do to help your creativity in your retirement…So you really need to do some planning about the things that you’d really like to do.”