Retirement can be a terrifying prospect for many men. But David Bardas's experience is that there is much to be made of life after work.
Until recently, generation upon generation adhered to the notion that a person finds a job or a career, works at it full-time for about 40 years and then retires. And that meant for many people that their self-esteem and social status, their very being, were largely determined and defined by their paid work.
This applied particularly to men, who traditionally had the role of main income-earner for a household. Life expectancies were such that it was usual for a man to die not that many years after he retired.
For many people, especially those who had a dullish job rather than a stimulating vocation, the conventional idea of retirement was welcome.
But for legions of others now reaching retirement age it's confronting to the point of terrifying. And so there's a multitude of men either poised to go through a crisis or already in the throes of one. Given that people are living longer, retirement can loom as a long, dark period for men who have happily occupied themselves with full-time work for decades.
That existential crisis can be associated with depression and even despair. But it is also an opportunity to create a joyful and meaningful melange of activities, some of them paid if need be.
The key is to abandon the whole concept of retirement. It has been rendered redundant by augmented longevity, greater flexibility in the workplace, the growth of options and opportunities in the not-for-profit sector - and the need for people to contribute longer to an economy in which the relative size of the full-time workforce has diminished.
David Bardas, 73, found a road from forced retirement more than 15 years ago to a life once again laden with activity, creativity and joy. (Along the way, he also lost the love of his life when his wife, Sandra, died late in 2007.)
He says the hardest thing he has had to do was come home unexpectedly and tell Sandra and their six children that his business had hit such hard times he had been forced out by his financiers.
It was more than just a business, it was his passion. When his father died of a heart attack, 22-year-old David Bardas took over Sportsgirl and built it into the Sportsgirl Sportcraft Group, which had 3000 staff and almost 150 shops. The end came in 1994 after he over-extended by taking on a huge debt to build a massive centre in Collins Street.
''You become a non-person. People say, 'Well, what are you doing now?' And unless you're doing something specific, you've almost disappeared off the screen. You feel quite deeply that you've let the entrepreneurial team down, or stuffed up. You don't quite become persona non grata, but the phone does stop ringing.''
Bardas talks of the ''L Plates'' he's worn along his route from professional catastrophe to dealing with the portfolio of things that occupy him now. Those plates are: Live; Love; Laugh; Lighten up; Listen; Learn; Let go.
The first thing he did was typical of men in crisis - he retreated to his ''shed'' in the garden. There he took up a pen. ''The original intention was to write haikus, but I didn't have enough technical knowledge to do that. So I started writing poetry and then I was surprised to find that when you write, it's like a painter with a blank sheet of paper - you don't know what's going to come out. So, I enjoyed that process and I've kept at it.''
Some 40 books of poetry later, he's still at it and has just conceptualised his first play, Home for Lunch, co-written by Rebecca Lister, who won a coveted award from the Australian Writers Guild for her 2006 play Through the Mist.
Home for Lunch, which opens in June (see link below), uses much humour to examine life after work and answer the question looming for so many baby boomers: how will I spend my time? While humorous, it also comes directly from the trauma Bardas experienced when he was shoved into retirement.
''One of my conscious endeavours was not to crowd my wife and not to be home for lunch and to get into her space. And this is the subject of a play that I've worked on. And if she's on the phone, never to say, 'Who's that?' When she's going out: 'When will you be back?' I was very conscious it was her space that I'd come back into.''
Part of his pain was a gender thing, something the play examines from both sides. ''The play is about somebody coming home for lunch, coming into his partner's space. There's a person who'd been away working for 20, 30-odd years.
''They feel they're crowding their partner, their other half. They don't want to obligate the person. They want to give that person their space and their freedom. And the play is about how this resolves itself . . .
''I find when people say to me, 'What's the play about?' and I tell them very briefly, it's the women who really smile and say, 'Yes that's right.' Because, generally speaking, the women don't want to feel crowded. 'He's gone off to work and that's his world, and I've got my world.' And it does cause some difficulties.''
In the immediate period after he stopped working, Bardas's difficulties were typical of men who have put most of their time and effort into their professional lives.
''The loss of self-respect in the male, I think that filters down through the family. But one of the things I've learnt is for things to change, you have to change. The world has changed.''
He speaks of regeneration. He likes butterflies for their metamorphosis. What's his advice to men facing retirement?
''Exercise, don't drink too much, be very active, help other people . . . You've got all this experience, but people don't ask you. It's a bit like wet paint; they've got to find out for themselves, they've got to go and make their own mistakes. There's mentoring, volunteering. There's helping worthy causes. You can be very busy.''
Along with the poetry, his post-retirement portfolio has included several books, a stint as a Melbourne city councillor, learning French, going to the gym and travelling. He also participates in several charities, among them the Lighthouse Foundation, Worowa Aboriginal College and the Gawler Foundation. He set up the Spiritgrow Meditation Centre in Sandra's memory.
David Bardas's wealth means he has more options than most men. But that should not be overstated, and does not negate the broader point here. When you ask people to list spontaneously the 10 things they prefer doing and/or would like most to try, you find that most of the things on the list do not require a lot of money. They do generally require time and health, physical and mental. The rest of it is achieved, pretty much, by simply turning up and trying.
My father turns 75 this year. Last month he was part of a group that cycled 500 kilometres through Thailand and Cambodia to raise money for the Epworth Hospital, where in the past decade he's had coronary surgery, a pacemaker implanted and a hip replaced. Until a few months before the trip, he had not really been on a bike since his teens. If you'd suggested to him in his 40s or 50s that he would do such a thing, he would have bet his life on you being wrong.
I should put Dad and Dave in touch. They'd probably get on pretty well; might even end up writing a play together. Lunch would be all-but certain, and more than likely would not be at home.