Dear Vicki: When my mother passed away 10 years ago, my father chose to keep the family house and has done just fine living there alone. At least until now. Recently, he’s become a bitter, hopeless, and rather narcissistic old man, which is so not like my father. He was career military; always very logical, rational, kind, and even-keeled. But since he retired three years ago, that part of him has slowly disappeared and now he seems impossible to please. He’s also very sad, more so than he ever was, even when Mom passed. Is he becoming senile? I worry about him all the time, and often take meals over to him, but he hardly asks about me or his grandchildren when I’m there. Instead, he complains and almost seems to resent my presence. It breaks my heart. What can I do to help him? Signed, Worried About Dad
Dear Worried: It is possible your father is becoming senile, so having him checked out by a competent health care professional would be a good idea. But that might not be what is going on for him at all. What I suspect might be happening is that, with his retirement, your father has moved from the life phase of outward productivity to a phase of slowing down and introspection. His choice of a military career suggests that he is a primary Metal personality, someone who embraces order, hierarchy, and perfection in everything. And while our primary elemental personality is ours for the totality of our life, we do move though different phases as we grow and age. This is a fascinating aspect of the Five Elements model: the idea that each of the elemental personalities can be seen in a specific phase of our life. I think a brief exploration of how this works might help explain what is going on for your father.
In the Five Elements model, regardless of our primary elemental personality, we all move through five distinct phases in life. Birth and early childhood are associated with the wintery time of Water when potential is unlimited. Young adulthood, a time of exuberance and rapid growth, is associated with the intense spring energy of Wood. The process of maturation is associated with the warming summer sun of the Fire element, while the final ripening of our life relates to the fields of late summer and the Earth element. The end of our life cycle – the harvest of all gained from this cycle and storage of what will be used in the next cycle – relates to Metal. However, for many ancient teachings, instead of ending with Metal, our final stop is said to be a return to Water, as seen in the innocence and playfulness of a young child mirrored in the elderly. That’s why many philosophers claim that both birth and death sit in the Water Element.