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Closer Connections and Male Bonding Among Carillon’s ROMEOs -“Retired Old Men Eating Out”

While men getting together for dinner or other special activities once a month may not sound too romantic, real-life dramas emerge as a result of one of Carillon Assisted Living’s longest-standing traditions.

Incredible stories surface during ROMEO gatherings which launched 18 years ago thanks to a suggestion by Beckie Johnson, our most senior Executive Director, who is celebrating her 20th anniversary at Carillon of Asheboro on February 2.

The idea for Retired Old Men Eating Out has branched into many of the other residences across North Carolina, with Executive Directors and other team members often accompanying the residents.

“We take this opportunity to let our hair down to get time with other men,” says Mark Foreman, Executive Director of Carillon of Wake Forest. “It’s a time to connect and be social. For the younger guys, it’s like having your grandfather around.

“It doesn’t have to be a formal, sit-down dinner. It can be guys going for chicken wings and watching a game at a sports bar, having dinner at the residence with a group of high school students, or going on a fishing trip and having sandwiches. It’s all about getting some good guy time.”

On occasion, these socials spill over into gatherings with military veterans from the community who come to Carillon to see fellow soldiers. Because of his U.S. Air Force experience, 88-year-old resident Ben Baker particularly enjoys watching movies or TV shows about past wars and other events.

“We have a group that was in the military and is still concerned about men in the military, even though we know we’re not going back in because of age,” Ben says. “We have men from all over here—some from Pennsylvania and New Jersey and other cities around North Carolina.”

The regular family nights at each Carillon facility can also lead to ROMEO connections, with a family member or two later joining Dad for camaraderie and conversation.

“It’s nice when children of residents, the sons, have an opportunity to go with us for guy-on-guy time,” Mark says. “The conversation is what it’s all about.”

Because of various health considerations, the outings involve considerable planning and logistical preparation. For example, when the ROMEO group in Wake Forest went to the train station, not everyone could manage the stairs.

However, because Carillon’s staff alerts the restaurant or other facility in advance that up to 15 men will be visiting, the ROMEOs can find themselves transformed into minor celebrities. Waiters, waitresses, or managers will stop to chat with the group and ask them to share about their lives.

“They get to talk to these men and have a joyful time,” Mark says. “Men are expected to have a certain role and persona, and as they age, they can look great, but within themselves they have a feeling to be offset. They can say, ‘I’m more than what I am now, but people don’t know that.’ Life is about what you achieved and family. At these dinners, men can say, ‘I had a job, I had a dream. I still have a family.’”

Indeed, ROMEOs proved so popular that about 13 years ago a female resident pointed out to Mark it didn’t seem fair that the men had regular outings but the women didn’t. Thus was born JULIET—Just Us Ladies Intuitively Eating Together. Those female-oriented gatherings have since spread beyond the Wake Forest community.

Many formerly-hidden stories air during these dinners. Over the years, Mark has learned that one resident was the founder of a nationally-known electronics products manufacturer. Another used to be the co-manager for legendary entertainer Frank Sinatra.

While people don’t necessarily want to boast about past accomplishments, Mark says he never would have otherwise learned some fascinating facts about residents’ backgrounds.

“A lot of times, even children don’t know their parents did these things,” Mark says. “The men are grateful. It’s not a: ‘Remember when,’ but a: ‘Thanks for making me feel the way you did.’ They were experiences that would never have been revealed without ROMEO. Residents learn about each other, let their hair down, and connect on a deeper level.”

Posted in Sage Stories on January 23, 2019

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