My father (Dad, may your soul rest in peace) built a house in Akokwa, Nigeria which had a block back fence, with the top strewn with broken glass and nails. In spite of the sharps, lizards, especially those with red heads and droopy necks, rested and crawled on top of the fence, going from one corner to the other.
On the inner side of the fence, a foot or so in front of the wall, was a lean, tall pawpaw tree. The tree was almost barren, having fed and bled for so many hungry children during the Biafra-Nigerian war. Like the red-headed lizards, we children used to stare at the pawpaw tree, hoping that it would produce one more pod. Then we would stare at the lizards with hungry eyes and I would wonder what they would do next. Would they continue crawling along the fence, or skip over to the pawpaw tree, or would they go down, diagonally across the block fence and to the ground?
Many men at age fifty-seven face the same dilemma as the old red-necked lizards. Their main preoccupation is how to proceed in life. In that mental preoccupation space, they face at least three options. They could scale over to engage life at a higher level of existence. They could continue on the even pedestal of wear and tear, mirroring the way they have lived their whole lives. Their third option, which as I remember none of the lizards chose, would be to surrender to the demands of society and run aground.
It may sound unimportant, but the choices we make at age fifty-seven can determine the way we live out the rest of our lives. Not that the decisions (material and moral) people make at any age cannot make or break them, but whereas a young man can recover quickly from a bad decision, an older person may not.
According to an Igbo proverb, the wood people gathered when they were young are what they will use in old age. On the surface, this proverb implies that they should work hard when they are young, then fold up and rest when they are old. Such a practice, if carried out, would lead to a decline in physical and mental health. The evidence of those who have chosen to do that is clear to see. A resurgence of creative energy, rather than a winding down, is what people need when they get older.
Men who, at age fifty-seven, let their body and their senses run along the same crawling path will sooner or later surrender to the challenges of life. They might have considered themselves as living a stable life, but stability does not exist in the universe. Status quo is never found in nature.
No one needs more than a second of thinking to understand that there is ongoing decay within the perceived realm of balance. A wrinkled skin everybody can see, but nobody sees internal organs. Even though they are hidden, the brain, the kidneys, the liver, and the guts are still getting as wrinkly and as fatigued as the skin. This explains why men at fifty-seven rapidly run out of breath, put on weight if they drink a bottle of lager, stout, beer or Soda, develop brain fog if someone challenges their thinking, and often suffer from urinary and genital dysfunctions.
An active lifestyle rather than a stable lifestyle is the answer to old age. The body is like a house. To maintain cleanliness, houses have to be swept, painted, and aired. Likewise, for men who are fifty-seven to keep going, they must live an active lifestyle. Fat and the accumulation of fat is their greatest enemy. Move it! Don’t get buried in fat. Go to the gym, jog, lift weights, play soccer, play basketball, run, and do all you can to remain as lean as the slender pawpaw tree.
Moreover, men at fifty-seven must choose what they eat. Salt is their greatest enemy. Avoid it with a vengeance! Half a teaspoon of iodized salt is all the body needs in a day. Resist being fed like a greedy baby who eats everything placed in front of him. Ask for meals that suit your new diet. At fifty-seven, you have earned the right to request what type of food somebody places in front of you. Cook them yourself, if for some reason those around you do not care for healthy life aspirations. Hopefully, your mother taught you how to cook when you were a child.
In his stage seven (Stagnation versus Generativity) psychosocial development theory, Erik Erikson envisioned men at fifty-seven as either being proud of their ongoing accomplishments or being sad if they lost motivation. Status quo would not cut it for men age this age. New inroads at this period in life, Erikson said, lead to a happier man, or woman. Like many psychologists and psychoanalysts, Erikson was interpreting what I think he witnessed in the interplay between man and society. What Erikson did not explicitly say, but which I find essential to understand, is that man is always answerable to the community, doing as society compels him to do.
On a closer look, any keen observer would conclude that society has always been both the bane and the savior of man. Society says, “Play your part and get out of the human stage or else we’ll get you out.” Man plays by the rules set forth by society. Age fifty-seven is about the perfect time to ditch society and chart our own destiny.
In what I call The Society Expectation Theory (SET), society expects old men to pass quickly so that younger people can occupy their jobs, their ranks, and of course inherit whatever wealth they have acquired. We need to be conscious of SET to guard against its consequences. SET, as one might imagine, is even worse in some cultures.
To all men who turned fifty-seven this year, I say to you, look ahead; take up a new endeavor. Let your brain and your mind turn like a windmill. If you are an engineer, get into law school; if you are an accountant, get into medical school. Start a philanthropic organization. Write a memoir. There is nothing anyone cannot do if they ignite their mind.
Whatever you choose, never take the easy way out and run yourself aground. None of the red-necked lizards descended from on top of the wall when we were watching them, and neither should men at fifty-seven.