Born in 1960, a man in Botswana could expect to live up to 48.1 years: a woman, negligibly longer at 49.1 years. Born around 2020, he can expect to live almost 20 years longer than that, and die at age 69.4; if it is a woman, she can expect to live longer and die at age 72.5 years.
With this longevity comparison out of the way, I will, for the most part, end the comparison between man and woman here and concentrate on the gender I am most familiar with; manhood.
In this opinion piece, while I deliberately eschew objectivity, I want to bring my own subjectivity to bear on what it means and is most deserving of our attention as men, at 60 years of age.
Primarily, I do this for the simple reason that appears right at the end of this opinion piece.
Secondarily, I do it because being 60 appears perceptively, to catch us men, insidiously. If this opinion piece could jolt men to prepare for that age, it would have achieved its other purpose.
I want to begin by stating that I believe that a 60-year-old man inhabits a world of his own – a masculine, historical, practical and contained existence.
In my view, this world is both limited and open-ended.
It is limited because instinctively, as men, we know that it is different and experienced apart from other analogous worlds, such as that of women, sisters, the youth, etc. Yet, it is also open-ended because from the inside of manhood, and out of shared lives, it is virtually impossible to see clear boundaries between this world and other worlds I have mentioned above.
Being 60 means, charitably, that one is in late middle age generally, although for Botswana men, statistically, that is probably not so. Anyhow, it is nonetheless the height of presumptuousness to expect a man to live up to the age of 120 years! In fact, I want to guess that the parents, particularly the father of a 60-year-old man in Botswana, is probably dead by now – confirming the notion that unlike their sons, those fathers, for the most part, died before they reached 60. If a 60-year-old man has never been sincere about his luck in life, looking back at how young his father died (toiling), he ought now to be candid and thankful that his has been a life of relative longevity and ease.
Interestingly, as a generalisation, a 60-year-old man, ordinarily wills to improve and enlighten the younger generation, although admittedly, being 60 has, sometimes, given rise to some regressive thinking and conduct. At a practical level, this commitment to assisting others younger than oneself promotes the age of 60 from the nonsense of uselessness to the instrumentality of transforming others.
At an abstract level, it can be viewed as a transmission of knowledge and competence to others; a purposive desire not to be disengaged because of old age, but rather to loosen and expand human progress
Being a man and 60 is a bittersweet experience. At their prime, in their first job, and for quite some time thereafter, wherever they were, today’s 60-year-old men, were often the youngest.
Of course, now they are usually the oldest, wherever they may be. Although they may not necessarily be engaged in an all-consuming professional or business rat race or seeking validation as they would if younger, they have to contend with, and accept the reality that most of their life’s good times and ambitions are irrevocably behind them – no recognition on the horizon, no adulation going forward, insignificant fortune if lucky, physical limitations, diminished athleticism, an unlikely object of affection for the opposite sex, new or persistent health concerns, and the probability of solitude, even loneliness, until they take their last breath.
Of course, and notwithstanding the above, to be a 60-year-old man is ironically easier and manageable than being younger. The demand to conform and self-consciousness are materially no more: providing relief from self-doubting and perennial unhappiness with oneself. Objectively assessed, being 60 often equates to a simultaneous unfurling of late life and the hoisting of an uncertain future. The anxieties of youthfulness are gone, and the need to amount to something, whatever that may be, is no longer there. At 60 and beyond it, a man is or ought, ordinarily, to be open to everything and anything that life lands on his lap or throws at him. And because there is no longer any imposed expectation on his life – such as building a career, getting married, raising children, being successful in life - the pace of life is more leisurely, more serene, and unfurls, day-by-day, even as he notices his growing lack of confidence about the strength of his stride.
I would like to assume that this applies to women at 60 as well.
In the end, I want to assert without equivocation that it is possible for men to thrive outside youthfulness as well as within and beyond the decade initiated at 60. There remains a sense in which the Holy Bible provides meaning, in various verses, to the age of 60. Amongst others, it is because it considers it the threshold of entry into the last major phase of a man’s life.
This should help us in recognizing and appreciating that being a 60-year-old man is to step boldly toward any future that awaits him, however long or short.
With that, and in congratulatory terms, happy 60th birthday to you, Mnyamana and Sibonda!
BONGI D.D.M. RADIPATI*
*Bongi D.D.M. Radipati is not a baby boomer.