The Observer (Kampala)

31 January 2013

Uganda: Why Men Fear Aging

Will I age and lose my beauty and luminous youth? Will my spouse then find me unattractive?

Will my teenage daughter get pregnant and make me a grandmother at 40? The fact that women fear aging and all that comes with it is unquestionable. Do men fear aging too? "Why should I fear that which is inevitable?" asks James Katungi, a lawyer in his 40s.

"These are things we do not have control over."

According to psychologists, men too fear aging but their concerns are slightly different from women's. Even though most men will be damned before they admit it, deep down a lot of them have fears and insecurities concerned with their looks, health and general well-being. Some are even afraid to disclose their age when asked directly.

According to Counsellor Harriet Nabudduwa, it is only natural for people to fear something that they have never experienced before, and growing older means moving closer to an uncertain future of ailments and coming to terms with the universal destiny that is death.

On their way to getting older, some men are as accepting of it as Katungi, while others do all that is in their power to put off the inevitable. And the evidence of this is a growing market for men's anti-aging creams and scrubs; as well as other beauty products like dyes, says Flora, a shop attendant at a downtown cosmetics shop in Kampala.

Broke and old:

For most people, the only consolation is that by the time they grow old, they will be exactly where they want to be--having more money than they can spend in a lifetime.

"But what if I get old and I am still as broke as I am now?" asks Eric Mugarura, a man in his mid-twenties.

In a country where a good education, hard work or even business ingenuity does not always guarantee better financial prospects, being old and broke is a legitimate fear for many men. For these, retirement does not conjure up pictures of sandy beaches, sunset on a farm and holidays but, rather, the scary prospect of being penniless with no ability to work for your supper.

Irrelevant:

Once upon a time, he was the boss at work. His business boomed, he stood tall and if he missed a day of work, the company would nearly collapse without him. But there came in fresh university graduates, tech savvy 23-year-olds, threatening to push him to extinction.

For most men, work is their lives and the thought of growing old and having to retire is quite scary.

"I do not even have transport to go to Mulago when I am sick. My children have their own problems," says a man in his 70s, whose age has reduced him to begging for a living around the Nakulabye area. "I wish I was still young and strong."

Balding:

This is the number one fear for men. Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, is said to have compared the strength of a man's hair to the strength of his manhood. Hair loss means losing one of his attractive features--his very essence and definition is replaced by a shiny smooth skin where strands of hair once stood.

It is at this point that he begins to fear that she will start looking around for a man with a mat of hair she can feel. Going grey is a close cousin to balding and many a man's nightmare comes true when he starts to see the tell-tale signs of grey.

Adventurous men counter this "problem" by dying their entire head grey--a statement to the world that they are old, they have style and they have no problem with that. However, the majority that live with the constant fear of greying spend cans of dye on their hair to hide the fact that their youth has already sailed past.

"Just observe the heads of our ministers; they are all unnaturally black," says an avid observer of the social and political landscape in this country.

These men are testimony to the fact that the cosmetic fears of aging are no longer a preserve for women and that fear of aging cuts across economic backgrounds, as both poor and rich men fear growing old.

The dreaded potbelly:

Well, it is hard to say that this is a concern for many of our honourable ministers, but some men The Observer spoke to say they fear losing shape and growing a potbelly. They feel that a wide girth is a sign of aging.

"That is why I go to the gym every day," explains Michael Malengerera.

As age sets in, muscles sag, metabolism slows down and both men and women are prone to gaining weight. While the pot belly is not inevitable for every man, it is an acceptable and even enviable trademark of old age in Uganda; a sign that you have aged and you have "eaten" enough money.

And young people in their prime are also worried that soon they will have to bear the potbelly burden like their seniors.

Impotence:

Mzee Kaaya is an old man who feels he has arrived at a good point in his life. All his eleven children have acquired degrees, and all that is left for him to do is dress up every morning in his favourite suit and go to the bar for a drink.

He always does this in style, with a young woman by his side that he caresses into giggles with every sip. This is Mzee Kaaya's statement of wealth and virility to the world.

Even if they are as old as 104, every man wishes to be seen as still having got it. But as men age, their libido and virility naturally goes down, according to Dr Collins Kasirye. Some men take performance enhancing drugs, others go the healthy route of exercising and others take on a nubile woman.

Death:

For Isaac Tumusiime, his greatest fear of aging is death. Even the religious notions of a better life far beyond this one do not console him.

"I do not think when we die we go to heaven," he says. "I think we go to the ground."

But for Mugarura, it is not so much the fear of the afterlife but the fate of his loved ones once he is gone.

"I hate to think that I could die and my wife moves on with another man."

Fear not:

Nabudduwa, a psychologist, says such fears are understandable but men should not allow them to interfere with their daily lives. Asaf Agaba agrees. "A man is as young as he feels. Not every old man grows impotent or bald. If you look after yourself well and continue to have fun, you will age nicely," he says.

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