By Ogova Ondego
Published April 17, 2018
After snatching some meat from an eagle and finding it sweeter than anything else he has ever eaten, Tekayo sets out on a quest to find from which animal it had come so that he can be feasting on it as often as possible. He kills many animals without success until he finally kills a grandchild and discovers the liver had been from a human being!
This tragic incident from Grace Ogot’s Land Without Thunder and Other Stories anthology from Kenya could be used in illustrating Mid-Life Crisis, a state that afflicts a man physically, socially and culturally and to which no man, according to psychologists and psychiatrists, is immune; it is a time when a man challenges the values and norms he had internalised. Mid-Life Crisis turns some men into outlaws, outcasts or curses that society must get rid of in order to survive. This is why Tekayo, a man who symbolises the cohesiveness and wisdom of the community, comes to be stoned to death.
But before you dismiss this as an African folktale set in East Africa, read about John and Mary, a high-flying professional couple in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, whose divorce after 35 year of marriage set tongues wagging.
Yes. Theirs appeared to be the exemplification of a relationship made in heaven. They were successful in business. They had brought up their three children to be responsible leaders in their own right. They were community leaders looked up to as role models.
A man who had done everything possible to cater to every need of his family, John suddenly changed. His kindness, thoughtfulness and gentleness turned to resentment and hostility. He became withdrawn and no longer appeared in social functions. Then Mary discovered that John was having an affair with the 18-year-old daughter of their next door neighbour.
So incensed was Mary that she started spending the night in her Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) office and venting out her frustration on her employees. On the other hand, her sleeping in the office only gave John more grounds upon which to accuse her of infidelity while he pushed on with his own.
When 55-year-old John finally agreed to receive counselling, he told the counsellor that he couldn’t stand being around his wife or being touched by her anymore; that his 18-year-old ‘lover’ loved, cared and understood him more than his wife of 35 years.
The counsellor put John’s problem to a psychological trauma known as mid-life crisis or male menopause.
Behavioural scientists say most men spend their lives trying to keep all their responsibilities and identities balanced they hardly ever have time to reflect on the quality of their lives. In their late 30s or early 40s they suddenly realise time is running out and so they must start to ‘live’ before it is too late.
Author of Masculinity at Crossroads, Gary J Oliver, says that while some men may have achieved all their goals, others may realise they may never achieve theirs and so, frightened, abandon careers they have taken time to build. They not only abandon intelligent and attractive wives for 19-year-old girls, but walk away from all responsibilities vowing never to return. While some men become violent and abusive, others could resort to incest and heavy drinking. Regardless of whatever achievements a man may have realised, he still considers himself a ‘failure’.
Dr Frank Njenga, a Nairobi psychiatrist, says mid-life crisis – which he refers to as male menopause – is a complicated issue.
“While women’s reproduction starts at 11-13 and ends at 40-50 years, men’s is not as clear-cut,” he says. “Men’s ‘menopause’ is a socio-psychological and not biological phenomenon as in women,” he argues.
Psychiatrist Njenga says no man is immune to psychological trauma.
“This is the time when a man realises he will not live forever. He is painfully reminded of his mortality by his failing strength, attractiveness and sexual prowess,” says Dr Njenga, explaining that a man at mid-life crisis starts doubting his capabilities. “He may take a ndogondogo to confirm his sexual prowess and to relive his youth.”
Asked why a man should consider making up for his failures through sex, a counselling psychologist says sex is a form of power. She says men who try to recreate their youth through sex are those who blame their wives for real and perceived failures and they therefore must punish the wives by sleeping with women young enough to be their children.
A clinical psychologist reiterates that an affair is just one of the more visible behaviours of mid-life crisis in men.
“Having realised they cannot live forever, some men try to make up for what they missed in their youth. While some dress expensively, have sleek cars and generally flaunt their wealth, others drink heavily and engage in affairs. Still others join politics while many more run to churches because they are afraid of death that now appears nearer than it ever was,” she argues.
Dr Njenga says he now counsels men in mid-life crisis on a ‘daily basis’.
Saying a man’s upbringing determines the intensity of male menopause, he says it is a critical time for careers and relationships such as marriages and friendships. He says a woman who notices that her husband is behaving strangely should hasten in seeking professional help.
“Women who seek help early usually save a marriage that is headed for the rocks,” he says.
Dr Jim Conway, a counsellor, psychologist, pastor and writer of Men in Midlife Crisis, says that a man’s evaluation of his past accomplishments, hopes and dreams determine whether his life ahead will be an exhilarating challenge to him or simply a demoralising distance that he must drearily traverse.
“Nearly all men at mid-life crisis will experience some trauma… the crisis comes to the married and the single, to the Christian as well as to the unbeliever,” writes Conway.
Conway contends the affair is the most talked about of all the escapist solutions that a man at mid-life crisis may try out. He quotes a researcher on male sexuality as saying: “Many people cheat – some a little; some a lot; most who don’t would like to but are afraid.”
Neither the actual nor the would-be cheaters admit the truth nor defend their views, he writes.
Indeed, when an Assemblies of God televangelist–Jimmy Swaggart–of USA was found basking in the bosom of a prostitute, he at first lied about his name. Later he claimed he was doing research among prostitutes on how to effectively minister to them. His colleague, Jim Bakker, had been caught in a similar situation less than a fortnight earlier.
Experts say US President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and King David’s affair with Bathsheba – like Bakker and Swaggart’s illicit liaisons – are examples of sexual flings occasioned by mid-life crisis.
Dr Conway says mid-life crisis is a state of mind rather than age. Most people say it may start any time from mid 30s and into the 50s.
Saying that a man at 40 may start acting like a teenager at 14, Dr Conway says how a man handled earlier developmental stages will determine whether he will arrive at mid-life early or late and how long and intense the trauma will be. Such a man takes out his frustrations on his weakening body, work, wife and God. Hence he may become reclusive.
A man in mid-life crisis has symptoms similar to a menopausal woman: depression, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, self-pity and low self-esteem. A hitherto reliable and satisfied man becomes rebellious, unruly and unmanageable. Unlike women who are future oriented, men feel their best was in the past. Consequently, men in their forties appear unhappier than their female counterparts. That men are socialised not to share only worsens the matter. Dr Conway says society teaches men never to cry, feel pain or hurt. They are not supposed to be frustrated, confused or disappointed with life. Thus a suffering man will pretend everything is fine, preferring to run away rather than seek help as doing the latter implies failure!