My dad, Roop Tawney, turns 70 years-old on Dec. 7, 2020, and somehow he’s still dominating his 33 year-old son on the tennis court. My younger self should have known he’d never let me win, even 20 years after he taught me to play the game. A local table tennis champion in his youth back in India and a popular collegiate cricketer in London, athletics and exercise have always been part of Roop’s life. When he arrived in the United States in the 1970s, he taught himself how to play tennis—a sport uncommon in India during his formative years—and passed it along to his children in the ‘90s.
For the hard-working industrial engineer, sports weren’t a professional ambition for my father but rather a recreational foundation for living a healthy, well-balanced life. He was no health nut. In fact, he can still drink me and my brother Ravi under the table. But as he’s seen his friends age in various ways, from gradual weight gain to serious medical issues, my dad has managed to avoid any frightening trips to the hospital. He also has no desire to retire as he simply doesn’t feel fatigued by everyday living.
Every day, each morning, he rises out of bed to conduct stretches and basic floor exercises. Before eating, he dips a spoon into a bottle of turmeric powder and tosses it back. For breakfast, he chops basic fruits and vegetables, places them on a plate and nibbles them as he reads the news at his home office desk. Throughout the course of his day, work or weekend, he carries raw nuts in his pocket to keep his energy up. And each lunch break, he finds time to lift weights at the local L.A. Fitness.
Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday evening, he gets together with a group of friends to play a friendly yet competitive game of table tennis as they drink beer and order Indian takeout for dinner—a standing social and physical appointment he’s kept up for three decades. He also wakes up at 6 a.m. each Saturday to play indoor tennis with local top players in his age range. He is disciplined and rarely strays from his routine—a rhythm in which he thrives.
And laughing—let’s not forget his humor. The man loves to receive and tell jokes. A great memorizer and punch-liner, of a Rodney Dangerfield caliber. He frequently stresses to his sons the importance of laughter, even in life’s more arduous circumstances.
I don’t mean to boast about my elder’s overall well-being, however, a lifetime of self-care can make another man feel as though their health is hopeless by the time they’ve hit 30 years-old. Unfortunately, for my historically un-athletic self, I hadn’t been very interested in sports as a teenager, nor did I care much for committing to a healthy diet. But as I reached my twenties, I noticed how my dad continued to naturally age in form and build yet hadn’t weakened in physical fitness or even his attitude toward life; while many other men in his age range seemed to complain more about the same ailments: stiffness, joint pain and even emotional volatility. I began to realize that I too would soon age and how I chose to prepare my future determined more on how I treated my body and mind over how many career ladders I climbed.
Uncontrollable genetics aside, it’s common knowledge by now that poor eating habits and lack of physical activity can be attributed to leading causes of death in men, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke. Obesity remains an increasing national crisis as three in four men (73.7%) are considered to be overweight or have obesity, and sedentary lifestyles are also a major contributing factor.
Historically, our society has focused on fitness in our youth and ignored the aging process, as if passing that line toward senior citizenship meant a steady decline toward death. But as Americans are living longer and the life expectancy rate continues to increase, more emphasis is being placed on better self-care throughout one’s life as both a preventative measure and quality of life assurance.
I’m fortunate to have my father as an inspiration of who I hope to become, in mind and body, when I reach 70 years-old, if I’m fortunate. We also have a forthcoming president who is both “healthy” and “vigorous” at age 78. Sure, we can turn to young athletes and celebrities as tokens of ideal health, and feel I could never reach their seemingly exhaustive levels of perfection as we watch many of them decline in health over the ensuing years. Or we can look to men, in our personal lives and in our community, who have achieved longevity by slowly and steadily managing a balanced, day-to-day lifestyle in an effort to maintain it. I don’t know about others but I’d choose the old-timer every time.
Raj Tawney is an American writer, covering culture and modern life from his multiracial perspective. Recent contributions include New York Magazine, The Boston Globe, O, the Oprah Magazine, and many other publications around the country. Visit him at rajtawney.com.