Sing It With Me! Don’t Let the Old Man In

February 3, 2022

I was talking to my friend Kevin last week. Kevin and I have ventured through our public education careers with similar jobs as teachers, high school principals, and finally as superintendents. He has been a mentor and a friend for over 30 years, and I truly appreciate our bond and understanding of one another. Kevin has been asking me about my experiences in this new retirement phase, and he has recently decided to retire from his superintendent position. Last week, we were talking about what not working 60 to 70 hours a week is like. He said, “Don’t let the old man in, right?” I got what he was saying, but did not know the context. Now that I know, it’s worth sharing.

In a golf pairing I wish I could have joined, country music star Toby Keith was playing with multiple-Academy Award-winning actor/director Clint Eastwood. Keith marveled at Eastwood’s persistence, as Eastwood had just filmed yet another movie, The Mule, at the age of 88. Eighty-eight! He asked Eastwood how he does it, and Eastwood remarked, “I just get up every morning and go out. And I don’t let the old man in.” That inspired Keith to write and sing Don’t Let the Old Man In, a song which is featured in The Mule.

Can’t leave it up to him
He’s knocking on my door

I’ve written before about my appreciation for Younger Next Year, which encourages all of us over a certain age (it starts at 40!) to push ourselves hard physically to keep our bodies from aging so quickly. Chris Crowley, the author, is not talking about our graying hair or our wrinkles, which is good because I have both! He’s talking about taking care of ourselves and fighting off the old man as long as possible. Through hard exercise and good nutrition, we can swim against the relentless tide of decay and “change decay back into growth.”

Get up and go outside,
Don’t let the old man in.

Having children has helped me to stay young. Without question, my sons have kept me on my toes for the last 31 years. I have listened hard to learn their interests, joys, and fears, read the books and watched the movies they wanted to read and see, competed with them in the games they want to play (side note: my children have beaten me at many games, but I never once let them win. They knew they earned it when they won), and ate the food they wanted to eat. I did not see an In-n-Out 4×4 or a gazillion milk shakes on the Younger Next Year or Noom nutrition list, but sometimes you just have to say, “What the heck?”

When Ryan was 16 and I was 44, we celebrated all of those fours by each eating an In-n-Out 4×4!

And just because I’m an empty nester, don’t think that my children are still not a huge part of my life. My older son told me many years ago, “Dad, you act a lot younger than you are. I like it, but it’s different.” My sons will be keeping me young for a long time and I’m grateful.

Ask yourself how old you would be,
If you didn’t know the day you were born

In the meantime, I’m focusing on learning and improving. I’ve already sat down and learned how to play and sing this song.  I’m loving writing, helping out at home, and I’m doing my best to keep up with the craziness in public education. My wife joked (kind of) about how nice it is to have so much help at the house – and that she loves this new role in my life. I’m taking that as a compliment, and I’m staying on it.  It’s all part of the never-ending effort to live life fully and stay young.

Try to love on your wife
And stay close to your friends
Toast each sunset with wine
Don’t let the old man in

And I know that all of this can be sideswiped by something awful, and that life holds no guarantees. But I plan to enjoy the journey as much as possible, and to see what life brings. I’m loving today, and looking forward to tomorrow.

So thanks to Toby Keith and Clint Eastwood for their artistry and inspiration, and thanks to my friend Kevin for sharing this song with me – Kevin is young at heart and I know his wife and family will keep him that way for years and years. May you all do the same.


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  • The background for this article came from a Billboard Magazine article by Cathy Applefeld Olson and the photo by Eric Charbonneau. You can find the article here.
  • If you want to hear and see the music video for the song, with a whole lot of Clint Eastwood, check it out here.

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  1. Lenka jensen says:

    I met Clint Eastwood many years ago. We had a very long conversation sitting on the stairs which led to the second floor of the Playboy mansion. I was only 17 years old then but already could have a debate with the best of them. He is a phenomena. And an inspiration in many different ways. Let me say also: don’t let the old woman in except do allow the wrinkles and the loose skin because those are the map of ones past. A precious history of ones life, if you will.
    Many years ago, while the girls were small, I hired a Russian piano teacher. Zlata was her name. Pushing 70 when she first arrived in the US. She had only a few dollars to her name, did not speak English and could not drive. Yet 12 years later when she left back for Russia, she had a music school. Many of her students went to top conservatories and became professional musicians. She left speaking good English, driving a car and holding a dual citizenship. This woman was unstoppable. She could transform from a grandma to a formidable persona on the stage. I asked her one day what made her function. She told me: always have plans. More then one plan because if one does not come to fruition, try the next one. Forget about dreaming and hoping for the most part but DO. DO everything with outmost passion and concentration.
    After she went back to Russia, she started a music school for American and European diplomats children. She died in her nineties and I believe where ever she is-Zlata is doing everything with passion and outmost love.
    This is one of the incredible women who taught my daughters music and many other lessons, life lessons one can never learn at school.
    You were the best principal any school could dream to have. I still tell people about those few magical years at Malibu middle and high school. You followed your heart and hired some great teachers and always looked for different and better ways to teach. I thank you for that.
    Now go and do something fun. I have so far hiked over ten thousand miles in many wild places and plan to backpack at least ten more. The latest plan I told my rather bewildered husband is that I want to ride a horse across the country. That’s a plan. One of many. Enjoy your retirement.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks for the kind words. Those were great years. I love the focus on “do” and on having plans. Thanks also for sharing Zlata’s story – she’s yet another mentor for us as we travel through life.

  2. Catherine Kollath says:

    Hi Mike. Nice reflection. 💕. I had my kids at 35 and 37. That has kept me young. Also, the passion for teaching has kept me current. I plan to retire this year and bought a camper today. (Happy 62nd bday to me) Goal is to visit National Parks . We are so fortunate!! Healthy, sound of mind, loving God and appreciating our Blessings. It makes my heart happy that you are well and thriving.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks for the comment, and happy birthday to you indeed! And you are now eligible for the awesome National Parks senior pass! Best deal ever! Enjoy using that camper for many, many years!

      1. Seth Finn says:

        This post hits close to home, I’d guess that’s true for all of us as we make our way through the years. I think Groucho Marx said something to the effect of, old age may be tough, but the alternative is much worse. I’ve been listening to Mel Brooks’ memoir, “All About Me”, and it’s remarkable for many reasons. Mike and I went to see Brooks in person a few years ago, he was 90+, and sharp as a tack. I’m about 8 hours into him performing his book (he sings, he yells, tells jokes…), he’s 95 now, and it’s remarkable. No doubt he had a lot of help preparing the book, but he’s cogently retelling not only his history, but frequently the history of cinema. And no one can help him make a flawless delivery of the book, it’s truly impressive, and inspiring in every way.

        If I have a point here, it’s that we have to stay engaged, it’s what every comment above is saying. Whether we’re hiking, camping, swimming, reading, writing, whatever. As far as the words, “Don’t let the old man in”, for me, that communicates the idea so well, I get it, and I think they’re words to live by. I try to make each day my balanced masterpiece; exercise, time with my wife, interaction with my son, reading, work. Some days I succeed more than others, some days just fall apart, but I always try, I feel as long as the effort is there, the old man is kept at bay.

        1. Mike Matthews says:

          I’m in for the Mel Brooks book. He was amazing and still VERY funny. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Seth. Let’s keep staying young.

  3. Ingrid Peterson says:

    I hear what you’re saying and what you mean by it, but I have a much more positive view of the label “old” and would never say or feel, “Don’t let the old woman in.” I embrace staying healthy, fit and full of vitality, but I also embrace being old, being an elder, being a kupuna.

    I love being someone who has the wisdom of experience and interesting stories to tell of events and ways of life of earlier decades. I’m proud to have grown up with the idealism of the 60s and early 70s with its peace movement, counter-culture, environmentalism, feminism —- and the best music!

    I’m also a living connection to the generations before me whose lives touched those who experienced being born in slavery or having just survived the concentration camps and whose own lives were deepened by seeing Hitler in the early 20s ranting on the street with his thugs around him and facing the challenges of the Great Depression and WWII.

    Perhaps it’s easier to embrace the label of being old in Hawaii, where the culture treasures and respects its elders, its kupuna. I love being a kupuna and being called “Auntie” here as a sign of loving respect. I think the LA area and much of US culture is a bit warped by its focus on the necessity of looking young and avoiding the label “old.”

    But for all of that, I stay what we call young at heart and have never been known to “act my age” if that means being constrained and conventional. I embrace play, discovery and the vitality of life!

    Just my reaction… I did understand how you meant your words.

    1. Mike Matthews says:

      Thanks for your comment, Ingrid. I have no argument against the rich traditions and wisdom that our elders (and that includes some of us reading this post!) bring to our communities and the world. It’s a great point and I love cultures that celebrate them.

  4. Nancy Rosenburg says:

    Hi Mike,
    Disclaimer – I am not a big social media person, although years ago Connie Harrington virtually ordered me to set up a FB account. I really don’t follow much, and never post on FB, but have seen your twitter blogs (salivating at the Hawaii pics) and then your February message about the “old man” post popped up just the other day. My staple “go to” along the same line is Forever Young (sung by anyone), although it offers a slightly different message. “Any to The Who” ( a phrase I learned from following he genius On Broadway on Sirius genius host, Seth Rudetsky, I was seriously honored to see your message. In response, I am well, or well enough and am so happy to see you are thriving in retirement, although the grapevine has it you have put a toe back in the educational waters. I would love to share a bit more – maybe even a few lyrics. How best to touch base?

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