When Mommy met Daddy

Reading children’s stories and fairy tales, we were all imparted with the same story of how couples start off and live happily ever after. Cinderella met her soul mate the morning after they danced the night away at some club and left her one of her clear heels. Rapunzel met hers while she was in the midst of a long overdue hair trimming and her long mane was no doubt what attracted the handsome prince who saved her from a life of solitude in the tall tower. Sleeping beauty was awoken from a deep slumber with a loving kiss by a handsome prince and not only did Snow White eventually meet a handsome prince but she had seven not so desirable men to keep her company while she waited. Basically the underlying message in all these stories is true love is almost exclusively found through some sort of conflict by two totally unattached individuals. This same idea is peddled long into adulthood by egregiously soapy romance novels. Some rich prince or stock broker with finely chiselled Greek Godlike abs waltzes into the life of some lonely librarian or baroness and they carry on a scintillating love affair. Beautiful. If only it was reality.

The truth is fairy tales are just that, Tales. The reality of the mating situation could not be any further from the ideal diamond encrusted romance novels and childhood stories we all read. Romance and dating is more complex for our generation and is just not as simple as Rapunzel and Snow white had it. One may argue that I’m being extreme and unreasonable by taking obviously fantastic tales and comparing them to our reality. That maybe so but the reality is it is these stories and tales that form the basis for all our relationship expectations and wants. We all want to meet a beautiful princess and be mesmerised by her beauty that we are willing to slay dragons and covens of witches in her name. Ladies want a knight in shining armour and a white horse to ride in, sweep her off her feet, and ride off with her into a life of luxury and multiple orgasms. Unfortunately reality has taught us to greatly compromise on some of our expectations.

Something the stories fundamentally failed to address was the issue of children. Inquisitive, exceedingly sharp children whose intellects have been sharpened by 500 TV channels and Google. The stories we read leave us at the point where the dashing prince and the previously distressed damsel live happily ever after. This leaves the reader to imagine an amazing life they later lead filled with rose petals and milk showers. Not once does the thought of dirty nappies and school fees ever creep into the picture. With children obviously comes questioning minds. Kids always want to know how mommy and daddy met. After consuming school and cartoon network recommended doses of these fairy tales they want to know if their parents fit into the mould. Here, dear reader is when the little white lies and fibs are used in copious amounts. Not all of us have such dreamy stories to tell of our unions with our wives.

I was one such inquisitive child and probed my parents to unravel the story of their union. My father was a shy but cheeky recruit in the army when he was introduced to my mother by his cousin. My mother had just finished high school and was looking into nursing as a career. They engaged in a brief courtship before my father had to be called off to the war. He would write her letters detailing the horrors he was witness to and how his memory of her was his tether to sanity. My mother kept all of them and I read some that were fit for consumption. The man had a way with words. When the war ended my father came back and my mother was right there at the train station to greet him. He settled into civilian life and got an apprenticeship with a news publication and then asked for my mother’s hand in marriage. The details of whether their marriage was as a result of me being the proverbial “bun in the oven” or if I was instead a result of the marriage are still hazy. The dates and numbers just don’t add up. But Anyway I digress. That story is as beautiful as the day I first heard it. Being a sceptic later during my early adulthood, I took it upon myself to investigate the truth behind their exceptionally glistening tale of their beginnings. Everything was corroborated by uncles, aunts, grandparents and the match maker himself. That story gave me a warm feeling and made me believe that courtship fairy tales can be a reality.

Fast forward a couple of years to the time I met my wife. I first met Lynnette when I was 12 and she was 10 back in her home town of Redcliff. Two years later she had grown into herself and with raging adolescent hormones thrown into the mix I asked her to be my girlfriend. We dated in high school for about 2 years until she decided to move on to a better breed of male that was captain of the basketball, rugby and hockey teams and was president of the Debate, Chess and Junior Rotary clubs at his private school. I however engaged in no such activities, save for being the Breast stroke guy in my school’s relay swimming team. But I’m not angry, I got over it. Fast forward to the year 2004 when I was a 24 year old management trainee with a leading hotel in Harare. I had big dreams and aspirations for my future and had made a promise to myself to purchase an Aston Martin before I turned 30. Only one car dealership had it in the city at the time I would take leisurely religious walks through the CBD to visit my dream car during my lunch breaks. One day in July I decided to take a route I did not normally take back to work since I had some time to kill. There ahead of me swung the most well shaped body I had seen in years. Dressed in all black, black skinny jeans, black sleeveless top and black knee high boots. With rhythm in coordinated movement I found it hard to believe that a lady simply walking would be so beautiful. It was poetry in motion. I ran up to the creature of beauty to introduce myself only to realise I didn’t have to. It was Lynnette, my high school sweetheart.

We dated on and off for two years before I realised that this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with (that is if no sport playing intellectuals came along to ruin it all). Sounds like a cute story of the rediscovery of a long lost love right? However I left out some minor details. Here is where the story gets unpretty, hairy, and rather rancid from a story telling point of view. When we met as adults I was engaged to my college girlfriend who was out of the country and she was dating some wannabe back up dancer. We had an affair for about a month until we both decided to end it. We shall never know whether it was forces of the universe conspiring against our respective relationships or we somehow cursed them by being together. Two months later we found out my fiancé was not exactly ready to be exclusive to me or the other 2 guys she was with at the time and Lynnette’s boyfriend had been sleeping with her best friend and flatmate for 6 months. She walked in on them just after they had broken her bed base right down the middle. What I would have given to walk in five minutes earlier just to see how they managed that. We then found comfort in each other’s arms and the rest as they say is history.

Many of our friends and peers have had similar stories to tell of how they met their spouses. The process of searching for and selecting a mate has evolved and is not as traditional as what our parents had to go through. Back then there were designated and sanctioned venues for young ones of courtship age to meet. Usually these places were patronised with a chaperone and all activity was carefully observed. With the advent of the internet, MTV and modern liberal thinking, dating and mating has changed to what our parents would have been stoned to death for. Now finding a mate is as easy as joining a website, going to a club or simply taking them away from their current partners. Whether these practices are good or bad they have resulted in many partnerships that I have witnessed.

One may argue that these are isolated cases and are mainly restricted to the more laissez-faire western societies and Africa is still somewhat protected. This view, I’m not afraid to say, is detrimentally naive. We live in a space age where information is readily available on 24 hour TV channels and smart phones. Just as the dissemination of information has become that much easier so will the influence of so called un-African cultures and practices. As much as we may try we cannot put a filter on the things we want society to learn and those we wish to protect it from. I came to this realisation in the middle of trying to preserve the fairy tales and stories of our parent’s courtships. Is it really sustainable and practical to believe that princes and princesses will always meet while unattached and live on in pink and fluffy worlds that are fuelled by nothing but love? And if not what do we tell our kids now when they ask?

Logic tells me that just like the dinosaurs, if we refuse to accept that the dynamics of our society and relationships are evolving and refuse to evolve along with them, techno-sapiens of the future will take their offspring to museums to view our bones that would have been excavated from the ruins of obstinacy. Within that evolution are we not sacrificing the innocence and naivety of our children at the same time? When my parents told me about their story I bought it hook line and sinker, simply because they said so. Kids today are not that susceptible.  How can  i tell them that Father Christmas and the Easter bunny exist when Google and Wikipedia on their phones tells them otherwise? I’m still of the opinion that children must be spared reality and allowed to live in fantasy fairytale worlds for as long as the gentle fibs can sustain themselves. This techno age is not making that task easy at all.

So looking at how i met my wife, our story falls short of the prescribed story book events. So now begs the question do i do the logical thing and tell my children that mommy and daddy were born for each other and knew that from day one. Or do I save face and credibility with them and gently tell the truth since they will inevitably find it out by the time they read and work a touch screen. This is a conundrum that that perplexed my wife and I for some time now. As much as we would love to protect our children we do not want to breed naive drones that simply acchat the world is what their parents told them it was. With the ever changing relationship dynamics we wouldn’t want them to feel alienated or weird because we told them otherwise. I guess we shall just have to wait and see.

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The Gender Bender Butterfly

Just as many of my peers I grew up on vast amounts of cartoons and comics. The whole world stood still while heroes such Bravestar, He-man and Voltron battled their weekly foes. Of course back then all this was amusement and I watched the shows purely for their entertainment value. Watching these heroes gave me a brief 30 minute reprieve from bullies and home work. After that it was back to reality and planet earth. Apart from the clichéd good always trumps evil lesson I believed most of these cartoons offered nothing more than cheap escapism and no real value. However due to recent events that have been happening in the world around me, I have found myself referring back to one of these cartoons. I remember an episode of Samurai Pizza Cats I watched titled Gender Bender Butterflies. The villain in the show, the Big Cheese, had hatched a new plan to destabilise little Tokyo, mix up gender roles. He developed these butterflies that, when they come into contact with a male would bestow feminine characteristics and the opposite for a female. The butterflies made men worry about their manicures and cry at the sight of new born puppies and made women yell at sports referees and brag about their pay cheques. Back then it was nothing more than humorous since it presented a ridiculous scenario that my childish mind could not even envisage as a possible reality.

Recently however I have come to realise just how prophetic that episode was. Tradition has bred men to be masculine and women to be feminine. Our parents taught us that boys are hard wired to be in charge and in control of situations with some degree of aggression. While the girls played with dolls and skipping rope we played cops and robbers and rugby. However when we played it back then the only rule was to bring down who ever had the ball by any means necessary, points were rarely relevant. For the girls, they were taught to be loving, nurturing, and timid. Physical fights between boys and girls were rare when we were kids and when they did occur it was always the girl who was seen as the freak for being able to mould a fist, let alone throw it. These characteristics imparted during childhood would be the determinants of gender relations in adulthood. So basically male = masculine = in charge, strong, impervious, provider and female = feminine = submissive, nurturing, fragile, provided for. That was the way of the world.

Over the past couple of years however, the gender lines have become fuzzy and things are not as black and white as we were led to believe they should always be. The feminist movement has grown exponentially and with it has come many other social developments. Women are no longer the frail and fairer sex that they have been portrayed as in literature. Women have now developed more masculine characteristics and are tackling roles that have traditionally been reserved for men. In any society as in nature there is always a balance that must be maintained. As the wave of masculine and forceful women swept modern society along with it came the wave of the more feminine male who is non-confrontational, sensitive, in touch with his feelings and moisturises.

In so called more progressive societies such as America and Europe, women took the reins of being the sole breadwinners in the home while the males have assumed the domestic and care giving roles dubbed house-husbands. I point this out due to my own experience and situation in my home. My status as “house dad” is not a matter of choice but really a result of a hostile economic situation. I had a rather vicious disagreement with my former employers which led to me being handed my walking papers. I once started a business in my younger days but due to plain old naivety, it folded. This time around I believed i had matured and had amassed adequate experience to be a successful entrepreneur,  I welcomed the opportunity with both hands. The business world however is not always as willing to offer its supple bosom as budding entrepreneurs are to suckle. Things were not moving as fast as I had hoped so I had to set up my office at home. This however has had the side effect of making me the defacto housekeeper and nanny to our five month old son. My wife became the breadwinner, again, in the home and the one bringing home the bacon. Even though my business has only started bringing in some income, it is still infantile compared to hers.

I have come to realise that in any home situation, putting aside the issue of male and female, there are two main pillars that hold the roof up. There is the financial and planning pillar and the domestic pillar. When I was employed I was the financial pillar and even though my wife was employed she was the latter. Gradually, during the period that I have been economically inactive, our roles have been reversed. She now brings home the pay slip and bank statements while I ensure that supper is ready by the time she arrives. I even do the laundry on weekends and the dishes each night.

During this period I have also come to a realisation that I’m not as aggressive and confrontational as I used to be. I guess things came to a head one night when my wife suggested that we buy a dish-washer instead of a new stove. She had already done the calculations and came to the conclusion that our current stove can survive at least two more years. I then asked where she intended on situating it since we are currently challenged for space in our little kitchen. She simply replied by saying “I buy, you find the space.” Right then we were transported back in time to my Uncle Patson’s living room. She was the “man’s man” Uncle Patson and I was the modestly educated house wife Aunt Beaula. Those were the kinds of conversations they had. Patson would provide and Beaula would make a plan to accommodate the provisions. Before, this statement alone would have ignited a murderous fire in my heart and led me to savagely defend my masculinity with an all out attack. However no homicidal fire was set, not even a flame. I even started coming up with suggestions as to how to rearrange everything.

I’ve also realised that I’m more in tune with myself and have no problem expressing my feelings to my wife. I used to believe in the “never let them see you bleed” school of thought and this fuelled the macho man in me. I realised however that it also fuelled the rage and depression whenever I hit a brick wall because I had no one to off load on. The guys’ solution was always a round of beers or a punch in the shoulder and an instruction to “man up”. These days I ask my wife how her day was and genuinely listen to her while she unravels the events. Our communication is better now and I can safely say our marriage has vastly improved. So now comes the question; As a result of my circumstances, have I evolved into a new man or have I simply been castrated?

True, the customary views of masculinity are still rife and really have no tolerance for deviance from the norm or modifications or additions of any kind. One may argue that the phenomenon of the new male is restricted to the more progressive and excessively liberal societies such as America and Europe and traditional gender roles are still and will always be observed and greatly respected in Africa. Men are macho and aggressive, period. Really? Already the pretty-boy image is being peddled by sports stars (the definitions of modern manhood by the way) at every turn during prime time viewing and men are buying into it. Shower gels for men, scented aftershave, hair shampoo and face moisturisers are now all the rage and the metro-sexual is the new macho. How long do you think it will take that pretty-boy to realise that aggression really doesn’t go with his new image. It’s going to be hard to start a fight in a club while your hair smells like a flowery meadow and your face is radiantly spotless.

One may argue that I’m simply putting these views forward in support of my own situation but hey that’s how I see the world. Clearly I’m not content with being a “house dad” and will continue my quest for a financial stability, but I cannot deny the good that the Gender-bender butterfly has brought about in both my attitude and my relationship with my wife. Shifts in men’s gender views and perception on roles will inevitably come either by force such as my situation or by choice. Is this the next stage of evolution or is this the end of the so called real African man? I don’t have the answer to that. Hopefully time will tell. In the mean time however my wife will be teaching me how to knit a cardigan.

A Pocket Full Of Kryptonite

If you tell yourself something for long and often enough you will at some point start to believe it. Whether the affirmation or mission statement concerns one’s work personal or love life, compelling repetition has proven to be the fuel in one realising their end goal. I say this because this was the case in my own life. Ever since I was a gullible child of five, I idolised Superman. From the first time Christopher Reeves donned the iconic blue and red pantyhose in the first superman movie back in 1978, I was hooked. Please understand, seeing pictures in early comics and magazines had nowhere near the same effect that actually seeing the hero depicted in moving visuals. The man was faster than a bullet, had square jaws, perfectly jelled hair, impervious to harm and for some reason no one recognised that it was simply mild mannered Clark Kent without the glasses. The man’s mystique was mind boggling. From that moment I wanted to be Superman. I would tie my swimming towel around my neck as a cape and would perch on the top of my bedroom wardrobe scouring the city of my room for evil doers. My unfortunate pillows and He-Man action figures received numerous beatings for their evil plots to take over my shoe cabinet. In my childhood innocence I was convinced I could very well be the man of steel. I even started doubting my paternity and begged my father to tell me the truth about the burnt patch of lawn in our back yard. I was confident that was where my Kryptonian ship had landed. The truth was my idiot uncle was helping my father change the oil in his car and in a moment of genius decided to dispose of it on the lawn. I however did not buy into this conspiracy. I was Superman.

Psychologists have postulated that childhood trauma, in most cases may carry on into adolescence, and well into adulthood. In my case it was not trauma, but the firm belief that I was Superman incarnate. I was always a small child so I was an easy target for bullies back in school. Still when confronted by these agents of evil I would pout my lips and push my chest out in as heroes’ stance. This however didn’t deter the evil doers from beating me to pulp for being insolent but I still believed that I had to grow into my super powers and then they’d be sorry. I identified with both sides of the hero because I was as meek and mild mannered as Clark was and at the same time I had my bouts of plucky heroism. So I was the perfect fit. I did take into account his one weakness, kryptonite. I searched high and low for any deposits of the wretched mineral in order to avoid it in future and there was no sign of the green stone. So I believed I was safe not knowing that it simply came in a different form.

As puberty rolled around the world started making little sense. I started noticing girls as the fair and glorious creatures they were and they noticed me in not so much the same light. I tried the same tricks that my chick magnet cousin Simon pulled to get dates and he did exceedingly well for himself, still the formula didn’t work for me. Simon was the captain of the basketball team, was an active member of the Junior Lions club, and was in the running for school head boy post. I however had managed to land myself as the benchmark for the other end of the spectrum. My confidence was shot and my Superman experienced his first Kryptonite encounter. The fact that I attended the same high school as my female-adhesive cousin really did nothing to alleviate my woes. The constant comparison to him was a continual kicking to my nether regions and I took it with a defeated spirit. Instead of rising to the occasion I cocooned and receded into a mass of self pity and disenchantment. All the words of discouragement poisoned my spirit and threw me under the proverbial bus. One may scoff at this and say I was being melodramatic but all those who care to cast their memories back will remember how much a young man’s worth was calibrated by his popularity with his peers during this time in life especially with the female species.

The difficult time of wet dreams, pimples, and Playboy Magazines passed and I found myself in my first year college student studying Hospitality management. That is when I met my college sweetheart who happened to be the one of the hottest girls on campus. The fact that she chose to be with me was not only a source of constant perplexity for many but also a major self buoyancy boost. Remnants of my adolescent experiences still lingered in my life but i felt that if I could bag a girl like this then I could conquer the world. The blue and red super suite had returned and I felt the big red “S” burning in on chest again. This assertion permeated to other parts of my life. I breezed through my studies and graduated with honours. I was even recruited by the leading hospitality group before completing my studies. I was the hero I always dreamed I’d be. As all great romances go it didn’t last with my college sweet heart and we broke up right after graduation. She had outlived her purpose towards the greater good anyway. I then met my exceedingly beautiful wife Lynette when i was management trainee for one of Zimbabwe’s leading hotels and she fit right in. I completed my training and was appointed a department head managing 193 members of staff. That wasn’t enough since the Superman in me wanted to soar to greater heights. I worked hard till the bosses in huge air conditioned offices with two assistants noticed my efforts and decided to recruit me for their General Management Development Program. There I was, on my way to becoming the general manager of a hotel at the tender age of 26. I was that good, or should I say “Super”.

I believed in my own greatness and invulnerability I believed I was incapable of making a wrong move. I decided that my then employers were incapable of carrying me to the heights I envisaged so I discarded them in favour of not only a more established hospitality group but a new country all together. I moved to South Africa promising Lynette a life of plenty and abundance since I was Superman and all adversities trembled at the mere sight of me. Unfortunately this was easier said than done. My prospects faded and I found myself unemployed and down on my luck. Lynette turned into the super heroine for our home while i became the damsel in distress. She brought home the bacon while I waited to receive it. Regrets from job applications came hard and fast, financials were tight and small disagreements gave birth to even bigger ones and those procreated exponentially. I came from being a “Super” God-like life form, flying faster than a speeding bullet, to being a creature of frail flesh and blood. The Superman persona abandoned me once again.

With all this time on my hands I took stock of my life and listened to my friends and relatives on what they regarded as realities and facts. The world was never inhabited by super heroes, but simple mundane humans who scrape through meagre existences. I accepted that Superman was nothing more than the product of Jerry Siegel’s imagination and had no place in the world of the living. I had to deal with my issues just like the rest of the world. I dispensed with the Super silliness and packed away the super suite to the bottom of my “nothings” closet. I managed to get a job that I was exceptionally over-qualified for with a menial salary but it enabled us to make some sort of living. I was content and the world was the heartless witch I was supposed to take it as right from the beginning.

One summer day after a long and tedious day, I came home exhausted and just sank into my favourite couch. Lynnette came from the bedroom with her hands behind her back and asked me to close my eyes. When I opened them she had a Superman T-Shirt in her hands and she whispered, “I want my Superman back.”  At that point I felt a deep sadness over come me. I realised that I had played a major part in killing my Superman. I’ve been collecting kryptonite since I was in high school by listening to detractors and nay-Sayers that it stuck to the lining of my pockets. I abandoned my beliefs and decided to listen to reason and sanity. As I listened to every one of these I put a piece of kryptonite in my pocket that further weakened me and my super being. In a world where there are such seemingly insurmountable problems, maybe a super hero in all of us is exactly the fix we need. I believed I was superman and in that belief I accomplished most of my life’s milestones and the minute I stopped I fell off the wagon.

So now I resolve to get rid of all the krytonite I’ve been collecting in my pockets over the years and shield myself from any more. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to look for a telephone booth to change in.

Fathering Blind

As a child, like all my peers at the time, I believed in the children’s book idea of a family. Even our teachers peddled the same ideas of a nucleic family consisting of a father, mother, and children, any deviation from this ideal was seen as unique and far from a “real” family. I had a friend whose father passed away when we were eight and he became an example for one such “unique” family set up. Overnight he ceased being Tinashe and became that kid without a father. Everyone looked at him with pity and changed the pitch of their voices whenever they spoke to him. No one wanted to play tag or chikudo, as we called it, with him anymore because we all feared he would break. I for one pitied him and was glad I wasn’t in his position. Little did I know, five years later I would join Tinashe’s elite club.

My father passed away in a car accident when I was twelve. Apart from the tragedy of losing a father at such an early age, the segregation I was going to be subjected to occupied my mind. Where I grew up losing parent was like having leprosy. One was ostracised and left to walk home alone after school and playing games with the guys was just out of the question. I guess it can be attributed to either the naive understanding of death that we had or simply that kids just weren’t that nice where I came from. Back then being friendless was the biggest and most detrimental side effect of losing my father. As I grew older I realised that growing up without a father had some other far reaching consequences that went beyond being picked last or not being picked at all for a game of street soccer.
Now as an adult I ask myself just how much growing up “dadless” will define me as a husband and father. Common knowledge and popular tradition dictates that boys grow up to be the husbands and fathers that their fathers set as examples. The examples my father set during his presence went largely unnoticed at the time. I was under the naive impression that when the time was right my father would sit me down and say “Son, get a pen and paper, I’m now going to teach you how to be a man.” Unfortunately for me, his life was cut short before that day came. The only example I had left was my mother. One can argue that I also had my uncles to look up to but apart from the occasional phone call and odd visit, I failed to get the advantages that would be gained from constant contact.

My mother found it difficult to cope alone with three kids so she employed the assistance of my unlucky-in-love Aunt Magdalene (four marriages and six kids unlucky). The oestrogen levels in that home were off the charts. For a boy who had just entered the confusing maze that is puberty this was far from ideal. With the lack of a male guide to help me through it I was left to my own devices and the shoulders of my peers to lean on. Everyone had their two cents to put in and I distinctly remember a young man who went by the nickname Mhungu. Those who had the misfortune of attending back-of-beyond boarding schools will agree that great story tellers were revered and venerated. Mhungu would beguile and dazzle us with tales of his holiday sexual exploits. The man would describe the female anatomy with such poetic accuracy that we could all paint a picture. If indeed all his conquests were true he must have bedded at least twenty six girls during the four years that we shared a dorm room. We would clap and unanimously agree that Mhungu was the epitome of manhood during those days. Unfortunately this was an idea that would deeply embed itself and stick with me through my adolescence and into early adulthood.
All through my encounters and experiences I had only my mother to look to for parental guidance. Obviously I was unable to speak to her regarding the more intricate issues of male adolescence but she was the only example I had. Bless the woman she tried so hard to fill that void. The fact that she worked as a Sexual Health Counsellor for an NGO really made our discussions all the more awkward. She found it difficult to deliver the raw facts of STDs without the added emotional burden of having to deliver them to her own son. As I left for college instead of giving me a knitted sweater or quilt to remember her by she gave me a carton of condoms. A carton, containing 75 packs, each containing three latex condoms, that’s 225 units. I guess she thought that’s what fathers did for their first born sons as they went off into the world. Her being without a husband and me being without a father we just made up the rules and expectations as we went along.

During early adulthood I was crippled by the feeling that I did not know the first thing about being a husband let alone a father. Having only the example of being a good mother I felt I had no practical example of a good father. Yes I did have memories of my father but my so called mature understanding only dismissed most of what I remembered as romantic impressions of a father sugar-coated by the eyes of a child. So I was in limbo and stole time by believing that one day a bright light from the heavens would shine on me and induce an epiphany that would reveal all the secrets to me. By the time I left fantasy land I was twenty nine, had been in a committed relationship for five years, but had not made any solid plans to put a ring on it. Even then I was still not ready to be a father and husband.

The fear of failing my wife and children crippled me into delaying the inevitable. As I realised that time was no longer on my side, the epiphany did come, without the bright light though. I realise that I had gone about the wrong way. I realised that my father didn’t have to hold my hand all through infancy, childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood for him to have set an example. From the so called romanticised memories I have of my father I managed to sift the following out:

I do not have a single memory of my father being violent towards my mother. If they ever fought they made certain it was never in front of us.

Lesson: Never raise your hand against the mother of your children or any other woman for that matter.

When I was nine we lived just behind my school so it took me ten minutes to walk there through back street connections. I would get so jealous when I saw other kids being driven to and from school by their parents. I nagged my father asking why he didn’t do the same since we also had a car. Even though he tried to explain that the purpose of us moving so close to school was for him not to have to drive me there and he finished work late so by the time he was done I’d be home already. Still I refused to understand this. One afternoon I walked out of the school gates to find him waiting for me. He had got of work early just to come and drive me home.

Lesson: It’s your children’s job to dream and it’s yours to make them come true.

I was a very inquisitive child and always had questions about everything. From what incest was, to why the whole world went to war twice, to who gave all the colours their names and how he came up with them. My father always had an answer ready. If not he made an effort to find out before I forgot the question all together. This was before Google so he invested in a complete set of encyclopaedias for reference.

Lesson: You are to be an inexhaustible well of knowledge for your children.

My father helped me assemble my first BMX. He taught me how to fix a puncture on my tyres, he fixed my back pack zipper whenever it wouldn’t close and how to replace a blown out appliance plug.

Lesson: You must be able to fix anything.

My father was always there to help with my home work, attend my school activities, and even watch Brave-Star and Voltron with us. The only time my father was unavailable was on Sunday evenings while watching English Premier League soccer on TV. Apart from that he was ever present and the only time he went AWOL was the day he was in that car accident.

Lesson: Always be available.

My aunt had her wedding nine months before my father passed. My mother was heavily pregnant with my youngest sister at the time and it had been a difficult pregnancy. During the after party at my grandparents’, my mother got into an altercation with one of the uncles and retreated to her mother’s bedroom balling her eyes out. When my father heard of this he came like a freight train shoving all the elders in his way. He stormed into the bedroom and picked my mother up. As the uncles protested at his disrespect he merely pushed through them and put my crying mother in the car and drove off.

Lesson: You are Superman and you protect your family against any and all threats at all costs.

These are just a few of the lessons I picked up and will most definitely implement and add more to them. And even though I viewed my memories of my father as romanticised and fantastic, what’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t children have fluffy and dreamy visions of their parents? It’s when they don’t that something is wrong.

Being raised by two over protective women did however have side effects. I cried when Nicolas Cage died in City of Angels, I can carry a twenty litre bucket of water on my head; I know how to braid hair and could change cloth nappies since I was fourteen. I just hope I won’t smother my children and find that balance between over and under parenting.

I, Man (Part 2)

After a period that felt like eternity, I was thrown a life line. It was a junior entry level position that I was exceedingly over qualified for. Just as junior as the position was, so was the salary that came with it. I felt underutilized and underemployed by being there. I always saw myself as modern man with modern world views. Just not about masculinity I’m now embarrassed to say. Truth be told one cannot ignore the cultural changes that have come about in terms of the traditional gender roles in the world and African society. Now women hold offices as high as those of their male counterparts and have shattered the age old position of being lower on the social and economic totem pole. Women are just as tenacious business people as men are. That economic gap that used to exist between the sexes is quickly closing and it is not unusual to see a female CEO of a multinational company. This is a product of the global feminist movement that has fought to give women a foothold in the global economy. Women are now waiting later to get married if at all in order to work on their careers and some prefer to be single mothers who are well capable of providing for their children. These occurrences add to support the fact that ladies do not have to marry a man for financial stability anymore. Like Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin said way back in the day, “Sisters are doing it for themselves”.  However those who do want to have male partners still prefer to have to have financial equals or better still one in a better position. Every woman is a princess waiting for a knight in shining armor to slay the dragon and carry them away on his white horse, even if they absolutely don’t need one.

Being under-employed really throws a monkey wrench in those works. Lynnett and I had been dating together for seven years before we got engaged for a further three. I had no intention of keeping such a long engagement but my economic situation forced me to keep pushing back the marriage date. The toughest part of it all was having to see just how much the rest of my peers had zoomed past me at lightning speed. I also saw just how much my situation impacted negatively on other aspects of my life. I withdrew from friends and family. I was once a very outgoing character but just receded into a shell. Having to look at all the disappointed faces of all who thought I was going straight to the stars was a just too much for me to bare. In addition I never really got to experience or enjoy my early young adulthood because I spent the better part of my twenties trying to dig myself out of a muddy financial pit. All in an effort just to justify my manhood.

Instead of allowing the darkness that is self-pity completely consume me, I dug deep into myself and found what I had lost, my masculine energy. I worked twice as hard as all my workmates combined and made sure that my efforts were noticed. And after 8 months of blood sweat and a cocktail of both I was promoted two levels higher than my pay grade. When I saw my new pay check I wet myself with the overwhelming sense of self achievement. I finally earned more than my wife. I felt like my testicles were growing back and filling up my sack again. I wanted to buy a frame, have my paycheck, title and the letter detailing my perks enlarged and hung up for all to see. It was at this point that I felt like I had just received my invitation back into the elite club of “Real Men”. Men who used a paycheck to take care of their business. Most of all I wanted to tape it to my manhood and rub what I perceived as piteous looks from my wife right in it and yell “I’M THE MAN IN THIS HOUSE, WOMAN. AND HERE’S THE PROOF!”. I felt proud and was the king of my castle all over again. But in the center of all that celebration I felt an even deeper shame for feeling that way.  Lynnett never took my manhood away neither did she belittle me for earning more money than I did.  If anything she was my loudest cheerleader and was nothing less than patient, respectful and knew exactly what to say to inflate my ego to the right levels.

Through various discussions with friends, strangers, elders and internet forums I realized that I was not alone. I represent a whole generation of products of a society that calibrates a man’s worth by the number of zeroes on his bank statement. This has become the modern day interpretation of the olden day powerful physic and manly aggression when it comes to the working class swagger. All is well however as long as those zeroes are not outnumbered by the ones on his wife’s. As much as the world has changed now that there is more economic parity between the sexes, I cannot escape the fact that a man is the head of the home, the breadwinner, protector and provider. The inexorable fact is that all these are tied into being gainfully employed. I know marriage is supposed to be a fifty-fifty situation. I know Lyn loves me no matter how much money I make. I know my paycheck doesn’t make me Alvin. I know there is a whole lot more that makes up the essence of a good man than how much bacon he brings home. I know all these things. But Is simply knowing these things enough to realign perception of manhood? Are we as African men lost on the fringes of and ever changing world as we hold on to the century old constructs of masculinity? And ladies what do you expect from the men that share that share your lives?

I, Man (Part 1)

I was a man or at least I thought I was. I am the offspring of a society that has strict definitions of the essence of masculinity. For as long as I can remember, for a man to be a fully-fledged member of the species he had to be an aggressive protector and provider. The spear wielding hunter however has evolved into a morning commuting being with electricity bills and taxes to pay. So instead of being rated by the size of the animal flung over his shoulder as he swaggers into the village after a hunt, such calibration is done by the size of his monthly after tax pay check. I believed and put a great deal of stock in this definition with no reservations as this was the wisdom of the elders which was beyond contestation. After safely satisfying the criteria, I was Superman and nothing less than a tonne of Kryptonite could slow me down. Well the tonne of kryptonite did hit me recently. Lynnett, my wife, had a simple word that summed up all that I was now coming to grips with. She called it REALITY.

I’ve always gone through life believing in a fundamental ideology, hard work always pays off. This idea was shoved down my throat so hard and so frequently by parents, Sesame Street and teachers alike, it became doctrine. This was the integral belief that our growth and development as boys was based upon. A man had to sweat early in life to set up a foundation for his future family life. The progression of life, fuelled by hard work of course, was to be as follows: Primary school, high school, college or university, good job, financial security and stability, date, get married, then build and support a family. That was the order I was to follow which was passed on from generation to generation. Only then would I earn the title of and respect of awarded to a “Man”. However through all this indoctrination not once did I consider just how much my environment influenced my success or failure. In fact failure was never an avenue I explored since hard work was the guarantee.

So I went through life blinkered and beaming with a false sense of security. I breezed through high school and went on to college. Yes I did engage in a lot of inane activities but I worked hard at my studies just as much. I was recruited while I was still in college by a leading Hospitality group to join their management training program. I aced it in a year and was appointed assistant manager in their flagship hotel. Life was good at the tender age of 25. It was at that time I sat back and took stock of my progress in the natural order of life. Primary school, check. High school, check. College, check. Good job, check. Financial stability, check. Then came the fun part, dating. Very methodical I was.

Through various encounters I came across a variety of ladies all with one thing in common, they all appreciated an economically viable man. Not that I’m saying they were gold diggers, far from it. In the context of larger social and economic changes that obviously caught me napping, the sex I always viewed as fairer had developed to become equal players. Most of the ladies had their own careers and led well established city lives. They really did not need a man to “save them” or protect them. However the mere fact that I was able to pick up the full tab even though they suggested we go Dutch made me all the more attractive. During this period there were a lot of discussions that revolved around the dynamics of dating and relationships. Since I was on the desirable end of the spectrum I was a strong opponent to the whole “love, trust and companionship first” argument that guys of derisory means were peddling. Love never put food on the table; neither did it ever pay rent. Even though there were all these shifts in social order, the fact was a man’s worth was still quantified almost exclusively in financial terms. His ability to think about and face Valentine’s Day or his partner’s birthday without flinching was of paramount importance.

It is from all this chaos that I started dating my now wife. She was a marketing executive for a vehicle tracking company and she had her own apartment, property and was about to buy her own car. Still I was on a moderately higher financial position so according to the wisdom and word of the ancients, I met the criteria. Soon I realized that simply earning a moderately higher salary than that of my female partner was just going to cut it. There had to be a significant chasm that separated us. The difference just had to obvious. I jumped onto the entrepreneurship band wagon and started my own business with eventual fat dividends in mind. I was still holding on to the adage that “hard work always pays off” so I hit hard at it. Things got off to a slow start then picked up 8 months into the venture. That ladies and gentlemen was where it all ended. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and still my business did not take off. It was then that I started questioning the mantra that I lived by. Maybe I was being naïve in believing that the hard work ideology existed in a vacuum but it had carried me that far. I put my blood sweat and tears into that business but still the fruits of my labour were never truly realized. After toiling for some time at it I put the business on hold, swallowed my pride and decided to return to the world of earning a pay check.

Unfortunately for me, that world was not as welcoming as I was willing to embrace it. I struggled to find any meaningful employment after my two year hiatus. I was so confident in my experience and qualifications that I did not expect too much resistance. Life on the other hand had other plans.  I applied for positions that I was well qualified for and given my experience I would have been a perfect fit. However letters of regret came from all directions and in ridiculous amounts, I was drowning in them. By the time I came up for air I had not been gainfully employed for close to a year.

At this point all the things I believed defined me as the man I had worked so hard to be had slowly eroded. My confidence slowly faded and I didn’t feel I fit the bill of the alpha Male any more. For somebody who was as proud as I was to be a man this kind of lifestyle was never an option for me. Lynnett, who at the time had assumed the role of the breadwinner in our home, was an angel when it came to this issue. She kept me propped up by continually stroking my ego and telling me that my pay check did not define me. I was a good hard working man whose qualities out value any paycheck I may receive. Soon I took her words to heart and settled into the role of a man whose wife brought home the bacon. I became an avid proponent of feminism. Somewhere along the line, the little voice in my head told me that I was simply trying to cover up for my own inadequacies as a man. That’s when I realized just how much my situation really bothered me.

I will continue the saga in my next post. Till then…keep healthy.

In The Beginning

The strange days, as my wife calls my life currently, started some four years ago. Being on the precipice of 30 and not having much to show for my life I was suffering from a serious case of insomnia. after several nights of drifting in and out of consciousness I got into the practice of watching late night TV shows with the volume off while doing the voice overs myself. I know this was an inane activity for a moderately educated man such as myself to engage in and i owned that inanity. I could have picked up a good book or studied the business section in the recent paper or read about the latest politician to be embroiled in a sex tape scandal but I did not and could not. To the uninitiated, when you suffer from insomnia you’re not asleep and you’re not awake either. Your brain is too busy trying to separate the real from the imagined and is performing with dismal efficiency at that, so really logical thinking is far too much to ask for. One particular night after giving George Bush and his wife the Mickey and Minnie Mouse voice-over treatments during some press event, I started surfing through channels. I came across a documentary about the great continent of Africa on one of the Discovery or National Geographic channels. As is synonymous with such “award winning” coverage about Africa, I was bombarded with visuals of child soldiers, starving livestock and raggedy dressed emaciated women walking ridiculous distances just to get water, food or their children immunized. It is Africa After all, right? The next scene jumped to a smartly dressed bespectacled Caucasian man in a navy blue dinner jacket. He had a graph behind him with different continents depicted by different colored lines. For some reason the African line was lower and darker than all the others. The man had an intense look about him as if he was trying to convey some inner truth or deep observation. My curiosity was tickled so I turned up the volume.  i was just in time to hear him say “…..and according to the U.S. Census Bureau-International Database, The CIA World Fact book and UC Atlas of Global Inequality, The average life expectancy in Africa is pegged at between 40 to 45 years. This means that I at 50 years of age would be considered the oldest man in an average African village setting. As Africa looks to the future is it plausible with such a low life expectancy to………” I switched the volume off in mid-sentence as my attention was directed to trying to figure out if the silhouette of Idi Amin that had just appeared on my ceiling was real or just another figment of my imagination. Though i felt that little “African village setting” Quip of his was tasteless I started thinking bout what the man in the box said. 45 years, I was turning 30 in the few months that followed which meant I had 15 years to go? If this was a journey in the “African setting” a man would have taken 45 steps to reach his destination, I had taken 30, 30 steps to 30 years. 30 paces towards the vast beyond with 15 left. Of course these statistics were in no way a hard and fast rule or strictly accurate but they did serve as a sharp reality check. I decided to take stock of what had gained through my travels? I asked myself what experience I had acquired and could I unequivocally say in my 30 paces of this journey I had earned the title of being called “A Man”? Biologically yes without a doubt. But there were, and more so now, so many definitions, prerequisites, classifications, modifications and amendments to this what a man really is, regarding masculinity, that have been thrown into the fray by both feminists and chauvanists. How many of these have I satisfied? That night, with the silhouette of something between Idi Amin or Oprah Winfrey plastered on my ceiling is when the observations and commentary started. I felt I had to sift through all the information and sensory assault I was under through visual and print media and conversations and see where I stood personally and in relation to my world. Unfortunately (well, for her anyway) the only person who tolerated my ramblings with very little violence was my then fiancé. She would engage me in debate and we would have long discussions about whatever topic that would get my juices flowing that day. All was well until a few days ago when she finally decided that the world deserved to share in my healthy doses of insanity. She suggested that I invest in a blog  and put my thoughts into words. So here I am today. Maybe some one out there might read these and have answers or comments about my questions and observations. Or just be safe in the knowledge that they can never be as screwed up as I am. Either way I believe I would have contributed to humanity in some way. so lets dance people. Keep Healthy