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.

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