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?

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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