For Men Only – Poems on Masculinity

Mwanaume ni Confusion

It’s not easy being a guy in this day and age

On social media, mainstream media, githeri media

Name it

On social media, #MenAreTrash

On mainstream media, #MenAreViolent

On Githeri Media, #MenAreRapists

Mwanaume ni Confusion

 

I go to church and I hear

Man up and Man Enough

And what I see

Man is up there on a sister (not his)

and topping the food chain

Never having or being enough

Father is only title shared by God

Why are many, then

Fatherless, Godless

Mwanaume ni Confusion

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Toxic Masculinity

Men bashing is a thing

We accept to be bashed

We are called right

We refuse to get bashed

They say see we told you

 

Man Trashing is a thing

You defend trash

You’re reminded

Your place is the bin

 

The good thing though

About a trashy place

Is that it can be cleaned up

And healed and restored

 

This masculinity can be detoxified

Cleansed, healed and made whole again

Masculinity can then be a thing

Of pride, privilege, power

Most of all, of love

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 Mr President

The commander in chief

Extremely wealthy and privileged

Tuko pamoja

Until I get home

And I get it

I am on my own

 

The people’s president

He has fought the good fight

We will write

And gotten everything

A handshake except the prize

 

The other president

Who tweets for man-y

A warrior in a hostile jungle

Yet

Yet

Yet

Where he dares we will not

He is a lonely one

 

Remind me again

Why being president

Is a good thing

Urais si raisi

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Fatherhood

Wisely

Patiently

Violently

Angrily

 

Those are the words he used to describe his father’s authority style

He is wounded before he starts on his journey proper

Fathers cause wounds to their sons

But the greatest of these

Is silence

 

Until he gets his son or punching bag

I fear for both

Because wounded souls wound humanity

Hurting people hurt others

 

Is there no hope for our sons?

Silence needs speaking up

Authority needs honor

Even in the presence of pain

Of shame and despair

 

Sons of fathers and Fathers of sons

Need a reawakening

A new consciousness

Oh dear, is there an app for this?

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God the Father

This God is quite baffling

They say I am created in his image

Yet the image I see is

Jealous. Insecure. Angry. Punisher.

 

Then God the Son

Heals many

Feeds many

Sweats blood

Crucified at 33

And joins that Father

 

God the Holy Spirit

Great guy

But he is still a courier

I am told

For God the father

 

Why then is it difficult to see the love

through the violence, vengeance and vanity

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neutral is comfortable…for a while

sitting-on-the-fence

I recently had the privilege of serving as a commissioner on the student-run Electoral Commission of our university during the students’ elections.

It was a twenty-four hour affair which consisted of clearing all the candidates’ pictures, setting up the polling station, facilitating and monitoring the voting process from 9am to 9pm; and after a one-hour dinner break at 10:30pm, we proceeded to the vote-counting phase. We wrapped up  a few minutes to 6:00 am. Tired but immensely fulfilled.

In order to maintain our neutrality and objectivity, we, the members of the commission, could not vote. Not voting meant I could still have an opinion without the burden of choosing a preferred candidate.

And still look hot in the branded denim shirts.

But the thing is, I still had an opinion. In fact, several opinions that touched on the elections. For instance, several of my female classmates didn’t vote for the ladies vying for competitive slots. On asking them why they said it’s not right to vote for their fellow women just because they’re women. I had an opinion on several other matters. For now, I’ll revel in the bliss of neutrality. I know it shall pass.

But I discovered that being neutral is only good for a time. At least until the vote counting is done, and then we are back to having opinions. The new student government that was voted in is now my student leadership and my opinion, if any, is private by choice, rather than by mandate.

It was comfortable to be in an officially neutral position. I had authority. Like when this guy was taking a photograph of the ballot paper indicating how he’d voted. I stopped him saying it had no integrity. And he protested wondering what he had done wrong.

“There’s nothing wrong. It just has no integrity.”

“So, why can’t I take a photograph?”

“Because it is a secret ballot voting process.”

“But it is my vote. And I want to show my guy how I voted.”

“What does it matter anyway how you voted? It won’t even matter in a few hours when the results are announced. And why do you need to let your guy know how you voted? Why do you need to prove your support?”

I stood my ground as commissioner and he eventually cast his vote. I forgot all about it, but I doubt that he has let it go. He has not acknowledged my greetings.

Credit: Daystar University
Credit: Daystar University

Of late I have been observing certain individuals in my various circles express themselves from the standpoint of their specialty. They have a firm grasp on what they believe. They are bold enough to articulate their stand and in doing so; they invite fans and haters alike. Be it some of my pastor pals,  PK and Curtis; or Pst M, the senior pastor at my church; or Ginger from the Landmark Forum; or the dude from my fellowship; or the fearless Boniface Mwangi; or even my lovely wife in her academic and intellectual expression. Equally admirable is that dude from the now-registered, now-suspended Atheists of Kenya (which I think should be registered). No, I’m not talking about their president: that one feels like one of those Man U fans who know and follow up on everything Arsenal. I’m referring to the bearded chap who is a childhood buddy of mine and who knows the Bible. Yeah, that one. He has a firm grasp of why and what he believes in, or doesn’t.

I watch these individuals with a mixture of admiration and dread. Admiration for the full conviction they place in the declarations they make. And when they invite me to their quests or beliefs, the certainty with which they guarantee the outcomes is sooooo sexy, inspiring and reaaally admirable. They approach new arguments with the same confidence I approach chapati and chicken. They are giants in their respective disciplines.

I dread the same individuals or rather their outlook because I have disagreed with each of them on the basis of their unwavering stand from their perspectives. I tend to, in these arguments, lack a formidable stand of my own except that I don’t completely agree with their seemingly fixed viewpoints. My disagreement in the absence of facts is often a weak place to fight from, especially when I lack alignment to their ideas, thoughts and or suggestions. I am usually, however, vindicated by time:  a time when I have clarified my thoughts that then crystallize into ideas which I can then communicate coherently. The annoying thing is that these guys will have moved on to the next argument and I will find myself playing catch up yet again.

I often feel, though, that these need to broaden their minds a bit (or even a lot) more. That notwithstanding, I still admire their conviction, focus, and unequivocal stance. And as they continue to express themselves, they grow, expand and evolve.

For instance, I still struggle using scripture as the basis of my Christian life. My assertion is that God and His several ‘expressions’, rather than just the Bible, are the basis of my Christian life – indeed my whole spiritual experience. Now, I often come across as being overly defensive in my outlook, unconfident about my stand, shifty in advancing a convincing argument. The result is I am left feeling irritable, small, resentful and often jealous. I second guess myself and even wonder whether my thoughts or questions are even valid. In the midst of another self-inflicted faith crisis, I choose to remain silent and feel stupid.

Three years ago, I was selected for a master class scriptwriting workshop. It was a big big deal for me. My claim to fame was my experience of having written my autobiography as an alcoholic. Having completed the workshop, a couple of us were selected to write a screenplay for a feature film. Another big big deal. My co-writer, twenty or so years my junior, was a trained filmmaker. I thought we made a great tag team. He had me watch several movies so that we could get a feel of what to write about. I got and felt nothing from watching those movies. Yet, I still felt that I had a legit right to be here. I’d say that I was in this tag team to bring the soul. He didn’t buy it. I started getting late for our brainstorming sessions, our Skype calls with the producers. And what looked like a once in a lifetime opportunity was now looking like production and I began dreading the meetings. Worst of all, I stopped trusting my input yet I knew there was no other contribution I could bring to this project except me and life experience. And the project was halted.

I was not surprised. Disappointed? Yes. Surprised? No. My assigned partner and I couldn’t seem to build a synergy out of our unique strengths. By the time I’d processed my side of the street about the fallout, not only had everyone moved on, but a new film was shot on the same location in Tsavo East. I got that it is ok to write from my soul. Only thing is, there was no one to tell and I have never looked at another screenplay since, or even dabbled in writing one.

[“Healing is learning to trust my own wisdom, my own intuition.”
—Mary Zink]

I am back in school now and besides being quite excited about it, I am being more intentional and deliberate than I ever was. Being a full-time student is coming at an opportunity cost of the time I could spend growing my business. It is also coming at a high price because I am endeavoring to understand the content of the subjects I am taking each semester. That has also meant that I am bit slower on the uptake and more so on gunning for the distinctions. Yes, I am getting some good results so far but good grades are not my primary motivation. Getting some knowledge, history and diverse perspectives about the stuff that inspires me is the motivation. You know why?

I want to be an authority like these ladies and gentlemen!

I want to win arguments or, at the very least, sustain them. I want to count. Yes, that’s it. I simply want to count. I really want to take a stand and have the balls to defend it: with facts, conviction, confidence and authority like a commissioner on that students’ elections day. And when wrong, I want to stand up, learn from my mistakes and put my butt on the line again. Because being neutral, like an ECD commissioner’s term, has an expiry date.

Sitting on the fence soon gets rather uncomfortable.

 

 #Parenteen

Khalil Gibran on Children

Initially written and submitted on 10th October 2014 for a short story non-fiction competition

Early 2013, the calls from both my son and his mum started coming in quicker succession than before.

“Please speak to your son, he is getting increasingly unruly. He is growing horns. Speak to your son!”

“What did he do this time?

“You ask him for the details!

“Kwani kulienda aje?” I would ask HRH at our regular meet up on Sunday morning as we went to dad’s church, as he called it.

“Hakuna.”

This exchange was typical, with each one trading accusations and no one willing to offer any information.

“Mum, amekataa kunipea food.”

“Mum amenifungia nje.”

“Kwani I have become his mboch so that he can report my mistakes all the time? Ebu talk to him. He needs to realize I am his mother and he is not going to get anywhere that kind of behaviour.”

I would share my frustration in my Teen parents’ class, usually via long emails. Very often, I would get no replies.

Finally, one parent replied. He reckoned that perhaps the person who needed to effect the change was me. I was slightly resentful because I felt he was making me the scapegoat of a problem that was not really mine. After all, wasn’t I the one in this parenting class? Wasn’t I the bold one who’d taken the road less travelled of present day baby daddies?

A part of his reply read:

“Chris, you probably need to transform from being a Sunday entertainment buddy to being with you son longer. Consider living with him.”

What I heard, though, was proposing proposal to reconcile with his mum. This would be kinda a big issue given that we had now been apart fourteen years.

At some point, his mum wanted to have him stay with me, where I lived in Eastlands, have him commute daily to and from school as a form of punishment for his disrespect towards her. But, travelling to and from Ongata Rongai daily is hardly a commute. It’s more of a road trip.

Roogz’s mother saw Roogz’ actions as DELIBERATELY designed to make her life experience a living hell. On the other hand, whilst appreciating the predicament she was in, I could see the futility of such an action.

I had been a problematic teenager myself and coming to terms with my adolescent past had meant gaining awareness of the impact of my not-so-nice actions towards my mother.

I, nevertheless, initiated Project Hero Dad and promptly called a conference. I was going to be the all important solution-provider.

My tripartite meeting was an anti-climax. No one spoke or thanked me for my visionary action. I saw and felt two people desperately crying out for help, clarity and direction. And rather than join them, I was the one to offer leadership.

It dawned on me that I would be the one to move. To Ongata Rongai.

Shudder!

The prospective move was fraught with doubts, uncertainties and conversations back and forth as his mum and I got our intentions and motives tested and refined and several times, altogether invalidated.

Armed with a resolved past and three years of taking and facilitating parenting classes at Mavuno church, I felt I was more than up to the task of having HRH with me and starting the journey towards a problem free adulthood.

Life then did what it does amidst major turning points. It happened.

HRH’s mum changed her mind about me staying with him when she heard that I would be the one moving house nearer to HRH’s school. He would be sitting his KCPE paper in November 2013. That my script was not driven by a desire to punish his derelictions did not sit well with her and she withdrew her ‘offer’ to have me stay with my son.

I had been demoted at work through a restructured progamme. My salary was significantly reduced and I honestly considered accepting the withdrawal of the ‘offer’ to stay with my son.

My ‘Board of Trustees’ unanimously decreed that moving in with Roogz was a matter of life and death. It had to happen.

Shudder! SHUDDER!

Getting Real

All my parenting class lessons seemed to go out of the window when the move eventually happened in September 2013. Initially, I chose to observe us living together so that we could find our bearings. A life coach pal of mine had informed me that the top three stressors in a person’s life are:

  1. Career Change
  2. Moving house
  3. Death of a loved one

I seemed to be experiencing the first two and perhaps all three, because of the demotion and the fact that I shifting from a house that I had lived in for twenty years, and solo for the last fifteen, and I was moving in with another human being who was dependent on me for his livelihood.

The loved one whose death I experienced was me, me who had lived alone for over a decade. I would need to refill my gas cylinder after only four years.

There was minimal TV which meant little distraction for HRH from his studies. I still kept all the DVDs I had acquired over time, which made for great alternative entertainment. And because I was ‘observing’, I couldn’t make any drastic rules except to stack away the R rated movies and series.

It was awkward discerning what was or wasn’t R rated because – and this sounds weird – I just couldn’t tell whether or not the boy was a boy or a young man.

Keeping it Real

It quickly dawned on HRH and I that this move was not exactly what we had in mind; we were not entering a space of eternal happiness, joy and freedom.

I could sense his great expectations of his Sunday entertainment buddy/dad 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year were rapidly dwindling when I imposed rules, sanctions and discipline.

My romantic excursions of evenings of exchanging war stories, talking about girls and sex, giving sound, wise, profound, deep and meaningful fatherly advice about life also rapidly faded.

He often gave me is-that-even-a-question look when I’d ask if he really really had to eat.

What if we could stretch the gas usage to about two years, half the time it took the last one to run out?

This parenting experience was beginning to look like work. Or worse, like life.

He wouldn’t join me at church, citing exhaustion of being in school all of six days. This did not make sense to me because we used to meet at 8.30 am every Sunday mornings after he’d attended the 7.00am mass.

Distorted Reality

He scored an A- in KCPE. We were spared the agony of looking for a school and he got a place at a national boarding secondary school.

Secondary school brought a new set of issues and frustrations to consider. He wouldn’t do his holiday homework despite the awareness of sure punishment and failure in the opener exam based on the homework.

I talked, ranted, and consulted my peers and other parents. And I lashed out at HRH. And the homework would still not get done.

I was relating to my son in only one way; that of BEING HIS FATHER. That his job description was to make me happy and look good, That when he has refused to accept my very wise – and rather frequent – counsel on the importance of doing his homework, house chores, I would get angry, read him the riot act, and yet the chores and homework would remain undone. I started avoiding him by coming home late so I may not act out on the violent feelings. And when I was at home, I became a grouch.

Despite the drama I was puzzled by the inexplicable sadness and emptiness when school reopened.

Reality Restored

I resolved to work on myself before the next holiday and obtain clarity of my actions and reactions. I figured perhaps, there could be a different way of relating with my son. I could have one of His Royal Highness BEING MY SON. The onus was now on me, rather than on him, to create a great relationship by being myself. He did not have to obedient, hard working or diligent for me to function as his father. I was now inspired to be the source of love in our relationship. I relaxed.

Heck, I also don’t like doing homework and house chores. Completing these, is now in service e of being a great dad.

It is now just over a year since HRH Roogz, my 14 year old son going on 30, and I moved in together, making me a full time parent, a part time entertainment buddy.

More than that, my son is truly a reason for me to go on. There are many ways of activating this relationship.

This adventure is certainly a work in progress, a working process.

It is not true that teens are the reason animals kill their young

 

Intimacy: Here’s to New Beginnings

Image of Intimacy

“Dear

__________ .

Would you be my girlfriend

in a dating relationship

with the possibility of courtship

leading to Marriage?”

“Yes. Yes. Yees!”

That was me recently extending that proposition.

And she said yes. Three times. Three times she said yes.

We had been hanging out a lot. A LOT. Talking a lot. And chatting a whoooollle lot more on Whatsapp.

I was getting to like her. A lot. Clearly a whole lot was going on until last week.

First Contact

I met her earlier this year after a SMS conversation with a pal of mine whom I shall call Moses (well because that’s his name literally and figuratively) mentioned, in passing, that he was attending a creative writing workshop series.

I don’t recall much else of the conversation except that he was attending that workshop.

Interestingly, Moses attended only one class of fourteen in the series and little does he know that he ‘led me to the promised Land without seeing it himself like his biblical namesake.

And that is when I first met her.

I think I have a thing with creative writing workshops.

Out of my first creative writing workshop in 2008, I got a book to my credit that I always insist found me and which has generated numerous opportunities to express myself and make a difference. In January, now, was a great opportunity to create that to die for, finger licking , sumptuous, melodelicious, chocolate dripping, snazzy lifetime discovery filled, love life.

Soul of Sex Workshop

I also recently attended a Soul of Sex workshop with Curtis Reed of Ajenda Africa. I was quite eager to discover a new scriptural narrative of sex other than the clichéd and now highly predictable one that pastors propagate to feel they have made a contribution, however small, that “sex is the preserve of marriage because God said so.” An assertion which I think is a sure way of getting those to have sex at the first opportunity.

I walked into that workshop with two possible outcomes on my mind: bored by the predictability of it, or open-minded to a fresh outlook of sex.

No, I wasn’t thinking of sex with my new pal. I lie. I am a guy. Guys think about sex a lot of the time. All guys! Research also has it that at least 90% of guys think about sex. I would imagine that the other 10% lie about it.

However, I was interested in being an authentic sexual guy without having to have sex. I was thinking intimacy without sex. Honest. I dared not put my thoughts on loudspeaker or paper or blog because i also didn’t believe them myself, Intimacy without sex? It’s like having nyama choma without meat.

Until that Soul of Sex workshop.

My main take out was the about the original meaning of the word eros or erotic, which has been highly sexualized out there, but means full of zest or passion, fully engaged. No wonder the word is highly sexualised because when we encounter people who are living passionately, they do come across as being sexy. And that’s the tag that lingers.

It was then that I recalled that in hanging out with this fine African lady, we talked about everything and forgot about everything else. It could easily be described as infatuation. I assert that we were being fully engaged, in zest, passionate about what we do. We were being erotic. Experiencing eros. And there was no sex.

And I needed to affirm and let her know that I enjoyed her company thoroughly.

The Next Level

At some point, I felt this passionate engagement needed to go to the next level.

Next level of being good friends. I added of being a commitment to intimacy. A commitment to being known and to knowing her.

However, now all this was showing up in the context of a commitment and relationship; two things that make me always run to the hills. My relationship to commitment and relationship has been that it is hard work, no fun, painful, pressure laden, ever cautious and too too risky.

But this was showing up differently. And it was fun, exciting full of ease and grace. Yet, it still felt a lot like it was a commitment and a relationship. It therefore needed a decision and more so a decisive action. I considered two scenarios before making a decision:

Getting into a relationship….what’s in it for me?

Staying in a relationship… what’s in it for her?

Asking her to be my girlfriend in a dating relationship with the possibility of courtship leading to friendship was the decisive action I needed to take. And I did.

And she said yes. Yes. Yeeess!

Intimacy Defined

Pink clouds fade away. Pink Clouds are an opportunity to delight in the nice romantic feelings of falling in love. That, too, fades away.

I am choosing to use this opportunity to dig a foundation. It’s easier now when I don’t have to and when I feel really good.

A foundation of Intimacy. A foundation for Intimacy.

What it has entailed for us in the last few days is to define what intimacy would mean a day at a time. Intimacy could range from asking her to sit next to me in church to having ice-cream at 10:00pm one rainy evening at the iconic Sno Cream to making a declaration of love in the presence of a close circle of friends and saying it with flowers.

Creating these intimate moments with deep sincere conversations is really cool for me.

Sex, I see then, becomes a fulfilment of, rather than an access to, intimacy and therefore, worth waiting for in a context of freedom, love and commitment.

I went shopping for a happy ending of a better past in the present, I couldn’t find one. So, I bought a new beginning of a new present that will make a better past.

#FutureofMen – Who sets the Agenda?

Storymoja Festival ITW 2014As I write, I am back and forth with a distraught mother whose son left rehab last week and he hasn’t been home four days. Thing is, knowing a bit of his background, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has relapsed. Relapse is very much a part of the recovery process. My main recommendation on his admission to rehab was that he is helped to resolve his relationship to his mum and his absentee dad. I have seen the way he treats his mother – with deep disdain. Repeatedly.

He has anger issues, abandonment issues, rejections issues (and all those issues we think came from the west) and he takes it out on himself, his mum and the world. Thing is, the world will not care very much.

Believe me, I know.

This brings up my, well, bizarre experience at the Future of Men session on the last day of the Storymoja Festival on Sunday, 21st September 2014.

I attended the session as a “consumer” of the Festival.

Congratulations to Muthoni Garland and her team for their excellent work in putting together the feast and a brilliant mind stretching treat that was the Storymoja Festival

My whole experience of the festival was that I did not belong here. I did not deserve to be here.

Reluctant Artist

Who? Me? Sitting in a ‘Fiction for Beginners Master Class’ with author and award winner Doreen Baingana
who also edited my book? My desire to write another book is still at the desire stage.

Who? Me? Sitting in a very enlightening debate session that was discussing Shakespeare relevance in today’s world? And discovering how much of the everyday English that we use is in fact, Shakespearean?

Who? Me? A reluctant artist and an even more reluctant writer? You see, I didn’t do literature in college and, in fact, I dropped it in high school to replace it with Physics- which only real men take – and which I never could understand one bit.

Who? Me? To sit in a lecture given by the iconic Wole Soyinka, whom I always perceived as being larger than life as portrayed in the media and then to my consternation, confirmed that, indeed, he WAS  correctly portrayed because in that dome, on that Saturday, he was larger than life.

The Future of Men: What is it like to be a man in Kenya today?

So here I was attending The Future of Men session to get more of a confirmation than an answer that indeed I had wasted my ticket to the ‘Imagine the World’ themed Storymoja Festival. That the future was not for this man.

The premise of the conversation was a Facebook page that had recently been set up to expose irresponsible fathers. Now what did that have to do with me? I had further confirmation that I was in the wrong place and I should have attended the Art Social Media and Identity session, perhaps, as it sounded right up my alley. That is if they were only going to talk about Facebook status (statii?) update issues. Now, I will never know. And that was the thing about The Storymoja Festival menu. You could only have one offering at a time and drool about the others. Or wait until next year to revenge. Or perhaps attend with a band of friends who would separate and compare notes later.

My attention peaked when a young man spoke up and said that he only came to the Festival on that day for this particular session. His expectation of the session was that he would hear how other men were doing in the business of being men in business or as fathers and I add, as brothers, husbands, sons, boyfriends, uncles, employers, politicians. He felt cheated of what was otherwise a great opportunity for men to expound on what real men looked like. And this is exactly what he was not getting.  I joined the audience in clapping for him. Not too sure why, though.

The discussion went south from this point on.

The panelists, I felt, ceded the discussion to the women in the audience, who were the majority. I couldn’t help feeling that this was going pretty well for me. I was indeed a doomed soul. I really didn’t deserve to be with all the sorted out people in the Festival. Well, too bad, it was the second last session of the last day and I couldn’t transfer my ticket to any one even if I wanted to.

You see, I am running a fledgling business whose efficacy I am yet to determine, I don’t have Range Rover (I think it was mentioned, or I heard  it once or twice that it was the SI Unit of being a real man), my bank manager doesn’t know I exist, my landlord is praying for me. I am struggling with the process of raising my teenage son and I still waver in my spiritual walk, mainly because  occasionally, no, frequently, I still hold on to the belief that my God’s benevolence is up for sale to the highest Range Rover owning bidder. That my claim to fame of being a published author was really a fluke and not a story well worth telling.

Some of the women I spoke to after the session felt they were let down by the men; both on the panel and in the audience. I, too, couldn’t help but feel the same. The sexist remarks from both sides begged for a solution. And poor me. What was I going to do now?

But hold on.

I am a man.

Though I was in the audience and not on the panel, I had a contribution to make. I should have made it.

I didn’t. I shut up. I apologise.

The Future of Men is really under threat from the men themselves. And they do this very well without help from anyone else. Not least a Facebook page set up by a man.  And this is what the women were ALL saying. The man threatens his own wellbeing and takes the whole society down with him.

The Real Future of Men

The Future (presumably a bright one) of Men can only be drawn up by men. Celebrated by women. But drawn up by men and their Creator. Faulty pillars can always be renegotiated, rebuilt or propped up with right values.

Men need to admit and accept, not condone, that being a man is fraught with mistakes, failings and scars that paint up an authentic collage of manhood. That men must embark on that quest that would authenticate their manhood. It is an inside job. And it could be painful. And that’s ok because men revere pain. I am yet to figure out why.

The Future of the Kenyan needs to take into account the present and the past of the Kenyan man. The fact that men hurt. The fact that hurting men hurt others. The fact that men can heal. That there is more than enough help to go round. That men must ask for help. That the rehabs I seek to populate for a living will go bankrupt or change their business because men are authentically expressing and validating themselves. And they are taking care of their women.

I had somehow conveniently forgotten that speak, I must. Write, I must. Storymoja Festival jarred this in me.

My son will be ok. We men are going to be alright.

And now, I need to convince the distraught mum, that her son will be ok.

I just need you, my fellow man, to assure her with me.

And guarantee a bright future for her son, my son and yours.

 

 

A Book Review of My Side of the Street

My Side of the Street

Title : My Side of the Street: One man’s journey from alcoholism to sobriety

Author: Chris Lyimo

Published by: Storymoja

Year: 2011

Price: around Kshs 800

Reviewer: Wandia Njoya

This is probably more of a reflection and discussion than a review of Chris Lyimo’s very engaging narrative about his struggles with, and triumphs over alcohol addiction. The book raised too many questions in my mind for me to limit my reflections to just a review. Especially so, because one of my frustrations with the book was that it restricted Lyimo’s experience to the individual, yet its content presents an indictment of modern Kenyan society which, despite all the money it has, has been unable (or is it unwilling?) to answer fundamental questions of what it means to be an African human being in this second millennium of our Lord.

The first thing I read by Lyimo, and which made me want to read this book, was his blog at http://www.mysideofthestreet.wordpress.com. What stood out for me was a man who was deeply thoughtful and deliberate about life – whether about parenting, faith or politics. He does not take anything for granted. He questions, engages and argues, but he also follows with conviction, which is a very rare quality among most Kenyans. Most Kenyans play safe; whether it’s in careers, marriage, faith or culture. They take the well beaten street so that they don’t answer too many questions. They aspire for careers in medicine or accounting so that they don’t have to answer condescending questions such as “where will you get a job with that?” They marry within their tribe so that they have a relatively smooth ride during the negotiations, and as a backup plan in case the marriage doesn’t work and they have to go back home to “I told you marrying someone of that tribe wasn’t going to work.” When church pastors or elders say “jump,” many Kenyans will ask “how high?” because asking “why?” will attract criticism for questioning the Lord’s will. Many Kenyans will also follow customs and traditions without conviction, because that’s easier than having their Africanness questioned, and easier than being accused with “mwacha mila ni mtumwa.” By contrast, Lyimo is a different breed of Kenyan; he isn’t one of those who float with the crowd, and for that he paid a heavy price.

Let me explain what I mean. The book’s opening sentence, “your kanyamu doesn’t look like theirs,” which was how his elder sister distinguished him from his sisters, indicates a major question that confronts Lyimo as he approaches teenage: what does it mean to be a man? However, the question was never answered for him. Instead, that statement, and many other incidents in his life, reduced manhood to a single organ of a man’s anatomy (a phenomenon I have always complained about), and symbolized that he did not fit in, against which Lyimo would fight for many years afterwards. Manhood was once again trivialized when he was put through circumcision at the tender age of 10 (I refuse to believe that circumcising children is African – our grandfathers had already broken their voices by the time they faced the knife). He was taken through the physical ritual without so much as an explanation as to what that meant, I guess because it was taken for granted that African culture is self-explanatory, which it isn’t. Nothing in the world is. And so his life continued as one constant bumping into – rather than going through – the milestones of life, like falling in love and his heart being broken, going to high school, sitting exams, grief over the loss of his twin sister and later on of his baby son. At each stage, there was no guidance, no support, no consolation, no commemoration from the people around him. In fact, he finally mourned his departed family members when he was recovering. So while in normal lives each milestone is (or should be) marked by rituals, celebration or mourning, Lyimo soaked his life’s milestones in alcohol.

And the people in his close circles were complacent. The first time he got drunk was on New Year’s eve night, at the age of eleven, with alcohol provided at home. When his twin sister died in a road accident, everyone “understood” why he “needed to drink.” The best discussions he got on life were from his teachers (hurray for teachers!), while the standard comments from his close circles were on as how much trouble he was. For instance, on his return after a stint of studying in the UK, he was welcomed with the statement “I can’t say anyone missed you.”

Recovery from alcoholism therefore meant two things for Lyimo: learning to deal with the cycles of life, aka growing up, and being surrounded by a community to help him on the journey. Lyimo just had to learn to stand strong through the ups and downs of life, as he explains in one of my favorite passages in the book: “I had to take risks… I had to invite rejection. As [painful] as it was, I had to believe that … it was an opportunity for growth. I think I’ve been through more rejection in recovery than in active alcoholism. Well, it is true because I have been fully present in those phases. I had no booze to run to.”

Incidentally, that’s what initiation is supposed to do. The idea of pain is to not to prove that one is a man by not crying; it is to teach African children that adulthood is being able to be “fully present” in both the good and the bad moments of life. It is because this complex philosophy/psychology has not been fully explained that many Kenyan men celebrate facing the knife without tears, only to later fail to step up when their families and their nation need upright men who stand up for justice, who serve society with love and dedication, and who reject moral corruption and economic exploitation. But men cannot achieve that alone. They need to be in a community like the one that Lyimo eventually found: a community that affirms people, that sets aside time to listen and teach, that loves, accepts and forgives. It must be a society that teaches people that they always need others. Lyimo puts it better: “there can never be too much help if we authentically ask for it.”

I loved Lyimo’s book. Initially I felt that the descriptions of his decadent life as alcoholic were lengthy, but I think the final pages redeemed them. I’m still disturbed about how much his home and social environment played a part in his alcoholism, because I feel that there are some lessons that his family also needed to learn, yet all the apologies seem to come from Lyimo alone. Then there are the occasional editing faults that reminds one of the recent complaint about the torture Kenyan book reviewers are put through. However, the book is written with the tone, language and imagery usually associated with fiction or poetry. Kudos go to Storymoja for expanding the scope of creative writing to publishing of life stories and proving what Anthony Gitonga said at one of the sessions of Creatives Academy – creative writing applies to more than just fiction.

It will come as no surprise to those who know my political views that I am haunted by a statement that I suspect was not meant to be as significant as I think it is. According to Lyimo, his mother tried to keep up with the Joneses, to “emulate the settlers’ wives” by sending her children to private schools and schools overseas, and that meant keeping her kids with a constant supply of pocket money. That statement reminds me of the argument I often make, without getting much sympathy, which is that the fundamental problem facing Kenya is the settler logic inherited from the colonial times. That logic has permeated not just our politics, but also how we raise our children, fall in love and relate with one another, the career choices we make, and how we define education, masculinity and femininity, money and success. If you want to understand what that means in practical terms, you must read this book.

And I also hope the reader of this book ignores the blurbs and sees this book as more than about an alcoholic, with lessons for more than just those suffering from addiction. My side of the street is for all of us who share this street that we call life. It is a mirror held up to Kenya to examine our definition of life, success, love, sex, faith, parenthood, masculinity and femininity. It is also about being human and finding redemption. But most of all, it is about our need to be deliberate about everything we do, or to use Lyimo’s words, to be “fully present” in every aspect of our own lives and of each others’ lives.

Happy Fathers Day

it’s been a minute.

So, yesterday was fathers’ day. And i stood up to be counted.

Having said that…

There were also acknowledgements for single moms who ostensibly double up as dads.

Really? Seriously? I am tempted to say Hogwash! Too late, said it already.

I acknowledge that a single mother’s job is a really tough one. Very. However it will NEVER double up or take the place of a father. EVER!

I am, after all, a product of a single-parent upbringing. My mum worked really hard and she made mistakes and, yet, she couldn’t take the place my father ought to have filled.

The only qualification for a father is he has to be a man. Period.

For sons, a father‘s job is to CALL OUT the man in him.  Only a man can call out a man. Go figure.

For daughters, his role is to AFFIRM them. Consistently.

Both scenarios require  a man’s presence and authenticity.

I honestly pray that we don’t ever get to see similar acknowledgements for single fathers on Mother’s Day. Shudder.

I think  the postings were a feel good PR exercise to cover up what was really unresolved and unacknowledged misandry.