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Men we feared

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By Mankhokwe Namusanya:

There was a bloke we came to know as Nyanyanya. Dark, of my height and with a weight that could not stand a small whirlwind if he happened to be at its centre, nobody knew his name. For, Nyanyanya was certainly not his name.

I do not think any parent would have a child, even in moments of strife, and name them Nyanyanya. Also, it could not be that he was just known by his surname. For, a surname can be dull of course – and most are – but it cannot be dumb. Nyanyanya means nothing, has no weight on the tongue and is just meaningless.

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In our case, we came to know him as such for he shouted it was his name. Each night he waltzed through the quiet streets of our neighbourhood, he would shout:

“I am Nyanyanya, nobody tells me what to do!”

Then, he would sing panegyrics for himself. A griot to the self, pontificating in the streets of glory that only his drunk mind would see: all the women loved him, all the men feared him, he was rich, friends with gods.

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In the morning, face dropped, he would pass through the same streets quietly. Those who only heard the voice in the night were always at pains to accept that the gentleman who had just passed was Nyanyanya. Those who knew his wife went further to wonder what was the problem with her, or him.

We remembered Nyanyanya because we remembered our fathers, and the men we grew up with.

There is a movement, it is impressive. Triggered, and aided, by the social media men are suddenly becoming fathers. And actual men. Of course, not all. But most of them – or us.

These days, it is not unusual – it is actually fashionable – to see men being fathers: in HD pictures, celebrating their children’s birthdays, and going to supermarkets with their children.

“We did not really know our fathers like this,” we reminisce, because we realise that suddenly we have been thrown into the dungeon of manhood with no manual.

One of us says we were duped, and sent on a crashing mission:

“As if you are flying, knowing nothing. Then the pilot comes and says he is taking a parachute and you should suit yourself.”

We laugh. And another says:

“Better if that pilot says it. For most of us, we did not even know that they were jumping out. Someday we just discovered that we were grown up and people expected us to be acting grown up…”

“Not just grown up but grown up men.”

This, the chatter, is for men. It is some safe space we find, in the midst of chaos, just to reflect on being a man. So, nobody is encouraged to be gender neutral, especially because we are here feeling that the society has ostracised us.

“It has always been like this yet we grew up reviling our fathers…”

A huge laughter, like madness, breaks out. Each one wants to speak.

“I now understand why my father was always drunk when he was coming home. It is insane out here, men. You can drown in beer if you are not careful…”

“Haven’t we drowned yet?”

One interrupts, not necessarily to agree – also not to disagree. Just to make the mood lighter. He says those who are drowning in beer had always been drinking from Secondary School days, they hardly had any pressure back them. They should stop using life as an excuse. Of course, he agrees, life is hard at this level.

A murmur sweeps, like that moment when a Pastor campaigned for a political party at a funeral: urging people to vote for candidate Z because he came from their region.

However, nobody gets angry. That is left to go, accompanied by murmurs. Every man here has a story.

“You know, when we were growing up, we said we needed to be different men?”

That strikes a nerve, there is general agreement. I think on that, then swallow, and get scared. There is comfort in numbers, also there is discomfort in numbers. If you are the only person with an illness, you can be sure that people will pay attention to you; however, if your illness becomes a pandemic, people often do not regard you. They look at the bigger picture.

In this moment, it is as if whatever suffering I thought I have as a man is universal. They take away my right to complain.

“I saw the tension between my parents. The guy always came late. Then, my mother would go mad. They would go for days without talking. I told myself I would be different from that, look at me now…”

We do not look at him. Not literally. Not figuratively. Instead, we look at ourselves – figuratively. We find that child – a son – caught between the cold war of parents. In which one parent says “can you make sure you leave some money for food before you leave for school” and the other hisses under their breath when you miss an instruction: “why are you all like this? These are not my genes”. And, from there we see the son growing up running so hard from ending up like his father.

“Because, it was our fathers we feared…”

An awkward moment appears because some of us were callous enough to have lost our fathers in young age, although we can relate with this fear. Then, ever smart, another one corrects:

“Not just our fathers, just the men in our life.”

There is agreement, as if Parliamentarians were just debating on hiking their salaries.

“We need to apologies to those men, we judged them wrongly. We judged them harshly.”

We are progressive, so one chips:

“Not that they were saints, there are a lot of things they could have done better. Our judgement, however, of them was harsh.”

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