Mantalk: A man needs discipline, not motivation

A man needs discipline, not motivation. Photo | Photosearch

What you need to know:

In a world where sex is dished out like confetti, the undisciplined become prisoners

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: I tried.

I know it is No Nut November (NNN) and No Shave November. I tried for all 21-and-a-half days. But someone’s daughter wore that thing I like, made chapatis, and one thing led to another. Makosa hufanyika. Let’s try next year.

November is typically a man’s month. It’s when men’s issues especially health get a much-needed spotlight. The Big Four—Prostate, and testicular cancer, mental health, and suicide prevention. It is not as big as it should be, but it’s something. Mental health especially is staring us stark in the face, and down the road, I forecast a crisis. Usually, to mark this month, men just don’t shave their beards in solidarity but more so to donate the money they would use to shave, to a cancer organisation, or any of their choice. If you haven’t, please do. 

Glory is also what I feel when I am out with my boys and we are talking about NNN. I make it a tradition to have lunch with the boys every two months. That is a great time to catch up, confide, complain, and especially gossip. Oh yeah, men are the original gossipers and no one ‘serves tea’—as the local parlance goes—better than men. We have an eye for detail. And as you know, God, like the devil, is in the details. We are the true cathedrals of gossip. Let’s take our sacred texts—the Torah, the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita—isn’t it all whataboutery and hearsay? Written by scribes with agendas of their own? And who were the scribes? Mostly men. Anyway, enough with the he-said-she-said. Are the men at my table participating in NNN?

“No!” one says.

“What is No Nut November?” another asks.

“Maybe next year,” the other offers.

“And you?” They ask me.

“Well, I just fell short of the glory. The darkest hou-,” I respond.

“Urm, not if you put it that way. But you mean to say no one here has been disciplined enough to control their primal urges? For just 30 days?” I ask.

“It’s getting harder to get a relationship than sex,” one offers.

“And all a man wants is a relationship!” another remarks.

We nod fervently to that.

“You see,” the first one continues, “It has gotten to a point where I am turning down sex.”

“Oh?” someone exclaims. 

“Oh. Yeah,” responds the first boy. 

“Si you divert traffic?” I offer.

Speaking of, we are watching Formula 1—that elitist sport that the watus have infiltrated. Kina mimi sasa. I have been influenced, but I stop short of buying those hideously loud and overly scripted F1 jerseys. I love being around men, they can either challenge you or support you, but not convince you to buy stupid stuff you really dislike. Like a F1 jersey.

“If you can find a girl who can hold your attention for three weeks,” says first boy. “You should wife her,” he adds.

“Three weeks?” another interjects. “Try three days!”

“Maybe you guys are the problem. You are boring,” I point out.

“Maybe, but still,” someone interjects.

“Sawa,” I say.

The happiest (and quietest) among us is dating an older woman. I tell him, these young ladies just want to know what we are. We? 

“Identity problems!” he exclaims. “People don’t know themselves so they want to know what they are to you.”

That somehow sounds like a very foolish and clever thing to say.

“But you’ve been in this game for long. Give her a story. Women love stories,” the quiet one says. 

“That’s sexist!” one boys mutters. 

“And true,” defends the quiet one. “Or you can always date older women,” he adds. 

“But I want kids. Lots,” one boy says. 

“She’ll come with them,” says the quiet one. 

“Oh?” We exclaim. 

“Oh,” the boy whom lasses have labelled a ‘player’ follows. 

I admire the expression on his face, which is simultaneously vacant and self-righteous. He is a philanderer’s philanderer—philandering that has become less a habit, and more a defining characteristic.

You are probably wondering. What is it with men and this lurid cocktail of fixation, awe, and sex? I participate in No Nut November for one reason: a sense of discipline. How much self-restraint can I have? It used to be that by the time a man would sleep with a woman, he was sure they were in a relationship. Nowadays? Sex is dished out like confetti. On my bedroom wall is a tacked sticky note: “A man needs discipline, not motivation.”

I remember growing up the rituals we would do. Up at 6 am. Sweep the compound. Do the dishes. Clean the house. Daily. To get anything worthwhile done in life, you had to be disciplined. And discipline is good. It staves off dementia, increases memory, and gives you stronger erections. Okay, I made up that last part.

This reminds me of this book I was reading “Where Have All The Virgins Gone?” Personally, I am not enthralled by virginity. It’s too much cause célèbre about nothing; when men practice chastity, they’d virtue signal and sham women who are not. Virginity used to be de rigueur, it was cool. Now it’s passé. It’s not what they advertised in Hollywood.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire puritans. For as long as they are not lording their religious virtuosity on the rest of us condemned folk.

Look, being a writer is fun. You can use it as an excuse to do almost anything. You see, some people like to imagine things. Me, I like to live it. That’s why I participate in men's challenges: Chastity. Marathons. Even that one time I tried veganism. Discipline then is just a tidy game of brinkmanship.

In life, [John] Updike wrote, “There are four forces: love, habit, time, and boredom. Love and habit at short range are immensely powerful, but time, lacking a minus charge, accumulates inexorably, and with its brother boredom levels all.” It’s very dangerous to be bored as a man because that's where the devil built his kingdom. You can choose to believe what you want, but as we grow older, the lies we tell ourselves change, but our habit of lying to ourselves does not.

A challenge then to the men. Figure out some sort of discipline. A ritual. Something only for you. Start something that scares you. Deal with your most gnawing fears, those buried so deep inside you that you deal with them mostly by avoiding them. Focus on a single goal. For a week. Then a year. Most people fear being captives, but freedom is the real captor. That’s when it all feels less like a casual comfort in a cold world and more like an abyss, a dark deception.

So, what did I learn? Nah. I won’t do your job for you. But I’ll give you something else instead—I’ll tell you what I have not learned: that we are just who we are. No. We make who we are. There is no revelation to life—it just is. The point is, you decide what meaning you place on life. My father (you knew this was coming), says in his fat little muffins of truisms, that the undisciplined are prisoners.

Good thing then that you know in whose hands the keys are. 


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