Edna Namunga is disillusioned with her marriage. Over the last three years, she has tried all she could to hold it together but now she can’t take it anymore.
“I am angry at myself, angry at my marriage and angry at my husband,” says the 34-year-old. She feels like getting married was a big mistake.
When she walked down the aisle three years ago, she had envisioned a marriage that would be as bright as the veil that covered her face. Well, it has been anything but this.
“He seemed to have his act together at the beginning and I loved him for it,” she says. He was from a rich family, had a degree, and a well-furnished house in Kilimani, Nairobi. He was between jobs, but I was willing to overlook this. I thought it was a good sign that he was able to pay rent and stay afloat while jobless,” says Edna who works for an international non-governmental organisation in Nairobi. Up until now, her husband is still jobless.
Unknown to her, this had been the case most of his adult life. The jobs he got didn’t last six months. This never bothered him because he got rent allowance and upkeep from his family to maintain his lifestyle, but the funding stopped after they got married.
“He told his parents that he had married a high-end woman with a six-figure salary and no longer needed upkeep; that I could provide everything,” she muttered. “Nowadays, he spends his days in a cycle of sleep, movies, idling and parties. He is disinterested in finding a job. Four months ago, I arranged an interview for a well-paying job for him. He missed it because he was late sleeping.”
Edna is now a sole breadwinner, taking care of all the bills, from rent, groceries, water, electricity and even house-help. “We have a one year-old baby. Our family photos paint a happy home, but my reality is that I am single within a marriage,” she says. “I am tired of his idle party life; I can’t do this anymore!”
Edna is one of many women who are on the verge of giving up on their marriages because of the social character and behaviours of their men. Ironically, it’s not the usual deal breakers such as cheating that are at the heart of it. Rather, these are men who have refused or have become unable to take up their positions as leaders and authority figures in their own lives and marriages.
According to Silas Nyanchwani, a male awareness advocate and the author of ‘50 Memos to Men’, more men who have dropped the ball in their careers and relationships, including marriages, today than in previous years. “The sad thing is that if you round up 100 married couples among the millennials in Nairobi today, there is every chance that it’s the women holding the marriage together. It’s the women carrying the weight, sometimes even financially. It is the women picking after the men and sometimes covering their nudity,” he says.
Nyanchwani notes that nearly half the menfolk would not find their true north if their wives decided to leave. “Whereas covering the ‘nudity’ of your spouse is part of the roles in partnership, these women do more than their fair share. They literally clean the mess after their men,” he says.
Whereas men who have super women in their lives might appear dominant in the union, that status is short-lived. “Whereas some women have a higher tolerance for ‘male nonsense’, it wears out with each passing day,” says Nyanchwani. "Failure to do things in the right way has unthinkable consequences in the long run." This is the breaking point Edna has reached. “I married a boy not a man. Is it my one-year old son that I should be looking after or a grown man who has chosen to act like a baby?” she poses.
Then there are men in their 30s and 40s who are falling asunder after years of being reliable and responsible. Phoebe Muthoni's husband is one of them.
"I am worried about my husband and my marriage,” says the 44-year-old. “For 20 years, we have had a good union and a beautiful home. He has been responsible all through. Our three children are all grown now. But this year has been different, so has my husband,” she says.
Phoebe, who runs a joint business in Juja with her husband, says that he hardly goes to work nowadays. “He appears to have lost interest and motivation in running the business. His money habits have changed from frugal to spendthrift," she says, adding that her husband can leave home one afternoon, not to return for days.
“Recently, he dissappeared for nearly three weeks. He has started drinking, and I am wondering if he is suffering from a mid-life crisis,” she says.
As the Saturday Magazine has found out, some men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s have become completely unable to control their lives and their households, and to get back on their feet especially after losing their jobs, businesses or marriages. But according to Nyanchwani, every man at some point in life will undergo some sort of identity crisis, but that the ability to reinvent is what makes a man.
“I have had a feeling for some time now that we are hurtling down towards a crisis as a society. A combination of factors has conspired to produce more and more weak and emasculated men,” 42-year-old quantity surveyor Noah Kering says.
He reckons that this is forcing women to step up and call the shots at their homes. Kering observes that the contemporary man is readily willing to cede all leadership decisions and roles to the woman. “These are also men who have been weakened by 'love' or beauty to cede ground or lose all rationality, are irresponsible with family and work, abusive and parasitic to their women and their children, and are men who have lost their assertive and authoritative voice,” he says.
This mirrors South Africa's broken and dysfunctional families of the 60's and 70's, he cites, where nearly two thirds of black families were headed by women. Kering adds that more and more men are either running away or being run out of town by more empowered and assertive women. “Having grown under another generation of lost and absent fathers, we are staring at a future dominated by emasculated men and that's dangerous,” he says.
The culture aspect
How has this come to be? According to Sociologist Christina Chanya Lenjou, the current society has evolved from the traditional patriarchal setup where boys grew up with specific manly expectations of being the heads of their families. This expectation was molded through mentorship of the boy child by older men. “These boys grew up imitating the men who mentored them. They grew up knowing they were expected to lead and be authoritative. They were prepared for these roles and responsibilities through oral and practical cultures," she says.
This form of mentorship to nurture manly attributes in boys was intentional.
In modern society, boys have no chance to become their own men. They are spoon-fed all the way to the top. Sometimes, their parents will go to the extent of arranging marriages for them. As a result, Christina says that they don’t have the mechanism to cope when midlife crisis hits.
Christina adds that the model for the current generation of men can also be traced to post-colonial parenting. “The post-colonial generation of parents raised their kids differently. They were the ‘achievers’ working in government and private circles who adopted an exotic lifestyle. They introduced partying like the white man,” she says. Since children learn by observation and imitation, this adoption of a happy-go-lucky lifestyle has been gradually trickling down from children born in the 70s to those of the 90s, and finally burst into a full storm on children born in the 2000s.
“We now have a scenario where hard work and career development has been replaced with the allure and pursuit of an instant posh lifestyle,” she observed. The millennial generation has adopted and internalised the concept of quick fixes that is fanned by social media. “This generation of men is all over social media where glam is more prominent than reality. They want to fit in and also appear to be flashy and glamorous and if this means trading themselves for sex, they will not hold back,” says Christina. This has sparked many relationships based on a barter trade of sex and finances between young men and women who are decades older.
Vinnie Okemo attests to this. The 24-year-old says that given the choice between a job and a sexual relationship with a multi-millionaire woman in her sixties or seventies, he would choose the latter. “I spent four years at the university and spent hundreds of thousands on fees. Today, my accounting degree can only get me a Sh35,000 job. I would be a fool to turn down an old lady who will pamper me with an allowance the equivalent of medical doctor's,” he says.
Vinnie admits that together with four of his friends, he is active on multiple dating sites where he targets old, rich women. “With the liberalisation of sex and romance, their pursuits have not been in vain. “I don’t do a 9 to 5 job, but I live a more comfortable lifestyle than long-serving career men who think I am a lowdown polecat,” he says.
Peterson Gathambo, 60, observes that the man of today is the product of yesterday’s boy. “It all boils down to how the boys were brought up and socialised. Most of them were born and raised by parents of the 60s and 70s who went through hardships,” he says. Gathambo, who is a father of three boys and two girls, says that parents of today's irresponsible men may have opted not to subject their kids to the hardships of their upbringing, and unknowingly triggered cells that have now become a malignant social tumor.
Christina concurs: “Not all aspects of traditional socialisation and upbringing were pleasant to everyone. For example, there are people who feel that their parents were so strict and conservative that they denied them opportunities to express themselves and make their own decisions.
“This generation changed the parenting manual as they wanted to give their offspring the freedom they were denied." Unfortunately, instead of picking the good and leaving the bad behind, they blurred the lines. Their method of parenting became too liberalised and westernised to the point of pampering children and softening the concept of manliness,” she says. This led to over-compensation and over-protection without proper mentorship.
Academics is an area where the consequences of over-compensation and cosseting are prevalent. The majority of men who are irresponsible today missed important life lessons when they were young because their parents thought good grades was all they needed to succeed in life.
Christina attributes this to the evolution of society and the proliferation of helicopter parenting. “Overcompensating, helicopter parents are at their sons’ beck and call. The ripple effect of this is a boy child who is raised and schooled through a system that doesn’t always make him confident enough and daring to stand on his own feet,” she says.
“When such a man attaches to a high-achieving and competitive woman, he will either cling onto her or be totally dependent on her for material support and decision-making,” she explains. This is the man who will readily let his woman take over the traditionally accepted male roles such as settling rent, clothing and the food budget.
On the other hand, says Gathambo, women have to man up. “Unlike boys, girls have always been taught and socialised to be home-makers, responsible for the house and their siblings. They have grown up and matured watching their mother, aunties and other women step up when men abscond. They also have other women around them ready to mentor them in addition to the gospel of women empowerment,” he says.
This is the reality that Jacinta Mutheu is confronting. She is a mother of four, three girls and one boy. “My first born daughter is aged 16, my son is aged 12 and my last born twin daughters are aged 7,” says the 39-year-old single mother.
She says that as she raises her kids, she has noticed that her daughters readily get mentorship, motivation and guidance from other women faster than her son does from her male social acquaintances. She has been struggling with finding responsible men to step in as mentors for her son. “I recognise that as a woman, there are things I cannot teach my boy. But finding men to stand in and guide him is a huge problem. Most of them don’t embrace him wholeheartedly,” she says.
According to sociologist Nathan Gachoka, there is an evolutionary aspect to this. “If you look at how men date, there is an open bias among some in favour of single mothers of girls. This is not the same case with single mothers of boys,” he says. “Evolutionary, this is prevalent in the animal kingdom, where males, regardless of age, are perceived as rivals.”
In modern dating, Gachoka says there might be misplaced fear that a man will never truly earn allegiance from holding a boy’s hand. This implies that the preference for dating single mothers of girls stems from the fear that over the position the boy will occupy in the family should the relationship last into a marriage. “Traditionally, boys are seen as more likely to inherit what the father has. A man may wonder if his step-son will be accepted in his family as his rightful heir,” he says.
“I’d be more willing to step in as a father figure to a girl than a boy. A girl is more appreciative and I feel it won’t be in vain,” says 38-year-old Mike Omondi
Stephen Onyonka, 40, also says it might even be trickier if the boy is older and is already attached to his biological father.
According to Gachoka, the consequences of these perceptions are boys who are left to find their way into adulthood on their own. "Few turn out well, but many never grasp the ideal meaning of manliness and what it means to lead, provide and protect," he says. Gachoka adds that this is one of the primary reasons why there is a generation of young men who don't have their own identity and cannot measure up to the prowess of their female peers in career or business.
For instance, Rachel Ikiara, a 37-year-old former marketing manager turned entrepreneur says that she dates men in their late forties because those in their mid and late 30s, and early forties have an aura of immaturity and irresponsibility around them. "It used to be women who listed items such as financial stability as requirements for a man. Nowadays, men are making it known that they want women with cash, women who will support them and even fund them without any return on investment,"says Rachel. She reckons that this class of men is only attractive physically and has nothing much to offer beyond that.