What you need to know:
Manhood is lonely. Especially as you get older.
Men particularly don’t know how to make new friends. Men don’t like making new friends because who is going to explain why we don’t hang out with people who put pineapples on pizza?
I got punched. Right here, under my right eye. The sun was just peeking behind the clouds that had formed a curtain in the sky. It was one of those mornings: people in matatus on the wrong lane, people on bicycles delivering food almost knocking you down, people with trolleys pushing you out of the way, people on nduthis demanding your head on a platter and people on foot stepping on you, and not in the name of love.
This is how I got punched because I was on a bicycle, and one of the persons on foot crossed my path and I ‘passed with him,’ as Kenyans would say. He threw a punch. I threw a few words. Cue, bedlam.
Now I am not a violent person but my blood was boiling. I’ll be honest, even as I write this, I still have elements of anger simmering, and I still find myself pacing in the house saying, “Unajua me ni nani!”
In case you can’t tell, I have a hair-trigger of a temper. Anything from slow internet to girls asking for a quick favour to people who put pineapples on pizza can take me off the rails. But that was a very introspective moment for me: why did I get that angry? How did I process that anger? If I look at it objectively, this was more an affront to my ego. I was less hurt by the punch and more by the fact that it was in public (and that there were ladies there). The punch may have landed on my face, but it was my ego that was bruised. Me ni mwanaume bana!
I grew up in Lutonyi Village, deep in the armpits of Kakamega, and there I saw what it meant to be a man. The testosterone was so abundant it had its ownisimbain the compound. I carry a version of it everywhere I go as a service to all the doubters, in the doomed but evangelical spirit of a Jehovah’s Witness handing out pamphlets on Ngong Rd.
In my teenage years, I thought to be a man was to be like the Marlboro Man—masculine yet fey, a sort of Zen dandy—the one with a cigar in his mouth and a devil-may-care bravura and a hot lady or two or three dangling dangerously from his Harley-Davidson bike. And then I thought it was Michael Power and the drop of greatness in every man. I had a small stint with Tiger Power too, the strongest Kenyan man that ever lived. In my mid-20s I had an unholy tryst with The Godfather, identifying with Michael Corleone, a Mafia Don, a man among men.
I wanted to be an American Gangster, but in a Kenyan way, the kind of man you’d find standing with a brown envelope at the corner of City Hall Way. Kama mbaya, mbaya. It says a lot about me that in my effigies of masculinity, my heroes were villains and criminals. Bad boys. Perhaps, when you sense something shadowy about yourself, you start looking in the shadows for understanding, or at least meaning of some kind.
Also read: Who’s responsible for turning boys into men?
The point I am trying to make is this: who are you when all the versions of masculinity have been stripped from you? I ask this because this manhood thing is quite a lonely journey, and we are living in a world that hails loneliness as freedom but yet will do everything to fit in.
I have bought the superficial, fake tough guy masculinity, the perfumed deodorant for insecure men. I have refused to back down when I was wrong because it would make me look weak. I refuse to look at a man while eating a banana. If, as it is said, we all have something to hide, then my whole life has been an attempt to make myself the skeleton in my own closet.
Peel the scab, however, and you reveal a deeper, hidden social force. The sense of a loss of identity and need for men to reassure themselves that they belong and are in sync with a group—I am part of the tribe and I know the rules. Uncertain of what is cool or unpopular, en vogue or archaic, respectful or bigoted, we toe the line, fearing being separated and scapegoated, which is humanity’s foolproof device to achieve social cohesion through exclusion.
I don’t think my generation knows what it is to be a man. I know most men just want to live their lives, pay their bills, take their kids to school, and support Arsenal. Okay, okay, and Shabana FC too, which is the Manchester United of the local league, all huff no puff. Me? When I am not with someone’s daughter, I am either walking or cycling, a habit I picked after I realised it is great for flexibility, hands you solid South African knees and can give you stronger erections. Okay, I made up that last part.
Also read: Is this how to be a Kenyan man?
What’s not made up however is this: manhood is lonely. Especially as you get older. Men particularly don’t know how to make new friends. Men don’t like making new friends because who is going to explain why we don’t hang out with people who put pineapples on pizza? Maybe one day the all-knowing AI will tell us the truth because the word masculinity is now seldom mentioned without toxic as its modifier.
Like the characters I wanted to be growing up, I supplied myself with the kind of man that I longed for, that I longed to be. But you know the ultimate short-changing is to live someone else’s life, that the thrill of being like so and so eventually collapses into a feeling of emptiness. This is the moment when loneliness hits. You’ve prepared yourself an elaborate psychological meal, and you realise, belatedly, that it can never sate your real hunger.
Sometimes that disconnect gives me a rootless feeling: an odd vertigo I can’t quite nail down—like realising you are now the kind of man who enjoys eating pineapples on pizza.