Look, I know what you are thinking. Another writer? Another guy to fill in the shoes in this high revolving door? And, what’s his name again? From where?
And you are right. I no more want to bore you with primers than you want to count the stars. I feel like the new office intern, who everyone takes turn to pick on before they learn the ropes and realise the person lording over them is not actually the boss. I’m not saying this happened to me, but I’m not, not saying that either.
I’m worried that I get to do this when masculinity is all the rage, no pun intended. There is a man crisis: Who is a man? What is a man? Why is this ‘man’ necessary? Identity. But it goes deeper than that. There is a boy crisis. I have a WhatsApp group with my Boys, and it gets weird sometimes. They have seen my mountain peak highs and my valley lows. They also use emojis. Lots of emojis.
I’m going to be honest. When the editor called me, I put her on mute and stifled a scream. That is no way for an editor to meet her new recruit. I know some of you are great respecters of sacred cows, fanatics of the Don Biko, and the legend before him, Oyunga who could afford to establish themselves as best-in-class at almost everything they do. And I understand. I really do. On their words rested life and death, whose pens dripped decrees and laws. You’ll be tempted to throw stones, or go on Twitter and say, “It’s the audacity for me.” That’s okay. This is a vicarious war, the thrill of participation without risk, the lust of the audience for blood. It is easily fanned that lust, even the invasion by a relatively new writer can tilt the war, akin to bringing a gun to a grenade fight. And like all lust, for as long as it lasts, it dominates everything else; so, let’s get this out of the way—I understand.
I consider Oyunga Pala the Godfather. And just like the original godfather, the Don Corleone, he too demurs in a sotto voce—but his writing was like throwing mentos in coke. I can’t talk about The Godfather any more than I can praise the virtues of wearing belts with suspenders. The less said about the godfather, the more. But Biko? Biko is my Michael Corleone, he presides over his world, like a Master of the Universe, this Corleone-like axiom, that we can have anything we want—if we want it bad enough. In obeisance to the dictates of his ethos, and trying to cling to his coattails, I turn to Biko, my Michael Corleone, for reassurance and vindication and affirmation and that unalloyed bliss of having fantasies refanned, watching his every step, like an eager dog panting at his master’s lap. I wanted to be like Biko.
Biko is to me what Oyunga was to Biko and what Don Corleone was to Michael. It’s a rite of passage, and if I have seen this far is by standing on his shoulders, the hangdog gloom of my fading youth as I evolve into this version of man, the yelping glee of trotting in his footsteps as I carve my own path. After all, in business you move ahead or you hit the wall; there is no resting. This is less about luck and more about chance. And guys get it. Always have. He’s a little bit like my father, I revere his disdain for any distraction or weakness. For this is a rhapsody to power, a conservative repression of an era bygone, power, order; the preservation of these values, and the understanding that there is no time to hold a pity party. That is the gospel I subscribe to, too.
This all reminds of that good old Flannery O’Connor story: A good man is hard to find. Men like me—black, straight—have to abandon the illusion that we stand for anything good. What passes for good could be just a self-serving illusion. A good man is a hall of mirrors.
And I am not talking about that long lust for nostalgia, for the way things used to be, take-me-back-to-the-night-we-met soap opera. No. You know that feeling that you can’t exactly pinpoint, that wistful longing, a constant desire for something you missed, some classic male experience, a vertigo of emotions, the way some women who didn’t have children worry they missed something basic about being a woman, something they didn’t value when they could have done it. Hindsight can be a blunt instrument.
This is about chance. Opportunity. We have a job to do, shoes to fill. As I polish my malarkey and winnow my experiences, I look forward to grabbing this chance, this miss-it-and-you’ll-never-get-it opportunity., as a man should. This is going to be a fun ride, where I’ll bloody my notions of what it means to be a man in the 21st century which will eventually become the rocks I build my church. I’m the kind of guy who won’t take anything personally, who will roll with the punches. You know that guy — you might be that guy yourself.
So much of a career is actually just the right person saying okay at crucial times. This is my ‘okay’ moment. This is our champagne moment. My father tells me that if you don’t love what you are doing then someone else will love it more. I feel myself clomping round the imaginary living room in my head, wearing these hand-me-downs from two legends, a boy trying to fit in giants’ shoes.
“One day,” I can hear my father, the constant flea in my ear, “One day they will fit.”
I am hoping I can earn my stripes. I am not in luck because the bar has been set—and we do not seem to care where the bar is, only whether anyone can pass it. It will take a while, and I won’t hold it against you if you meet me in the streets and say, “Ah you are that new Biko guy?” This means a lot to me, and as you throw the punches, just know I really want this. I have also just paid for my Google storage, so it’s okay, you can start throwing your uppercuts in my mailbox. That ‘new Biko guy’ can throw a few punches too.
Since I’m a millennial, I know millennial things too. In Game of Thrones, there is a quote I love: Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a placebo, a shadow on the wall… and a very small man can cast a very large shadow. Maybe one day I will grow into these giants’ shoes.
If you walk away from this column with nothing else, walk away with this: a man just is. There are many experts on masculinity viz. Toxic masculinity, staying Taliban, alpha, beta, delta, omega et cetera. I am not one of them. No. I’m just a man. Not the man. A man. And maybe that is enough. Maybe, that’s why you are here.