Friday, July 19, 2024

Crisis of modern Kenyan men with no power at home

Edna Namunga has become disillusioned with her marriage. Over the last three years, she has tried all she can to hold it together but now she can’t take it anymore.

“I am angry at myself; I am angry at my marriage; I am angry at my husband,” she says. 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 nothing 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.

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“He was between jobs, but I was willing to overlook this because he seemed to have his act together. I thought it was a good sign that he was able to pay rent and maintain himself while jobless,” says 34-year-old Edna who works for an international Non-Governmental Organization in Nairobi. Up until now, her husband is still jobless.

Unknown to her, he had been jobless most of his adult life. The jobs he got didn’t last six months. This never bothered him because he got allowances and upkeep from his family to maintain his lifestyle. The upkeep money and rent allowances stopped coming in 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. I could provide everything,” she says. Nowadays, he prefers to spend his days in a cycle of sleep, movies, idling, and parties.

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“He doesn’t work and is not interested in finding work. Four months ago, I arranged an interview for a well-paying job for him. He missed it because he was late sleeping,” she says.

Edna says that her husband has become used to joblessness. At her home, she has been left to pay for all the bills from rent, groceries, water and electricity, and even house-help.

“We have a one-year-old baby. We look happy if you see our family photos. But my reality is that I am single within a marriage,” she says. “Hii miondoko yake ya kila siku imenichosha; Sitoweza tena! (I am tired of his idle party life; I can’t do this anymore!),” she says.

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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 is not the usual deal breakers such as cheating that are at the heart of it all! Rather, these are modern Kenyan 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 Gisiora Nyanchwani, a male awareness advocate and the author of ‘50 Memos to Men’, there are 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 millennials in Nairobi today, there is every chance that it is the women holding the marriage together. It is the women carrying the weight, sometimes even financially.”

It is the women picking after the men, and sometimes covering the nudity of their men,” he says. Nyanchwani cites that nearly half the men out there would not find their true north if their wives decided to leave them because of their folly.

“Whereas covering the nudity of your spouse is part of the job description of a spouse, these women do more than their fair share of covering the nudity. They clean the mess after their men,” he says.

Whereas men who have superwomen behind them might appear to be in total domination of their women, Nyanchwani says that they have a very short shelf life in reality.

“Whereas some women have a higher threshold for male nonsense, it thins 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. She sees her marriage as beyond the point of salvation. “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.

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Some men are falling asunder after years of being good, reliable and responsible men. These are men in their 30s and 40s. Phoebe Muthoni’s husband is one of these.

“I am worried about my husband and my marriage,” says the 44-year-old. “We have had a good union for the last twenty years. My husband has been responsible all through. We have had a beautiful home. Our three children are all grown now.” But this year has been different, she says. “My husband has been different.”

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 frugality to spendthrift.”

She says that her husband can leave home one afternoon and return after days. “Recently, he was away from home for nearly three weeks. He has started drinking, and I am wondering if he is suffering from a mid-life crisis,” she says.

Some men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s have become completely unable to control their life and their households, and to get back on their feet, especially after losing their jobs and businesses or marriages.

But according to Nyanchwani, though, the ability to reinvent is what makes a man the man. He, however, acknowledges that a low moment can push a man to the very edge of desperation.

“Every man at some point in life will undergo some sort of identity crisis, occasioned by the loss of a job or his income dipping, his woman leaving him for a richer man, his unmet dreams and expectations, the boredom that comes with work or marriage. We all go through it as men,” he says.

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Although there seems to be an upswing of men who are no longer willing to step up, irresponsible men have always been there in society.

The difference is that the contemporary irresponsible man is well-educated and moneyed, unlike the traditional irresponsible man who had the option of hooking his irresponsible behaviour on excuses such as poverty.

“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, for better or for worse. “They are either calling the shots at their homes or are busy milking weak men.”

Kering says that the contemporary man is readily willing to concede 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.

He cites that this is mirroring South Africa’s broken and dysfunctional black families of the 60’s and 70’s. “Nearly two-thirds of black families in South Africa were headed by women. This is where we have rotated to nowadays,” he says.

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.

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.

“Traditionally, young men grew into adulthood knowing that they were expected to head their families,” she says. This expectation was moulded through the mentorship of the boy child by older men.

“Men would mentor boys. 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 by the older men through oral and practical cultures,” she says.

This form of mentorship was done in a very intentional and cultural manner. For instance, there were cultural sessions that were deliberately held and overseen by older men to nurture manly attributes in boys.

In the modern society, boys no longer get the chance to be their own men. They are spoon-fed 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 is lurking in the dark.

Christina points out 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 whose happy valley lifestyle was dominated by the soft life of partying and sexual relations,” she says.

Because 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 children born in the 90s, and finally burst into a full storm on children born in the 2000s.

“We now have a scenario where the attraction for hard work and the process of climbing the career ladder has been replaced with the allure and pursuit of an instant posh lifestyle,” she says.

The millennial generation has adopted and internalized 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 batter trade of sex and finances between young men and women who are decades older.

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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 Sh. 35,000 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 liberalization of sex and romance, their pursuits have not been in vain. “I don’t work a 9 to 5 job, but I live a comfortable lifestyle than long-serving career men who think I am a lowdown polecat,” he says.

Peterson Gathambo who is 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 socialized. Most of them were born and brought up 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 vowed 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. She says that the hardships most parents were brought up with may have been misconstrued as a form of suffering and punishment, even though they also instilled critical life lessons on discipline and responsibility.

“Not all aspects of traditional socialization and upbringing of kids 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,” she says.

These parents may have vowed to never raise their own boys using the same manual.

“This generation of parents wanted to change things by giving their kids the freedom they were denied,” says Christina. Unfortunately, instead of picking the good and leaving the bad behind, they blurred the lines.

“Instead of moderate freedom, this method of parenting became too liberalized and westernized to the point of pampering 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, bold and daring to stand on his own feet,” she says.

Because this boy was not given room to build up self-reliance and confidence, they will always shrink away when faced with competition and responsibilities in their adulthood.

“When such a man attaches to a high-achieving and competitive woman, he will either cling onto her and be totally dependent on her for material support and decision-making,” she says.

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 had to stand up and take over responsibilities of bringing up their children whether they’re educated or not because they have grown up knowing how to step up.

“Unlike boys, girls have always been taught and socialized to be home-makers, to be 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 gets mentorship from her male social acquaintances.

“My daughters are easily embraced by other women in my social circles and within my family. This is not the same with my son,” she says. She has been struggling with finding responsible men to step in as mentors for her son.

“I recognize 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 evolution 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, for instance, 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.

Some men may also be afraid that the step son they take up may grow to disrespect them.

“The little boy will soon become a man and one day, he may think he has come of age and is your equal. He will look at you and tell it to your face that you are not even his dad, that you can’t tell him anything. He may even challenge you to a physical fight,” says 38-year-old Mike Omondi.

Omondi says that on the contrary, the girl-child will appreciate your role as her father, and even if she finds out that you’re not her biological father, she will love, respect and honour you regardless. “I’d be more willing to step in as a father figure to a girl than a boy. I feel it won’t be in vain,” he says.

Stephen Onyonka, 40, also says it might even be trickier if the boy is older and knows who his biological father is. He adds that with the natural attachment sons have with their mothers, instilling discipline and masculinity in the boy is harder when you’re not related by blood.

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 who cannot measure up to the prowess of their female peers in career or business.

For instance, Rachel Ikiara who is a 37-year-old former marketing manager turned entrepreneur says that she dates men in their late forties because men 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 in 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,” she says.

She reckons that this class of men is only attractive physically and has nothing much to offer beyond that.

A version of this feature was also published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.

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