Every man needs a man. An older man. A man who has done his time and gone through the trenches – maybe even failed in those trenches. We all run around thinking we know everything because we have read a few books, sired a few children, possess
“contemporary and progressive thought,” have picked master’s degrees in schools … and when faced by a conundrum of sorts, we think all that is enough. It’s not. We need a man. All of us. Even the men we need, need other men.
There are other men who are your peers. Those are great too, especially the sober ones, the ones who aren’t too unhinged and embody pragmatism. Peers are cool but they still can’t hold a candle to the older man’s experience.
The moment you sit down before an older man and open your mouth, he has already known your position which unfortunately is always a call for validation or endorsement or sometimes someone to tell you what to do.
Unfortunately, nobody ever needs to tell you what to do; you always know what to do, even if you are doing the wrong thing. But the older man has most likely been here before. He has probably been in worse holes standing barefoot in a pool of brackish
water. So he will sit there and nod and grunt and snigger at your funny anecdotes as you blubber through your self-righteous spiel. The older man doesn’t try to alter the course of a river, he just guides it. He guides it by listening.
He guides it by honesty and maturity. And he guides it by saying things that makes it look like your problem isn’t just yours; now it’s yours and his. He will say things like, “we shall not cease from exploration, and at the end of all our exploring we will get to
arrive where we started and know the place for the first time,” which is probably a quote from someone dead, but one that slowly decants between you two as he watches you keenly to gauge your absorption rate.
The older man didn’t become older by sitting under a mango tree. He’s older by living and sometimes by living through some perilous mistakes and happenings. He has done some crazy stuff in his life, made some horrible mistakes even, and the difference
between him and the older man you aren’t sitting with is that he managed to steer himself through whatever turbulence he was wading through and now is moored on a very safe and comfortable pier.
But even at this pier, he will be the first to admit, he still rocks and scrapes and he still learns and discovers. And so because of this he doesn’t look at you with judgmental eyes, he simply takes you for what you are.
HE IS IMPERFECT
My older man is a man who likes pepper steak. And eggs. I normally take him to a particular restaurant he loves. He’s a burly man who crouches as he walks and has a strong voice. He has children. And a wife.
He never interrupts me. He has intense eye contact: a bomb could go off on the next table but his gaze will never leave me. He has gone through some pretty, uhm, interesting times in his life and he has scars to show for it, emotional scars.
But he remains beautifully strong and his charisma fills up any room he steps in. He isn’t my older man because he’s perfect, he’s my older man because he’s imperfect and he understands imperfection.
He belongs to church, he is deeply spiritual but not religious, which means he doesn’t, ever, read me a verse. God is great but I develop an attitude towards men who are quick to throw a verse at my problem; it always seems so abstract, so prescriptive, so
removed. If I want to read a verse I will pick up the Bible.
My older man will send me random WhatsApp messages in the dead of the night, or at some odd hour during the day and share some random insights.
He will say things like, “You need to distinguish between a choice and a decision.” Then he will break it down for me in a way that I can digest. He’s street-smart but he doesn’t wear it on his head like a hat. He will use a cuss word, which at his age is
amusing and makes him normal. He doesn’t judge, he never judges, he only seeks to understand and he never ever tells you what to do, he simply guides you on that journey. He says, “You have to qualify your actions, Biko.
This is not a vacuum you are operating in. This place has people you relate with, people and things. But mostly it has you in it, so you have to qualify your actions.” Sometimes I sit there and listen to him
and he says something so profound and poignant, it makes me see things in a completely different light.
My older man holds my hand. Sometimes he lets go of my hand and when he does he watches me fumble and stumble and when he sees me getting off course, he reaches out again and he steadies me. Sometimes I will go to him and utter such unstable and
petulant things and I will stop myself and ask him daringly, “I’m sorry, am I being an ass?” and he will say, “Yes, you are, but you have to be an ass now, so please let me not stand in the way.” Then when
I have decompressed he will say one sentence that negates all my whimsical thoughts.
The older man makes you accountable. Because ultimately we have to be accountable to someone, but we can’t be accountable to someone whose feet aren’t firmly on the ground, otherwise we will all fly
off into a vacuous space with no order. I think I can smell steak and eggs just writing this.