I met the Modern Man at a funeral today. He was a father crying for his daughter’s death, but as an A-student of the well-taught adage that men don’t cry, his tears spilled from his heart, not his eyes. His wife, too weak and pained to do anything, was sitting on the floor, head bowed down, sobbing for both of them, while he scurried around the house making sure that everything was taken care of. His daughter’s pictures were in place, wreathes from friends and family were in the car, programmes printed and folded, people had chairs to sit on… I wanted to stop him for a second and hug him. Let him let his tears fall on me and tell him: “Thank you for being here.” That his daughter, in the short span of her life, knew his utter love, the most important love of all, that between father and daughter. I wanted to tell him that it was his love and presence that salvages the modern man in the eyes of family and society.
Later that day, I saw the Modern Man again. This time his face was youn-ger, his style was sleeker and more sophisticated, and his gadgetry intro-duced himself to me as a YBMOTM – Young Black Man on the Move. He was doing his daily grind, pit-stopping at the garage to draw money and fill up his diesel tank while fixing his salmon tie contrasting his baby pink shirt worn with his True Religion jeans and long man mules; getting into his H3 while arranging his business meetings with his PA on his BlackBerry. He looked impressive, like the million rand he owed the bank, in fact. Any girl within a 100-metre radius would’ve turned her head – I did. But after marveling at this swanky exterior, I wondered whether, if we ever got to talk, he would do me the same privilege of swagging his character as he had his characteristics. I hoped that the next time I saw him at a club, instead of buying Moët et Chandon to woo me, he’d buy me his time and good conversation. Then maybe we could go for a spin in his sexy H3…
The Modern Man drove me to work today. All around us, drivers on the street swore at him for his reckless driving, blasting him with their hooters, while he politely showed them the mid-dle finger and rushed on with his hustle. In the wake of the erupting violence against those not from South Africa, he attempted to show me the view from the ground – the revolution that was not publicised on TV, radio, or printed in the newspaper.
Looking at me from the corner of his eye, while steering the wheel with his wrist, the rest of his hand flopping lazily over it while his other hand danced in the wind outside his window, he told me, “The violence against people from the rest of Africa shows the anger that we have, not with them but with ourselves and each other. The only way to get power in a situation in which you are powerless is to attack someone less powerful.”
He said no more but his insight was uncanny and not restricted by his Grade 11 education, driving skills or his economic background. In my taxi drive to work, the Modern Man gave me an answer to a question that had eluded some of the country’s brainiest academics and opened me up to the mental fortune (and famine), and the bottom of pyramid.
I bore the Modern Man a son today. Shrieking in pain and joy, the Future Modern Man emerged from my body, leaving me in spent wonderment of the miracle of life. His face was a perfect concoction of features I’d seen in my dreams, but I was yet to discover the depth of his love for me – as I am. His father, elated and scared like any newby father, cried rivers of tears and had a smile as wide as my baby-bearing hips. In his mind, I heard him questioning his worthiness and ability to father such a precious life. In his heart, I felt his determination to do it differently than it had been done to him. I watched them, him carefully holding the smaller him, as if fearing he would somehow fumble; the other him lying with unwavering trust and love in his father’s arms. As he was.
The Modern Man broke my heart today. Unexpectedly, in the middle of our dance, he chose to bow out. As he got up to go, having told me that he had changed his mind, lost the blueprint of our relationship, the pedestal I’d put him on, hit the floor with a hard thud, shocking me into this stunning reality. After trying to fight for something I thought I needed to have, I realised he was human after all, and he could not live his life in any way that was untrue for him. So in tears and with a heaving heart, I let him go and wished him well on his journey of following the drumbeat in his heart.
I remembered the Modern Man today. He was my father. I’d never slept in his arms, “with my little heart beating against his” (Chrisette Michele), but I remembered him as the only father I’d had and that even though he struggled until his last days to show it, I truly was his joy. I remembered him with fondness – he was the original style icon; always flamboyantly dressed in loudly stylish, florid shirts teamed with whiter than snow white pants and sandals. I remembered him with forgiveness – he did things the only way he knew how, even if it didn’t look like that to us. The past and passed Modern Man, my father didn’t just pay lip-service to the title of living your best life. He, like everything else in his life, remixed it to suit his taste just perfectly. I looked in the mirror and saw him in me. I decided to keep the parts of him I liked – his style, his smile, his swagger and zest for life. Everything else, I let go of. Today, my father died as the definition of the modern man.
I fell in love with the Modern Man today. We were at a party. Holding his Heineken in the air, pants sagging, it seemed unlikely that we would have anything in common but when we sat down to talk – right there in the middle of the dance floor – we spoke until the music stopped. We swapped wisdom and wit about everything, lightly and unknowingly tracing our own ideals – with ourselves and each other. In the midst of all the smoke in life’s mirrors, he stepped into my life as truth and love. My Modern Man is a beautiful surprise.
Writer: Lelethu Lumkwana *This was published in 2008 on Studio83