LESSONS MEN SHOULD LEARN ABOUT NGUGI WA THIONG’O’S DIVORCE AT 85

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I read Carey Baraka’s incredible profile of Ngugi wa Thiong’o in The Guardian and was startled mid-way through the story to learn that our grand man of letters, one of the greatest thinkers, writers, and the best to come out of Africa is recently divorced/separated. He is 85, lives alone and his health isn’t in good shape.

Of course, reading the story from the beginning, I was curious about the whereabouts of his wife or family, and why is an old Ngugi all by himself with only his caregivers. The answer dropped like a thunderbolt.

It reminded me of a recent Nuruddin Farah interview with The Financial Times. The enfant terrible of Somali literature is twice divorced, the last one happening recently, and he squats in a one-bedroom flat in Cape Town, cooking and fending for himself.

The reason for their divorces is not stated, thus, we can only speculate. But does it scare you that divorce can happen at any time in a man’s life?

The two patriarchs of African Literature of course have lived in the west where Grey Divorce is on the rise. Grey divorce (derived from grey-haired) is when older people who have been married for a long time get divorced. In Africa, it happens, but silently. The man just gets neglected, and the family waits on him to die. Or the wife moves abroad, to a different town, and the man ends up alone.

We are witnessing this now among our parents, and I can assure you that for millennials, this will be the norm.

I used to imagine myself with the love of my life, probably a fine Kisii woman with name like Nyakerario in a big compound, with our children and grandchildren around, in one big happy family. But I have had to wake up from this dreamy nonsense, lest I pee on myself. Or worse. The more realistic projection for me is dying alone, and hopefully, not too miserably, God help me. At best, I hope to be friends with my kids. But the possibility of having a friendly wife to the end is something that grows distant and impossible every day. And this is not because women are bad people. No. I have just realized that men are just dispensable. It is the way of life. And men become more and more dispensable and expendable, the older they grow, and their material value diminishes. The things a man has to do in order for his family to be there for him are impossible for any human being. Most men realise too late in life that they are alone. Some expedite their death upon this realisation.

I have accepted that your wife or children do not exist to cater to you in old age. I remember how we took care of our grandfather until he died at the ripe age of 112. When my grandmother couldn’t do it anymore, there was a caregiver. And in between as a grandchild, I did help from time to time. It was a home full of love for the patriarch. Few men get to enjoy such kind of love from their families.

Across villages, men in retirement are basically on their own. They sleep hungry. They nurse their wounds alone. And worse are those marriages that are irretrievably broken but couples still stick together. Many millennials reading this know mom and dad probably don’t even share a bed. They are only together because of the church, or whatever little societal pressure that is remaining.

So, what should men do?

1.     Love your wife, love your kids, and do right by them. Then love yourself and do right by yourself. If your wife sticks with you and the kids turn right, well and good. If they don’t, at least you tried, but mentally, you should prepared for any outcome.

2.     Beware of your wife influencing the children negatively. You may have real differences with your wife, and she may decide to sway the children her way, and children will always vote with the mother. But, always, own your narrative. Own your story. What you neglect today, assuming it will self-correct itself, usually doesn’t. Take credit for what you do for the children. Tell your children your side of the story, at the right time, in the right environment. I am always happy about men and women in my inbox who tell me they learnt one parent was toxic and unfair to the other. I am talking about adults who can objectively analyse their parents and make rational judgments.

3.     As a man, your only security is your assets and liquid cash in old age. I know sometimes we spend all our money and resources on the family, and black tax, and financial abuse from our wives can drain us completely. But man, get a grip on your life, save up for yourself. You may need to hire a helper, or a caregiver, and pay those medical bills in old age. Heck, you may even have to marry again.

4.     For men in the diaspora. It may be prudent to build a mansion of your dreams for your retirement. I am always shocked that there are men who want to live and die abroad. If possible, whereas the village has died in Kenya and Ubuntu is on its deathbed, wherever possible, build a house with the best amenities to help you in old age. Have investments back home as a Plan B. Wife and kids will never leave abroad to come to Africa. But you may be edged out of your own home in America, and you will hate the experience of arriving in Kenya to an unfinished bungalow.

5.     If you are aged 25-40, you have a university degree, you have a corporate job or work for the government, live in a big city like Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret, Kisumu and Nakuru, and Kisii, just know that chances of being divorced stand at 30-50 percent (the higher if she earns more than you and more educated than you). Also know, no matter what, up to 50 percent, you will be alone in your 50s. Have a plan.

Ultimately, this is not to scare men so much as to prepare them for a clear and present existential reality. Build a dual life centred on the self (200 percent) and centred on marriage (100 percent) if you are inclined to marriage.