Category Archives: Family

Confessions Of A Late Bloomer. How I found wellness at 40.

As some you get deep into your Christmas indulgence, let me tell you what happened to me this year. In January I wrote here about how traumatized I was after visiting the doctor and coming to terms with the fact that I was overweight.

It’s now the end of the year, a few weeks after my fortieth birthday and I am in the best health of my life. My training story is probably not unusual so I won’t bore you with details but it has it’s own quirky milestones. I joined a gym in February after moving house but only started going in March because, procrastination. I hadn’t been in a gym in so long I didn’t recognize most of the machines they had on the floor. The last time I was in a gym mobile phones had five lines of text and polyphonic ringtones were a thing. I decided to get a trainer before I hurt myself, enter Monika Human.

After my initial assessment we set out a training schedule and I chose to train at 05:00 because I’d be up anyway and I thought it would be a great way to start the day. The first morning was a disaster. I didn’t eat before training and halfway through I didn’t know if I wanted to pass out, throw up or crap my pants. I   ended up on the floor of a toilet cubicle watching my life flash by and waiting for Satan to take me. He didn’t and I made it back to training the next day and weeks after that. My twin goals were to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle so I can keep up with our daughter as she grows up. If you’re going to work with a personal trainer, find someone who you can relate to. Training is something deeply personal, you want somebody who is going to understand and motivate you when you’re at your most vulnerable. Monika has been that person for me and after four months I started training on my own. I was travelling for much of this year and this is likely the reason I didn’t progress as quickly as I would have liked.

I always knew that being healthy starts with eating healthy but I had been eating whatever I want for so long I didn’t realize the mental shift it would involve to make healthy eating a part of my life again. Monika designed an eating plan for me that I really had trouble following in the beginning with family and travel. The trick at home was to get everyone else eating healthy so I wouldn’t have to make separate meals for myself.  On the road was a different story. On my last trip I spent two months away from home and picked up some weight, don’t ask me how much because I couldn’t bring myself to step on a scale. I knew then something had to change, it was early October, I vowed that by December 31 2015 I would have hit my goal weight and fitness level.

I have experienced tremendous personal growth over the last ten weeks or so both physical and mental. Two weeks ago I surpassed my goal weight and whilst at the time I felt such a sense of accomplishment, it’s gotten better as I continue to lose body fat and get even healthier than I could have dared imagine just a year ago. Another thing I did the last year was interact with other people who are also on a wellness journey, two of them have been great motivators. One ran the Paris Marathon earlier this year and the other is currently training for a half Iron Man next year after having summitted Mount Kilimanjaro a few months ago.

I don’t know how I am going to test myself next year but the priority now is to at least maintain the goals I have achieved. Anything more is a bonus because being healthier at forty than I was in my twenties is a gift to a late-bloomer like me.

We Need To Stop Saying Boys Will Be Boys

A few weeks ago the internet went into meltdown when a photo of barely teenage boys simulating a groupsex or rape scene surfaced. There were the expected outcries about how this could happen, shock, horror and disgust were trending. Without delay, there were also those who said the whole affair was being blown out of proportion and all this attention would do more harm than good to the boys.

I went to a boarding school with very similar traditions to the school these boys attend. Both schools are founded on the English public school template designed then to produce future leaders for the British empire. Too bad nobody told these schools the empire no longer exists. Much of what was standard practice a hundred years ago was still unchanged when I was in school twenty five years ago. It is disturbingly apparent little has changed since then. Effectively, boys are still being boys and this is a problem.

In my day we called it seniority, a strictly enforced heirarchical system that positioned the school prefects and head-boy at the top with the youngest students at the bottom. The teaching staff maintaining a laissez-faire attitude as the boys effectively managed themselves only stepping in when there was some sort of crisis. It was a veritable animal farm with minimal supervision. Looking back on it now, this was clearly a recipe for disaster far beyond the gates of the school. This was a breeding ground for troubling mysogynistic attitudes, we arrived as impressionable boys and left as damaged young men.

Much as the boys who trended, we engaged in acts of sexual miseducation and violence that in most cases, were directed by seniors. These seniors were boys barely three years older than ourselves and we replicated this as we moved up the seniority chain in an effort to be seen as part of the collective. We were conditioned to be go-getters but along the way became aggressive, vicious, callous even. We were also trained to be loyal to each other to a fault, nothing was more disgusting to us than ratting out fellow students to anyone in authority. For a long time I didn’t realize how much this last lesson had affected me.

I know now that it is this code of silence that caused me to look aside when I saw questionable behavior by my peers. It was because of this that I knew I could get away with being abusive to younger boys because nobody would say anything, besides, it was expected because that’s what had happened to us. After leaving school this bond remained, growing stronger in some cases. It even led to some boys committing crimes together.

I know that this is pervasive across other men who have gone through the schoolboy system and plays itself out in everyday life in the most unsettling ways. Guys give each other a pass because of an unspoken allegiance which they cannot even fully explain. It can be traced back to how they were socialized in high school. This skewed code of silence is the result of boys just being boys and needs to stop. Saying it’s all part of growing up is wrong and destructive.

More men who went through the system need to speak against it. I wonder what one would find if they studied the ratio of violent offenders amongst men who went through the schoolboy system. We cannot, in 2015, still be raising boys the same way as we did a century ago and expect them to be better men than we are. We know better now, boys cannot be left to their own devices as the lessons they draw from each other mark them for the rest of their lives.

The Law Of (Un)intended Consequences

Much has been said about South Africa’s new Immigration Law and regulations, most of it negative. As someone who has been directly affected, I have read as much on this as I can in the hope when I need to interact with the Department of Home Affairs, I am fully informed. Yesterday, I encountered the painful side of these regulations.

I am a Zimbabwean citizen and for almost two years, it’s our anniversary in a month, I have been married to my South African wife. We have been blessed with a beautiful daughter who was born at Sandton Medi-Clinic sixteen months ago today. We always joke about how we had three weddings and so three wedding anniversaries, the first in her hometown Kimberley on 21 September, the second at my home in Bulawayo on 28 December and the third on 14 February when we signed in Johannesburg. I swear the last was pure coincidence, it just happened to be the first available date and we have no photos.

With all the controversy around the new Immigration law and regulations, we decided to wait for clarity on the regulations governing the status of foreign nationals married to South African citizens. This is why three months ago I started putting together my application for a relatives’ visa as the spouse of a citizen. Amongst the requirements is a police clearance, in my case I had to get one each from South Africa and Zimbabwe. Now I’ve had what can only be termed a colourful life so I was a little nervous going into a criminal records office to voluntarily ask if they were not looking for me. Thankfully, I am a law-abiding citizen and have not one but two police clearance certificates to prove it. Both SAPS and ZRP were exemplary in assisting me.

After compiling my documents I then consulted Home Affairs via their customer careline on various aspects of the application and they were extremely helpful every time. I had some difficulty getting information out of the South African embassy in Harare where I had to submit my application and eventually just went to Harare anyway. Upon arriving there were some complications and I had to wait a week before submitting. As happens with matters of such a delicate nature, there was some back and forth but at 3:30pm yesterday my application was accepted, just in time for me to check in for my 6:00p.m. flight back to Johannesburg.

That’s when they dropped the bombshell.

My passport was required as part of my application which could not be processed without it. A process that takes eight weeks. I thought they were joking, when I realised they were serious, the ground fell out from under me. My mind fogged over, I couldn’t hear the words coming out of my mouth as the strength just left my body and I had to sit down. People were speaking around me and to me, I was responding but I can’t tell you the details of those conversations. All I could think was, what was I going to tell my wife? She was expecting me back in a few hours and now I had to tell her this? I pulled myself together and went back to the counter, just in case I had heard wrong, no, I had not. The consultant told me I could take my passport, get on my flight and come back when I was ready but my application would not be processed without it and I should choose to either spend eight weeks in Zimbabwe now, or then. I called my wife and we decided I should submit the application and we will figure out what to do.

I consider myself a pretty thorough person when it comes to perusing documents and complying with regulations, I cannot for the life of me, explain how I could have missed this most important detail, assuming at this stage, that it is indicated somewhere in the requirements I read. I remember asking if there is not some exemption from the eight weeks for those with infant children, they said no. I walked out of there broken and confused. The anger came later and passed, I knew it was not going to do anything for me but make me bitter about a situation I could do little about in the middle of the night.

I understand that Immigration have to be thorough in their processes and whilst some are tedious, I am willing to comply. Coming to Zimbabwe leaving my family behind to apply for a visa that allows me to better provide for them is that important to me. What I don’t understand is, why I must now sit in limbo away from my family for eight weeks, what purpose does this serve? Everything that matters in my life is in South Africa and I feel hurt and confused that I cannot be with them for that long, in the name of compliance. With so much that I had planned now out the window, I am seized with trying to rearrange my life around this new reality. The whole of last night my wife and I were planning how my family can come and spend time with me here, wether she can get time off work and if she should take unpaid leave. In addition to the emotional trauma of all of this we now have to go through a financial one.

I considered consulting a lawyer but I don’t know if I have the stomach for a fight with Home Affairs, my family and I have faced worse things than this and we are still here. This is not by any means to say I am not going to do anything about this but I will find a way to approach them, I know they are slow but they come around eventually. In the meantime, with the looming prospect of spending our second wedding anniversary apart, my heart breaks every time I think of my daughter and what she must be going through, earlier today when I asked after her, my wife sent me this message:

“. . . She knows you’re not here and is wondering where you are, I can see. Matilda (her nanny) says every time she hears footsteps in the corridor she runs to the door to see if they are of someone coming here.”

When A Mother’s Love Become’s A Son’s Crutch

The past few days have had me thinking a lot about how the way our mothers raised us influences us. More particularly, how it influences our relationships as men, with the women on our lives. The other day I listened to a radio discussion where the talkshow host asked, do women contribute to men thinking it is ok to abuse them? Put better, do women give men a pass sometimes when they are abusive thereby entrenching and giving subtle approval for such behaviour? It was one of the heaviest hours of radio I have listened to in a while and it has stayed with me since. For me the answer is yes, however unintentional, women by not calling men out when they are abusive is tantamount to giving tacit approval for such behaviour. However, this does not mean the woman who does so is to blame nor does it, by any measure, absolve the abuser.

Someone I follow on Twitter said “mothers are often the greatest defenders of their sons when they are accused of abuse”, I agree with this, having witnessed it more times than I can count. There is often a cruel irony here, the same abuser who beats his partner in front of their children loves his mother to death and prays for his daughters to never go through any form of abuse at the hands of another man. That’s a topic for another day, for now I want to talk about our mothers and their seemingly blind love for us men even when we do wrong. Women of my mother’s generation, those born in rural Zimbabwe of the 1940s and 1950s, were taught to be obedient to their husbands, caring to their greater family and nurturing to their children Though these lessons continue today, some see this as entrenching submission in woman and reject certain aspects of these teachings.

Our mothers in some cases suffered and continue to suffer abuse from our fathers and we likely grew up not knowing this was happening because as part of their nurturing role, our mothers shielded us from this. They protected us by taking all the flack so we would not have to. They protected us the best way they knew how, by literally putting their bodies on their line. They forsook careers so that they could be home with us when our fathers went to work. They would be home when our fathers returned, frustrated and angry at the world, ready to explode. We never knew what happened in the bedroom, what discussions were had and when they emerged, what bruises our mothers may have covered up. We never knew the trauma our mothers went through in finding out about our fathers’ infidelities or worse, their other families. Our mothers have such grace under fire that, as a child, you would never know the turmoil and anguish they were dealing with. Even if you did see something you were not supposed to, they still made every effort to shield us from being scarred by it. Bless them.

The cruel irony is that this low intensity warfare produced a generation of men who are in many aspects, exactly like our fathers. Too many of us are physically and verbally abusive, emotionally unavailable, lie, cheat and have other families. At the same time, we adore our mothers and cherish our daughters, ready to bring hellfire down on anyone who harms a hair on their heads or even thinks it. We have become our fathers and this must be such a disappointment to our mothers but they would never say. We perpetuate a culture of abuse on social media then turn around and play son, husband or dad of the year without missing a beat. The good news is, we can break this cycle for good in one generation. We live with the awareness that what we do is wrong but too often choose to take our partners’ silence as tacit approval when we know better. You should not have to wait to be called out when you can apologise, correct course and live your life, it’s called being a man. I just don’t see how it is possible to raise children to not perpetuate the same mistakes we make if they do not see us actively correcting ourselves. We can be the partners and sons our wives or girlfriends and mothers deserve. We can start by having this conversation as men before we turn our daughters into our mothers, the quiet strong, sacrificing woman who only lives for her children and in their defence quietly lives a life less than ideal with an abusive man.

Man Pains. Being A Man’s Man In A Changing World

It happens everyday in varying degrees, from the moment you first interact with other men until you go to bed at night, sometimes, it even persists into your dreamscape. That moment you see another man and quietly think to yourself, “now that’s a man”. The last time it happened to me was two days ago when the Springboks showed up to train at the gym I go to. Mind you, I wasn’t the only guy who got more than a little distracted from their workout. If you say you have never appreciated another man who is better than you in some way, physically, intellectually or economically, you are either in denial or you’re blissfully unaware. The latter is highly unlikely. It’s confession time and today’s topic is man-pains. It’s not quite a man crush nor is it perving because this is not about a particular individual, it is a fleeting appreciation, that glance at the next man that lasts a little longer than it should but ends there. Unlike chest-pains which just hurt like the combined fires of seven hells, man-pains are bittersweet.

As men we are conditioned to not express ourselves in certain ways for fear of being seen as effeminate, physical contact and complimentary language between us are often guarded or tinged with bravado. We constantly maintain that bro space, what goes on in our heads however, is something totally different and only rarely given away. I realised this after spending the better part of this year working out, after an almost eighteen year break. Spend enough time in a gym and you’re going to catch yourself looking appreciatively at the guy with the body you’re working towards and when you do, hoping to high heaven he didn’t notice. The irony is, the men who epitomise our physical fitness goals do this and more on the playing field all the time. we’ve all seen the goal celebrations that involve hugs, kisses and butt-cupping or is that butt-slapping? Whatever, my point is, if we weren’t so guarded around each other it may just do wonders for our self-esteeem, but beyond the occasional all-knowing mutual head nod, we don’t dare cross that line. Why? Because of a questionable sense of masculinity.

That last part requires more qualified minds than my own, that said, I think I’ve lived long enough to be able to throw my two cents in. What could possibly be wrong with being openly appreciative of a guy who is better than you in some way? He might just let you in on his secret and you can be great together, not together, together, but you know what I mean. Sharing is caring so share the love with a well-timed nudge or wink and end a life of self-inflicted man-pains, it’s not like you haven’t been looking already.

The Skinny Kid Paradox

Growing up I was always the skinny kid who everyone made fun of and called all kinds of names. Luckily I could handle the name-calling and wasn’t shy to throw a few choice ones back. What I couldn’t escape though, was the self-image of being smaller, less masculine than the other boys and I carried this into adulthood.

With that skinny kid self-image well engrained I ate and drank what I wanted for most of my life never worrying about the consequences because hey, that’s for fat people. I saw my schoolmates marry, have kids, balloon and turn grey whilst I was the smug young looking skinny guy. That was, until a recent visit to the doctor.

I know my body is nowhere near what it used to be and i have picked up a few kilos, or so I thought. Along with the rest of the world I made a commitment to get fit this year and  literally hit the ground running. I’ve been running at least 4 days a week since the year began slowly building up my stamina. In that effort I started getting terrible shin splints then a fever so I went to the doctor. What he told me changed my life.

For the first time in my life I’m overweight. My legs can’t take the strain of running because I am so heavy that if I continue road-running at this weight I will start getting micro-fractures in my foot and shin bones. I could not believe what I was hearing and in a daze I stepped onto the scale again just to be sure, I weigh ninety kilograms. The last time I weighed myself I was barely eighty kilos, how was this possible? “For your height you need to lose at least ten kilos to be safe before you start developing complications” the doctor said.

I got home, went to the bathroom and had a good hard look at this overweight person in the mirror. Here’s the kicker, I still  didn’t see it. Here I am, having just been told I have a weight problem and I’m still seeing that skinny kid from my youth. It then starts to dawn on me what a number I have done on myself.

Over the next few hours I thought through how I stopped exercising, started eating more of everything, how I drank more, how it took me longer and longer to recover from a night out, the more than occasional shortness of breath and the denial. The years and years of denial. In those hours a new picture started to form, a realistic picture of who I had let myself become. When I stood in front of the mirror again, the skinny kid was gone.

Thankfully I have already started exercising and I am committed to it so I just have to adjust my routine accordingly, the killer is the diet. Trying to eat 6 small meals and constantly ingest fluids is damn hard. I have my motivation though, a little girl who’s growing up fast and won’t understand why daddy’s always too tired to play with her.

My father used to say to me “you don’t want to be the oldest dad at your child’s sports day”, chances are I’ll be amongst the older dads but I’ll be damned if I don’t kick those young bucks in the fathers’ 100 metre dash. It will be great being that skinny guy again, but this time with the wisdom that comes from letting yourself go and then fighting to get back to who you were again, I look forward to winning this struggle.