Author: Kojo Baffoe
Title: Listen to your Footsteps – Reflections and Essays
Publishers: Pan Macmillan (2021
The journey from boyhood to manhood is never an easy one for most of us men. Growing up I learned firsthand what toxic masculinity looked like from my late father’s actions. This led me to look for positive references of manhood in other places such as from my maternal grandfather, uncles and mentors. This experience also helped me to become aware of the difference between healthy and toxic masculinity. However can we really say this is the same experience for many other young men out there especially in this violent and gendered world we live in?
Writer and entrepreneur Kojo Baffoe’s latest offering ‘Listening to your Footsteps’ is a mini autobiographical account filled with fascinating essays and poems about his journey into manhood. Similar to a matured yet introverted uncle, Baffoe shares fascinating lessons on brotherhood, manhood, fatherhood and husband-hood.
Shifting from Patriarchal Stereotypes
Baffoe commands his pen with effortless might and simplicity. He is refreshingly transparent as he digs deeper into issues of manhood, issues which would intimidate most men. For instance he shares about his wife Estelle’s miscarriage and their battle of conception. He is open about his struggles with depression and drug abuse. He also leads us into is obsession with death along with skull tattoos in the aftermath of losing his mother at a tender age.
The author brings the “I” back to introspection and interrogation – introspection of self along with an interrogation of frail patriarchal notions which men have been taught over the years. He touches on the fallacy that men should always be strong and avoid expressing emotions entirely except when alcohol is involved. Above asking why men don’t freely say “I love you” to each other Baffoe also questions why men don’t cry enough especially in front of their families. He freely admits that he is a crier. This got me wondering whether when a man expresses his feelings, such as when crying in front of their kids, does it become an acceptable outlet to heal or a reflection of “daddy is weak”?
Like Father, like Son?
The start of the book offers soul-warming homage to the author’s Ghanaian father who was an astute academic and entrepreneur. Dr Frank Baffoe serves as Kojo’s template of a positive male influencer. However the father’s refusal to speak about his childhood in colonial Ghana is a question many readers will wonder about. Did he maybe have a traumatic past that he blocked out mentally or did he just want his children to start on a clean slate regardless of his past? Much like Baffoe my own father did not share much about his childhood and this created a rift in our relationship. Such knowledge could be valuable in assisting men to identify a cycle of toxicity in their bloodline and, should one exist, to break free.
Race Relations, Heritage and Otherness
One section that is heart-wrenching is “Identity and Belonging” which explores themes of race, nationality and the influence of patriarchy on cultural heritage. Born in Germany to a Ghanaian father and German mother, then raised in Lesotho and finally settling in South Africa Baffoe battled to find his place in society. Due to his light-skinned tone he was considered not African enough in the spaces he moved in, thus the option of “Otherness” may have been a place of refuge. Sadly the author and his multi-racial family are still faced with persistent skewed stereotypes in this so-called rainbow nation. Thus this particular section also exposes South Africa’s immaturity around race relations.
Recommendations and Conclusion
My favorite chapter from this read was “Being There.” This section explores themes of being a present father, teaching one’s children about empathy and on building a healthy marriage. I however found the last segment of the book “Being in the World” to be disjointed. The majority of the book also tends to feel like a biography about Baffoe’s late father thereby diluting the overall purpose of the book. Although a small-town boy at heart, Baffoe uses simple writing to unpack complex masculinity issues that may hopefully lead to deep internal conversations amongst men and their loved ones. This readerfriendly contribution is highly recommended to all men – young and old- in a quest to (re)discover Self. This book may also resonate with women seeking better understanding about a boy’s journey into manhood.
Even ahead of the latest social movements of #MeToo, #MenAreTrash and #GBV the world has been asking “where are all the good men?” To curb toxic masculinity we men need to confront our demons and unearth those pains no matter how supposedly “weak” we may appear to society. We need to accept all our flaws, take full responsibility and consciously begin with the internal work towards healing. Our footprints hold our truths. With faith tucked firmly in our pockets we hope this generation of men will listen more closely in order to make better decisions moving forward.
Rolland Simpi Motaung 2021 ©
Johannesburg, South Africa