Merely looking is not an offence

YOU have to love Barack Obama. He appears to be one of the few politicians who are loved beyond their politics.

The guy is smooth. He talks well and looks even better. And he appears to be a model family man.

My darling wife noted the other day, looking at a picture of the Obamas in Ghana, that he really loved his wife.

"You can tell when a person looks at another with love," she said.

I nodded, because I know that being beautiful is one reason that attracted me to my wife, and being wise is what makes me want to go back home to her every day.

Then Mail & Guardian columnist Nikiwe Bikitsha wrote, referring to a different picture - that of Obama kissing their daughter while stealing a glance at his wife, about the love she saw in his eyes.

"Oh, to be glanced at like that ." wrote Bikitsha.

All of these things were said and written before Obama's most unflattering picture - taken at the recent G8 summit - was published.

There was the poster boy of the perfect man - no scandals to talk of or no broken hearts in his wake. His only vice was that he had, before deciding to run for the presidency, smoked cigarettes.

But on this day, Obama became like all of us straight men.

He stole a glance at a beautiful figure that happened to be within his view. Sure he probably looked for longer than his missus would have preferred, but surely Michelle Obama should know what kind of man, husband and father her husband is?

In that moment, the US president and the press photographer liberated the millions of us straight men.

Instead of shouting "Yes, We Can", we silently shouted back at him, "Yes, You Too Can [be like us]".

Michelle Obama should not, and I hope she has not, judged her husband on the basis of acting in a manner millions of other men would have.

It is like finding me watching Mamelodi Sundowns at their glorious Shoe-Shine and Piano best and questioning my commitment to my beloved Orlando Pirates. Of course nothing will come between my affection for that blessed institution, founded in Orlando East in 1937, and even less will come between me and Kethabile - my better half.

Though the following might provoke an inquisition when I get home, I have once or twice (it might be more) spent a moment or two longer than absolutely necessary looking at the contours of another woman's anatomy.

But let the Obama logic not be confined to the White House.

If Obama's commitment to his wife and their children is not to be measured by a moment of what some silly women will incorrectly call indiscretion, why should our brothers' faithfulness to their partners be judged by a fleeting moment?

Tempting as it is, I will not pursue the argument that women also look and swoon over good-looking and well-built men. Some self-righteous women might argue that they just look, whereas men want more than that.

Fair point.

But then, separate the charge. The wise Sesotho speaking people put it best when they said: "Mahlo ke diala, ha a je sa motho," which at the risk of something being lost in translation means that "merely looking should not be an offence".

Men will always look. It has nothing to do with our morals or commitment to our relationships. It's in our DNA.

That is why Obama reminds me of yet another American president, Jimmy Carter, who spoke for many a straight man, when he said: "I've looked on many women with lust. I've committed adultery in my heart many times.

"God knows I will do this and forgives me."