What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up.
“Man Like” is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to ‘be a man’ from the perspective of the subject of the week.
The subject of today is Pelumi, a pharmacist and a tutor. He talks about his great relationship with his dad, how his strained relationship with his mum affects his romantic relationship and why men can’t really choose to be stay at home dads.
When did you first realise that you were a man?
I was 16.
I cut my brother’s hair with scissors so my dad beat me. I remember he told me that actions have consequences. That incident made me wonder if I’d ever become a responsible person. I was afraid. Like how would I be doing this and one day, I’d be called daddy. I realised that a man has to be responsible because there’s no other choice and it informed my idea of what it means to be a man.
I thank God for the beatings and talk because I for don spoil. It’s wild that all the beating no pass wetin Folake do me.
Folake! The first girl that chopped my eye.
Folake was the first person I loved. I was in secondary school and before her, I had only crushed on people.
We had a lot in common: we attended the same church, we both had landlines in our houses and we knew the same people. I remember flashing her landline and quickly cutting it. I also remember texting her with my dad’s phone and deleting the messages after. Thinking about it, I’m sure my dad knew, but he never said anything.
Folake made me happy to attend church. Whenever she entered the church, my heart would start to beat fast. The love was so strong, I wrote letters to her talking about my feelings.
But Folake had another person writing her better letters in church. And he was my guy.
Alexa, play “Big Boys Don’t Cry.”
For some context, her dad is a retired soldier, so this limited my access to her. My guy was her family friend [or so I thought], so he didn’t have this restriction; baba just kept firing well-written letters.
It was even later when we stopped talking because she left the country that I found out about the letters. My guy just casually dropped it in a conversation, and I had to act normal.
To be honest, I wasn’t mad. The guy fine pass me and his parents had more money — who am I?
Folake, it was worth it and I don’t blame you. It’d have been nice if you had just told me.
Don’t kill me. Did your outlook on relationships change after the Folake incident?
To be honest, the experience with Folake didn’t change me like that. This sounds funny now, but I was hurt when it happened.
As I grow older, one of the things I look out for in a relationship is loyalty. I look for people that’ll go a hundred percent for me because I’ll do the same for them.
That’s one of the things that attracted me to my current babe. She’s my stan; like I am the best thing that has happened to her. Sometimes it doesn’t even make sense, but it means a lot to me and makes me want to be a better person.
When there’s a hundred percent trust and loyalty in spite of my shortcomings, it gingers me to correct them.
I’m not so sure that Folake had that.
Again. Dead. I’m curious about your relationship with your dad these days.
My dad is my hero. If something happens to my dad right now, I’m not sure how much of life I’d be able to live. I’m not ready to let him go right now.
See, my father is different.
People tell me I’m different, and it’s not surprising because I am my father’s son. My father walks the talk. My father stopped drinking alcohol after my first birthday. His reason was that he wouldn’t be able to stop me from drinking if I grew up watching him drink.
Another trait he has is his non-judgemental way of correcting me: in secondary school, I was going to be suspended, but my father stood for me. He defended me in front of the authorities but when we stepped out, my father told me: “I know you did it, but this is not who you are.”
That was the end. My dad never raised it up again, he never beat me for it. It’s wild because this was an offence that he should have shot me for.
What was it?
Anyway, that’s how my father is. He has that whole “this is who you are” mantra. Sometimes, I liken it to the way God sees us. God calls us as we are despite the shortcomings because he believes that we can become our ideal selves.
I’m in awe of my dad, so I can’t understand why fathers aren’t celebrated. And I’m not even talking about Father’s Day or something. I also understand that it’s not like that for everybody.
I can’t afford to be less of a father or husband. My relationship with my dad is deep and it’s something I’m confident about.
I hope that when the opportunity to repay my dad comes, I don’t do the opposite because he doesn’t deserve anything less than a hundred percent loyalty from me.
Profound. When was the first time you realised you were acting like your dad?
One of my dad’s key traits is forgiveness. One time, I had a terrible fight with my only sibling [brother] where I had every right to be angry. I was so hurt that I was carrying it inside of me. My dad, my brother and I have a WhatsApp group where I just expressed how I felt.
I was like: “You’re my brother so this fight doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m hurt and angry, but I let it go.” That was when I knew I was my father’s child.
I believe that nothing is too much to let go of when a particular relationship is important to me.
Interesting. Does anything scare you?
I’m scared that my dad will die before I’m able to give him the best. I’m also scared that I’ll not be half the man that my dad is. If I can be half the man he is, my wife and kids will enjoy.
Hmmm… What’s your relationship with your mum like?
Ah. My God. If there’s something I’m sad about, this is it. I’m not very happy about it and I’d rather not talk about it. All I’ll say is that it affects my romantic relationship a lot.
It’s a struggle to not project some of the difficulties I have with mum on my relationship. I’m always hyper-aware and any trait that I’ve seen before [in my mum], I’m quick to react to it. It’s hard because it puts me in a place where I start comparing similarities.
At the end of the day, I think I need therapy on that side.
I’m sorry. What gives you joy?
Helping people makes me happy. The opportunity to ease someone’s pain especially when it’s money related is very satisfying. Because I’ve been a recipient of kindness in the past and it’s satisfying to be able to pay kindness forward.
Like when I lost my brother…
Yeah…When I lost my brother, people I had just met in NYSC camp contributed money for the burial arrangements. I know how receiving kindness feels and that’s why I help others. It doesn’t matter if they know that I helped them or not. I also like to be dependable; for my people to know that they can rely on me.
Mahn. Who helps the helper? How do you get through difficult times?
I don’t think I have ever been in that place where there’s someone that can’t help me. I don’t believe that because you help people, there’s nobody to help you. It has never happened to me and I hope it never does. When I’m going through things, I reach out to friends and even some strangers.
I’ve learnt that people who help others struggle with asking for help. However, the older I get, the more I realise that I’m not alone. This has humbled me enough to reach out even though I know everyone is going through things. I have friends for different issues so that I don’t overwhelm one person.
I’m grateful for people because I think human beings are the greatest asset anybody can have. My prayer is to always be humble enough to remember that I’m not alone — especially when I’m going through a difficult phase — because difficulties make us feel like we are alone.
I feel you. Do people tell you to “act like a man?”
I can’t relate. I grew up learning to express myself, own my mistakes and make corrections. However, I don’t think it’s wrong to be strong as a human being because adversity can build character.
Cool. Is there something that has threatened your idea of what it means to be a man?
Ọmọ na relationship oh my brother.
Since we are now having conversations about equality, I’m beginning to see things. This whole idea of “being a man” self, what’s the point? A man is expected to choose his nuclear family over his own family that he grew up with. However [many times], when you switch the roles, you’ll start hearing crickets on the women’s side.
You’re told that you can’t choose your mother or father over your wife, but is it like that for women?
Also, what if I want to be a stay at home dad? Attend PTAs and take care of the kids? It begs the question: How much of this can the woman I want to marry accept? Let’s be honest, if you don’t make something out of yourself, no woman will love you. Forget all that come as you are talk.
The expectation as a man is that you’re meant to bear the entire burden. I really don’t want to bear the burden because I’m a man. It should be because I want to not because I have to. I have seen men sacrifice so much and not receive anything in return.
See, I’d like to be a plant instead.