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 for today’s “Man Like” is William. He’s a husband, father and entrepreneur. He talks about being scared of old age, the benefits of contentment and why a supportive partner is everything.
What was it like growing up?
I had everything on a platter of gold to an extent because Popsi worked in an oil servicing company before he retired. My primary school was okay. In secondary school, I was fine. When I entered university, I was on a Mobil scholarship, so money was never an issue. Even NYSC was smooth. It was post-NYSC, when I got married, that things started to hit me.
I had my “I’m now a man” moment.
Haha. I want to hear about it.
Before marriage, I was a YO man. That’s what you young people call OYO these days — On Your Own. Let me give you context. As a corper, I was being paid ₦21,000 as a pharmacist. I was also earning a ₦7,500 allowee. This was at a time where my mates were earning ₦6,000 monthly. I had scholarship money saved up from university and had also done the mandatory one-year internship for pharmacists, where I made more money. While my mates were taking buses to their NYSC camps, I was catching flights.
So, I was making money, saving and spending mainly on myself. When I decided to settle down and start a family, it hit me that I had to carefully make major decisions because it was no longer only me.
Marriage became the difference between seeing and buying a nice tennis shoe I’d eventually dash out and telling myself to save. When a baby came into the picture, I had to buckle up.
It wasn’t easy the first time my wife told me a tin of SMA Gold had finished under two weeks. I was like, we have to buy another one? That was when I knew it was not child’s play. I had to be a man or else I’d run into money issues. Although I was fortunate that my wife was employed; it made the “pressure” easier. But you know how it is na. You don’t want to start sharing responsibilities that early. You don’t want to say you buy this, while I buy other things. You still want to say, “Don’t worry, don’t worry, I’ll handle it.” But that was before oh, now that things have hit hard, omo, we are sharing this thing. I can’t come and kill myself.
How did you decide your wife was “the one”?
In the past, my criteria used to be physical appearance. I painted an ideal picture growing up — complexion, height, accent, physique. As I got older, I realised that beyond looks, manners are important.
I can’t stand bad manners and people who aren’t respectful. I also don’t believe a person will change in marriage. At least, not unless they decide to. For me, I looked at the criteria I wanted and screened people for them. I won’t say because you have a fine face let me go ahead and marry you. It won’t work because it’s for better or for worse.
I’m with you.
Another thing I looked out for was some measure of financial independence. You see all those people you meet and haven’t dated but they are already telling you about their sick parent or bad phone, I avoid them. I was fortunate to meet someone who fits into what I wanted.
Single people are shaking.
I’ll be honest with you, there’s no 100% person. Not you, not your spouse. What I was looking for was cut down to let’s say 70% because I wanted someone tall. However, as I grew older, I realised that the only thing that matters is that your partner gives you peace of mind. Every other thing is an addition.
You can’t see me, but I’m furiously jotting down.
I was going to ask: what scares you?
Two things scare me. The first is poverty. Not being able to afford what I want is a major fear for me because I’ve come from a background where I was able to get anything. At least, most things.
Recently, I’ve seen myself wanting a few things and checking my balance to say, “No you can’t afford this.” Some people out there look at me as someone comfortable, but I still look at myself when I want to get something. These days, I’m asking myself questions like, “Is it necessary? Is it a need?”
I ask myself how will I survive if I don’t have money, to the point where my kids will ask for something and I can’t give it to them or I have to ask people to help me pay school fees for my kids? That scares me.
My other fear is old age. I fear that a time will come when I wouldn’t be able to take a step without fidgeting especially when I get up from the bed to urinate. I’m not even scared of death. I don’t want to be dependent on people.
I saw my dad go through that. Sometimes Popsi would tell me he’s going to ease himself and before he gets to the restroom, he’d have done it on himself. They used to call my dad baby boy when he was younger because he could jump around and he was the life of the party. All of a sudden, old age made him into something else. Kudos to my mum because I know what she went through.
I don’t look forward to it because I don’t want to be a liability.
Mahn. What now gives you joy?
If you consider Nigeria’s wahala, you’ll look for joy and not find oh.
On a more serious note, apart from my family, looking inwards gives me joy. My joy is not based on the external. I’ve learned not to place my joy in material things because it’ll break your heart. I’m armed with the knowledge that I have a measure of good health.
At least for now. I find joy in my sound health because I know I can leverage on opportunities when they come. A measure of belief and spirituality also gives me joy. Spirituality is a belief, and it’s a major source of joy for a lot of people. Having something you believe in makes tough times easier to handle.
Interesting. Tell me about a time placing your faith in material things broke your heart.
After my NYSC year, I didn’t practise as a pharmacist. Instead, I got a job at the bank. Fast forward a couple of years later, I left the job.
I left with a lot of hope. I was telling myself that in two years, I’d set up a retail pharmacy and blow. I put all of my hope into it. After a year plus, I realised it didn’t give me what I was looking for. Also, I lost a lot of money.
I dusted myself and re-invested in another pharmacy business which is currently threading the path of the first one. I also remember at some point in my life, I used to think that once I got something, I’d be made for life. Especially when I wanted my job at the bank. And guess what? After getting some of them, I didn’t stop seeking for more. It left me wanting more and more. All of these are material things.
That’s why politicians keep stealing billions. The money doesn’t give them the kind of joy they’re searching for. It plunges them into a further search for joy and happiness. I live every day as it comes. I tell myself today is a beautiful day, and I want to be happy. Joy, happiness, all these things are a personal decision.
Has anything threatened your new mantra?
Sometimes when life gives you what you don’t expect, it reduces your ego, your masculinity. Men believe what makes them men is their spending power. To comfortably boast and say, “Do you know who I am?” And be able to back it up. But when you watch businesses fail in front of you, it’s easy to feel less of a man.
One day, my wife looked at me and said, “You’re feeling moody these days.” I was like, I don’t know what the problem is. She looked at me and said: “You’re thinking about money right?” I just smiled. Unconsciously, even if you want to be tough, these things have a way of getting to you.
I’m sorry. How have these things changed you as a person?
Life is weird because you never know when it’ll give you that hard knock, especially in Nigeria. What makes you a man is that when you get the knock, you don’t stay down. You have to keep trying and hoping something works. There’s a time for everything and if your “time” doesn’t come, you have to ask yourself: “Are you happy?”
I want you to answer the question. Are you happy?
What are the things that make you happy?
Contentment. If I have a CRV and it’s taking me to where I want to go, I’m fine with it. This doesn’t mean I’ll not hustle for more. But I’ll ask myself: do I have a car? Yes. Does it do what I want? Yes. Why do I want a better one? — is it because I envy someone driving a better car?
While doing my best, I must be content with where I am right now. I must also carry the hope that I’ll be better. Things will be better. For me, this is better than jumping the gun and looking for money at all costs. If I’m content, I’ll be happy. My new definition of masculinity involves learning to be a simple man.
Lit. How’s your wife taking all this?
Remember that time she asked if I was thinking about money? I smiled and didn’t say anything. She told me not to worry, that the current financial situation wasn’t a big deal. Having a partner that tells you not to worry during a tough time is a blessing. When I heard her soothing voice, I was like, it’s all good. We’re in this together. It’ll pass.