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 is Nonso Egemba popularly known as Aproko Doctor. He’s a doctor, an actor, and health communications specialist. He talks about sacrifices made for him growing up, the new wave of broken men, and navigating male friendships as a married man.
Tell me the first time it struck you that you were now “a man”?
Immediately after university. I come from a family of three siblings and a lot of sacrifices were made for me to attend university — my mum sold ogi and Akara to see me through medical school.
I’d watch her fan smoke for fire and be sad because I knew the hazard. However, knowing the hazard is one thing, putting food on the table is another. In fact, during school breaks, I’d help out with fetching firewood and selling akara.
One of my biggest worries at the time was that none of my classmates should come to buy Akara. So that it’d not scatter my rep in school. Thankfully, I was good all through.
The moment I finished medical school, the demands [for money] kept coming. At some point, I was like, I have to jazz up. One of the things that hit you hard as a man in this part of the world is that most men are expected to provide. I’m not saying it’s not expected from women, but it’s almost as if the burden is more on men. A lot of us tend to judge our effectiveness from the angle of “am I able to provide for the people I care about?”
As I was finishing school, I knew that I couldn’t joke around anymore. I just had to make it work.
Mahn. That’s heavy.
See, all I’m trying to do is to run faster than poverty. I never want to experience it again.
What’s something poverty does that’s difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it?
The constant lack changes you because to get something, you have to sacrifice another. That mindset is something that stays with you. Even when you escape poverty, you have to keep fighting it. For many people, something as simple as buying bottled water is mundane. But, if you had my kind of background, in some part of your head, you’re thinking, that’s five sachets of pure water.
Every day is a constant battle against that mentality — I tell myself that I’m no longer that person. I also remind myself that “problem no dey finish, try dey enjoy.”
A movement I endorse. What gives you joy?
Top of the list is seeing my parents happy. When I give them gifts and help them solve issues, it feels like their sacrifices were not in vain.
Another thing is impacting people’s lives. Only a few people know how my Twitter threads have changed people’s lives. I remember someone who saw a thread on how to save a choking baby. When her baby was choking, she followed the steps and it saved her baby. Things like that show me I’m making a change in the world and my work [health advocacy] is not in vain.
Ahan, Superman dey disguise.
[haha] Video games also make me happy. I’m a fan of Call of Duty any day, any time. Once I pick up my rifle, I just go bam bam bam.
Lmao. I’m curious: what’s your definition of masculinity?
There’s a picture of Atlas carrying the world on his head — that’s the picture of masculinity I have in my head. Men are, first of all, pillars. A good society rests on the shoulders of men.
Men protect, provide and nurture. I cringe to see standards that try to default men to a background role. I feel that if you take away from what men are supposed to be, you’ve destroyed that particular man. It’s almost as if we now have men who apologise for being men. I’m not talking about anything bad. I’m talking about taking charge, which is ingrained in boys from childhood. As kids, if there was a reason to climb the burglary proof or fridge, nine out of ten times, it’d usually be the boy child who would.
When men shy away from taking charge by nurturing and providing, then we have problems. You can’t be nurturing a woman and be beating her up. You can’t be a pillar in her life and abuse her. It’s almost as if we have a generation of broken men in society who think taking charge involves brute force.
The world has moved on; use your brain. It’s not a competition because no one is trying to take manhood from you. It’s only when men are insecure that they need to show their masculinity. When statements are made to reinforce masculinity, it’s usually closely related to violence — “do you know who I am?” “I will show you today that I’m a man.” Before you know it, there’s a slap or a blow.
No, there are other ways to show masculinity.
Interesting. Has anything ever threatened your idea of masculinity?
My wife is 6’1” and I’m 5’10”. Initially, people would say things like, “how you wan take climb your wife?”
It almost started getting to me. But then, being a man is not about muscle mass. Yes, many men have more muscle mass than women, but if that’s the basis of your masculinity, then you are a very fragile man. What if you get paralysed from the neck down? Does that mean you’re no longer a man? I’ve had to ensure that “being a man” is not based on how well or how tall I look. When I look at my wife, I trip all over again. Abeg my babe fine, see as she just tall like shege.
Lmao. What are some things you wish you knew before getting married?
No matter how much you love a person, they’ll annoy you. Many things will annoy you: the way they chew food, the way they drop stuff, the way they use toothpaste. And it goes both ways. Marriage teaches tolerance because you’re sharing your life with someone from a different background. It requires a lot of unlearning, relearning and compromise.
Another thing is understanding that when you argue, face the problem and not the person. When you attack the person, you end up missing the problem.
I’m jotting things. What’s a relationship deal-breaker for you?
Someone whose ideology of marriage is “I just want to be relaxed and be taken care of.”
Will I take care of you? Yes.
But if you don’t want to work, I don’t want to be with you. As a result of my background, I have the mentality of getting things done. I don’t want someone comfortable with sitting down and waiting for things to come to them. I want someone who’s also a dreamer and wants to be more than what they are right now. I don’t want someone whose only identity is “wife.” I want my wife to win in her sphere so that we’ll both be powerful.
Ahan. The Carters.
I’m curious. Do you have close male friends? Has marriage affected your friendship with them?
Yes, I have two. Sorry, I mean I had two because one passed on recently.
Wow. I’m sorry.
He was my best friend. Sometime this year, I got a call that he slept and didn’t wake up. When I heard the news, I didn’t cry because hard man, hard man.
It was two days later when it fully hit me that my friend was gone that I cried the kind of cry that had catarrh running down my nose.
I’m so sorry.
Back to your question. When I feel down because things in my life aren’t working out the way I think they’re supposed to, I call my friends… friend.
I call and rant and he’ll be quiet, listening. When I’m done, he gives me that back to reality talk — that it’s not as bad as it looks, which is true because we overestimate the importance of things. It helps to have someone that brings you back to reality.
It also helps that I’m married to an amazing person.
I’m lucky to have someone secure enough to know that talking to my friend doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have a place in my life. When I’m on the phone discussing issues with my friend, she understands that we’re having a man moment.
She also understands that I’m calling because I want a man’s perspective on the issue. And that’s something she can’t give no matter how much she loves me. I like that she doesn’t try to be everything for me in one person. She knows she can’t. I respect her by making sure that there’s nothing that they [friends] know that she doesn’t know about.
Is there space in the marriage?
Nah. It’s just the two of us.
Lmao. Tell me something you’re grateful for.
Many things. One is that I can take care of my mum; she no longer has to expose herself to the smoke from frying. I’m glad that her effort was not in vain.