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 Ayobami Dondekojo. He’s a comms and policy specialist and he talks about how he handles disappointments, his red flags in relationships and why men should live by a code of honour.
When did you get your first “I’m a man now” moment?
From a young age, I was independent. I felt I didn’t really need my parents to do anything. When I was in uni, my parents wanted me to live within the campus, but I got some money and rented a place off-campus. My apartment was spacious, so boys were always coming through, and I had to provide for them. Food, alcohol, weed, whatever were on me because my parents didn’t send me to have a large group of friends. My place quickly became a boys hostel. The sense of responsibility for others without having parents to ring up for help was my first real experience.
I know. It’s sad that we keep linking responsibility to being a man or whatever. It shouldn’t be but…
It is what it is?
While I don’t want to give masculinity a straitjacket definition, it can actually only be defined as responsibility. This doesn’t mean that other people are irresponsible or should be, but responsibility is the word that best describes being a man.
I feel you. What’s different about being a man in Nigeria?
Being a man in Nigeria is tough because of the traditional African structure. The entire world started out as hunter-gatherers and moved on, but in Nigeria, subsistence agriculture is still one of the biggest employers of labour. This makes life difficult because it means a lot of tasks are still down to brute force, which means more expectations for men.
We also don’t have generations of rich families who have moved on to making money off intellectual property. It’s either someone’s grandfather was a skilled hunter or warrior or farmer. So, history is still within reach about some great man in your family and this builds its own kind of expectations, especially when you’re trying to be progressive. All this makes it hard for men in Nigeria.
Heavy stuff. What gives you joy?
Work. I put my emotions into my work so when it turns out well, it’s joyful. I really like it when my work makes people say: “Who did that?” This applies to both praise and criticism. The feedback culture is good for me. The fact that you’re feeling something and not indifference is fine by me. Seeing progress in my life is another source of joy. It’s a happy thing when I can afford things I couldn’t afford last year without blinking.
But, if things don’t go my way, I retreat into a shell. I might sulk for a bit, but the comeback is usually the return of Abija. I plan my glory come back till the end so that when people think it’s over, I pull up to the scene like, “What’s good?” That usually shocks people into giving me some space.
How do your romantic partners take this retreat?
Not very good. But I guess that the end — making a comeback — justifies the means. They usually want to support me at that time, but I try to stay away because I don’t want to pass the baggage. To them, this feels like I don’t love or trust them enough. I guess I try to protect them even when they don’t ask for it.
When you bounce back, everyone joins the new bandwagon. You only look stupid when you retreat and there’s no visible progress after some time. As long as there’s progress, they’ll join the new bandwagon.
I’m curious: how do you handle heartbreaks?
It’s all about realism for me. I know that everyone is in something for something. So if it happens, it happens. I’ve had friends try to mock me over something that should have been sensitive, but I found it funny. My recent ex got married while I was out of the country and my friends tried to mock me. What they didn’t know was that we had broken up before I travelled, but it was still funny regardless. For me, when these things [heart breaks] happen, I’m like, I dodged a bullet.
Because it’s their loss at the end of the day. Also, I have one deal-breaker.
My red flag is people who don’t share food.
On a serious note, I think that you should just be kind because it comes back to haunt you whether positively or negatively.
Whats’s something you shamelessly spend money on?
Comfort. I try to be as comfortable as possible. If I go out and I don’t feel like driving home, I’m getting a hotel. It doesn’t matter how expensive that area is, I’m booking it. I also enjoy spending money on hosting my friends when they come around.
Where does one signup to be your friend?
It’s funny because I already have a group of tightly knit male friends. We share advice, money and even gigs. We also give honest opinions. When you’re down, they cover for you. When people say your secret is covered, that’s the context they mean.
Some people see the bro code as some patriarchal nonsense, but I think it’s important for men to live by some honour code. There should be well-defined lines for conduct and lines that you should never cross.
I tell people not to get lost trying to get into certain circles because you don’t know what the men there do for each other. It’s important to understand how the men run their things so you don’t come in feeling entitled.
Can I do I.T in you people’s WhatsApp group?