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’s “Man Like” is Jeremiah Oputa. Jerry tells us about how his father’s death made him more aware of becoming a “man.” And how the incident fostered a new relationship between him and his mum. He also tells us about the friendship encounter that changed his mindset from not wanting friends to discovering the beauty of friendships. Additionally, he talks about how men can be both masculine and effeminate and uses himself [who people consider an alpha male] as an example.
Everyone gets their “Man Like’ moment. When did you get yours?
For me, it was a series of moments. The first time I felt like “Oh my God I’m a man” was when I was 13 years old and had my first wet dream. I was like, “I can get someone pregnant now.” The second time was when I turned 18, and I told myself that I was old enough to go to jail. The third and most profound time was when I lost my father —this was shortly after school — I was like, yeah, okay. My father’s absence made me suddenly feel an immense responsibility towards myself and my mother.
Oh wow. I’m sorry.
Well, my dad had been ill for the longest time — I watched his illness progress from my time in school until graduation — so I dealt with his death with a certain preparedness for his departure. I remember him being so bedridden that he couldn’t attend my graduation.
After his death, I didn’t get to mourn until a year later. I didn’t cry at any point prior to his funeral or anything. But a year later, I was having these vivid dreams about my dad that looked like he was really back, then I’d wake up to see that he was not there. I never wanted to wake up because there was a crushing emptiness that followed these kinds of dreams.
The most “annoying” part was that I wasn’t trying to be a hard guy and suppress my emotions the year before — I strongly subscribe to feeling your emotions as they come — it’s just that tears didn’t come until a year later when the dreams hit me, and I was crying for six months straight.
I’m so sorry. After events like this, I wonder if people ever find joy again. Did you?
My friends give me joy. It’s funny because growing up, I was raised not to keep friends. Thankfully, I learned early the value of having genuine friends who are present in my life. The ability to lift another person out of an immediate crisis is another thing that gives me joy, and that’s why I’ve decided to be rich. Overall, I try not to confuse joy with the fleeting emotion called happiness. I also don’t chase joy or happiness but instead, I accept whatever emotions come to me. Once I feel joy, I feel it to the fullest and vice versa.
Love it. What changed your mind about friendships?
My friend, Pelumi. I think we were neighbours in 100 level, and he’d come to visit me every day. I remember being upset because he’d stay for hours. In my mind, I was like, “Why is this boy disturbing me?” I wasn’t the most hospitable person; I still don’t understand why he stayed. The turning point in our interaction came in the second semester. I had given up on physics because I didn’t read or attend any classes for it. However, Pelumi encouraged me to attend some tutorial for two days which I did. I ended up getting an A in physics.
In retrospect it was a small thing, but it meant everything to me. Without Pelumi, I may not have easily crossed over from Unilag to Idi-Araba to study medicine. With my little understanding of friendship at the time, I was like, this boy has proven his worth to me. Now that I’m more enlightened about friendships, I know that there’s nothing he has to do to prove his worth because it’s an honour to do anything for him. Through him, I’ve met more beautiful people who are responsible for so much in my life.
I’m not crying. You are.
What scares you?
I’m a risk-taker so being poor scares me. However, it’s not a debilitating fear neither do I think the fear is as real as my exaggeration of it. I feel every state can be as temporary as it can be permanent; even if I become poor, it won’t be forever. I also fear being in a relationship where na manage we dey manage. Then, I fear being forgotten. Not by people but by my own self. I don’t want to look in the mirror and not remember who I used to be or who I am anymore because I’ve gotten lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life; just another cog in the machine contributing to the senselessness of the rhythm.
Marcus Aurelius aburo Seneca, pls.
Do you think the fear of change will limit some of your growth?
I believe the self is ever-changing, but I also believe that there’s a primary self highlighted by kindness, empathy etc. The change I’m scared of is one that results in loss of virtue and principle. I remember there was a time I stopped giving beggars alms because I had gone through some hardship during that period. One time I had money, I completely ignored this little child that had been chasing me on the road. Along the way, I turned back and asked myself: “What has become of you? Is life that hard? Even if this little boy is scamming you, you can’t allow him?” I believe that kindness regardless of the end goal of the person you’re helping helps to keep your heart tender. You can’t help people without caring.
I’m curious about your relationship with your mum these days.
My relationship with my mum is getting better. Because my mum and I didn’t have a lot of intimate moments, my relationship with my dad was the better one. With my dad’s passing, I realised the vacuum in the relationship between my mum and I. However, I’m trying my best and we’re talking more — that we’ve even spoken up to 15 times this month is shocking. I’m hopeful that we’ll get better.
Love it. From your experience, how would you raise your kids differently?
Oh God. I’m not even sure I want kids. Raising children is hard — I saw how my father’s life became manure for mine. A lot of his energy was spent making sure that I was in the most comfortable position he could provide. Naturally, this involved letting himself completely go for me. I became his new life goal and dream, and this both gave me joy and put me under pressure [I deserved and welcomed the pressure]. I fear, like my father, I would pour myself into my kids, and I fear resentment. People don’t talk about it, but you can love your kids so much and you can also resent them, especially if they don’t live up to the potential you deem them capable of. If I were interested in the topic, I’d try not to force my identity on them but since I’m not…
Fuck them kids.
Tell me about your first heartbreak.
I think I was 16/17, and I was sure that the person I was dating at the time was going to be my wife. Lol. That’s how at the beginning of second semester, she told me she was travelling outside the country to continue her education. To prevent failing my exams, I broke up with her mid-semester. That was the most painful thing I’ve ever done to myself. I remember crying myself to sleep every night while listening to Impossible. My routine was to cry, skip classes and stare at a wall in my hostel. I made a mess of the entire situation and ended up not talking to her again. Anytime I feel bad, I remember that I at least passed my second semester exam.
What are your red flags in romantic relationships?
The first one is entitlement. Of course my babe is entitled to some things — my time, not all of it, but a decent amount that ensures that she knows that I love her. She’s also entitled to affection. However, she’s not entitled to my money. I’ll spend on her freely and of my own accord. In the same vein I’m not entitled to her money but because of love and affection we give each other freely. I believe that you can give without loving but you can’t love without giving.
Pls love me so you can give me money.
Another red flag for me is manipulation. Once I see that you’re trying to emotionally manipulate me into agreeing that you’re right or accepting I’m wrong, I’ll resent you. I prefer a partner that uses logic to disprove my point over one that uses tears as a strategy. Crying makes me uneasy and also makes me feel robbed of my power to freely express myself. The last red flag is an unwillingness to change — team this is how I am.
I’m curious about your definition of masculinity.
Masculinity is masculinity. It’s also the state of being a man. I have a good degree of femininity within myself as well as masculinity, and it’s a freeing experience to be able to switch between both. I don’t do a lot of traditionally masculine things, but I’m heavy on the gym and I have a strong alpha male personality.
I also like to dance and a major part of my routine is whining my waist. People have suggested that I’m gay and waist whining is effeminate, but I like it. Ever since Primary 4 when my sister taught me how to dance Shakira, I have been whining my waist. In addition to the dancing, my sister used to make me up and wear earrings. I liked it because it made me feel pretty.
Ahan, pretty boy.
Lmao. I think that masculinity should not preclude expressions of femininity.
You can be masculine and effeminate within the same body. It’s not like I’m seeking to validate the effeminate part of myself but whenever it finds expression — sometimes by the flicking of my wrist or batting of eyelids — I welcome it.
Interesting. Has anything ever threatened your masculinity?
Nothing actually. All I’ll say is that not everyone is sold on the idea that a guy can be effeminate. And as far ideologies are concerned, there can be no one consensus over the definition of masculinity. If I say a man can be both masculine and effeminate and another man says a man should be only masculine, there’s no guarantee that one person is more correct than the other. I generally think we should embrace the live and let live. As far as it’s not harming anyone, we should be tolerant of differing opinions.
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