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 Ozzy Agu, an actor, MC and all-round entertainment legend. His definition of being a man revolves around family, brotherhood, and the occasional tears after losing a game of FIFA.
When did you get your first “you’re a man now” moment?
I remember being a struggling artist and one of my side jobs was tutoring high school students. It was an after school program called Tutors on Wheels where tutors travelled to the homes of student’s to teach them in the comfort of their homes. I’d just gotten paid one weekend and was out celebrating with my artist friends and after food and drinks, I paid for everyone. My friend Vallen who was seated next to me just muttered: “Damn Ozzy…that’s a man move.”
Even when we all were walking home, she’d just stop, look at me and say: “That was a man move”, and I couldn’t help but smile. It was a compliment. The gesture had made an impression because it was unexpected. Truth is I’d been working double shifts that month, so I could afford a stunt like that but it was a one-time thing. The moment just took over me.
Interesting. I think every man has a version of this story.
It’s funny how masculinity is tied to money and sacrifice. I also remember when I was 22 and working as a bank teller to help raise my university fees. At some point, something was off at home, so I gave my dad the money to cover for it. You know that moment when your father gives you a double-take? I didn’t want my action to be perceived as an insult but I also wanted to show that I could contribute now that I was working a bit. My father took notice.
There’s something about manliness that is external, that is, it has to be conferred on you by other men. In ancient tribes, young boys had to go through initiation rituals. For example, young men have to prove manliness through acts of bravery like vine bungee jumping in Pentecost Island.
In other cases, you had to do something that affected the life of the community – a sort of graduation from the community taking care of you to you taking care of the community. That’s one aspect of manhood I like.
Hmmm. One aspect I’m interested in is dealing with heartbreak: What do you remember about your first?
In my teenage years, I experienced one heartbreak I thought was the worst because I didn’t know sharper pain was to come. I was leaving the country and our lives were going in two different separations. However, the most devastating heartbreak was in my 20s. I was involved with an older woman and this one hit me gboa!
I got hives all over my chest; My immune system went completely haywire. I remember walking around aimlessly like a mad man and just moping. One day, I was doing my laundry at the laundromat and I just zoned out. I was sad from thinking about the person and the situation. A stranger had to ask if I was okay to snap me back to my senses. But the height was when I ran 22 laps for no reason.
For context, I used to run laps for exercise every morning or evening. On a regular run, I would go 4 laps for the day. On this particular day, the heartbreak hit me so much while running that I kept on telling myself to do one more lap. Then, I’d do it. A voice would tell me – “Do one more lap” – I’d do it. It was like something was chasing me until I ran around a circle 22 times.
E shock me. That’s when I realised the power of emotions. Only my closest friends knew about it; When it comes to pain for me, I retreat and heal in private. I try to make sense of what’s happening and regulate my emotions. Some people will say “Boys don’t cry” or “Men don’t cry.” I’m like “yeah, yeah, we do cry, just not in your presence. Don’t worry.”
We know who we cry to. A man in pain goes to a safe space he trusts.
True. Does this affect how you approach relationships – What are your red flags?
Well, for one when I make a mistake, I make it three more times to be sure. I had that phase where red flags were intriguing because I’d wonder what’s behind the behaviour. But those days are gone. These days, one of my deal breakers would have to be someone that I can’t negotiate with. If something happens and you guys are in a tough spot or something is on the line and she demands absoluteness from you — that is, they have to have their way all the time — ọmọ, run oh.
One funny one was one night like that, I was out at a live-music show with my then-girlfriend and her best friend. There had been tension between them for a while and it bubbled over that night with an argument. Since we were all friends and I knew how long their friendship was, I tried to play peacemaker by appealing to both parties. Omo, later that night, my babe was not happy with me. At all. She was upset I did not take her side. She wanted me to ride or die regardless of whether she was right or wrong.
It would have been a no brainer if we were dealing with an outsider, but this was her best friend; Who was also my friend. Complication upon complication.
I’m for the negotiation that challenges you to be a better person. Not the type where you cover up for each other by turning a blind eye. If someone deftly brings up aspects of your character that are lacking and genuinely wants you to improve, I like that.
You sound stress averse, how do you relax after a long day?
I first lie down for a good 30 mins to decompress. The next thing is a glass of wine or a cup of tea. Then Netflix and chill. Basically, it’s TV, wine and sleep. Maybe read a few pages of a book and play background music.
What’s the perfect drink?
The perfect drink depends on the mood. If you’re with a girl on a beach with the sun and sand, something with coconut rum might do the trick. But, the drink that made an impression on me and I mean hit me gboa is called Old Fashioned.
It was in a lowball glass and it had a perfectly circular ice cube; Liquid gold with a sliver of an orange peel. I took a sip and was like damn – what is this I am drinking? This is a man’s drink.[laughs]
Dead. What gives you joy?
Joy is scarce these days but when I connect with an audience as an artist – with their humanity – it brings a level of joy.
Also, the family brings me joy. My mum is retired so we take morning walks together. We have a lot of talks during our walks and it makes me happy. I had been travelling and moving around a lot and now that everything is grounded we talk more. I’m getting to see a deeper side to her. I’m learning about her childhood in Enugu so that bonding time brings me joy. Zoom calls with the siblings also excite me – We try to keep in touch.
Does anything scare you?
A lot of things scare me. Top of the list is unfulfilled potential. That pressure is why I sometimes have to break myself out of the negative self-talk. It ties again to pressure in this modern world because there are things you want to do but there are obstacles. Sometimes, you’re your own obstacle because you are distracted. Not reaching my full potential scares me.
Me too. How do you get through a bad day?
I have used this hack all my life and it hardly fails me. When I’m having a bad day, as it’s happening, I pull back and take deep breaths: like 10 -15 deep breaths where you can pull away from the stressors.
In addition to this, I also do positive self-talk. You don’t realize how much that voice playing and replaying in your head is doing to you. I only realized its power after a traumatic event. It’s like a broken record that just keeps repeating itself so you need to break the cycle in your head.
Sometimes I can’t do it by myself and I need a friend or family member to remind me that some of these things are not true and I’m just going through a tough time. I use positive self-talk to call myself to order and to remind myself to pay attention to the situation. An isolated incident doesn’t mean I’m a bad person completely or I am screwed up or I’m an idiot. There’s a difference between saying “This is the first time and I am a novice” and “I can’t do this.” One is giving up, the other is being patient with yourself and giving yourself time. I also add physical exertion like going for a run to clear my head; I just don’t run 22 laps anymore[laughs].
LMAO. What’s something people expect you to like but you don’t like?
Back in the 53 extra days, I used to go out a lot covering cool events in Lagos for Television. I’m highly extroverted and I love meeting people but I LOVE being a homebody. Maybe it’s because I’m in my 30s, but I like my bed and blanket and doing my little routines around the house. Somehow, people will be surprised that I can stay at home alone and be perfectly happy.
What do you think of the concept of the bro code?
The bro code gets a lot of bad rep and in certain instances, it’s well deserved. Sometimes, guys misbehave and they should be called out on their bad behaviour or called to order. Those are the negative aspects of the bro code. However, there are some positive aspects of the bro code that don’t harm other people.
That unshakeable sense of camaraderie between bros that confirms that these are your goons to the end is enough ginger to feel less alone in a cruel world. Especially when faced with complex difficulties that surprise you on a Tuesday morning.
You have to be able to call on your bros. Hopefully, you’ve surrounded yourself with a brotherhood of wise warriors that have your best interest. Brothers that will tell you this is where you were wrong, this is how you can remedy it, and we still got you. It’s a support system.
Bro code is not smashing all the girls, staying drunk, cheating this person, bullying that person. That’s not bro code; That’s debauchery. We don’t cover that kind of behaviour.
When was the last time you cried?
I lost 5 – 0 in FIFA.[laughs]
Editor’s note: Ozzy recently starred in the movie Lost Okoroshi which is streaming on Netflix. You should absolutely watch it!