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.
Today’s Man Like subject is Akindare, a 30-year-old content strategist. He tells us about growing to fill the void left by his father, attending four universities and navigating vulnerability.
When did you first realise you were a man?
I suppose I’d say when I was eight or nine years old. Back then, I had my own keys to the house. My mother was practically a working single mother because my dad was hardly involved, so I had to come home from school myself. This went on until we were thrown out of the house because my father spent the rent my mother had given to him.
Yeah. My mom was the one with a steady job and she had barely saved up enough to make rent. She handed it over to my pops to pay, as per African tradition. He blew the money and we were evicted.
My parents were married for six years. As far as their relationship was concerned, the eviction was the last of many straws that broke the camel’s back. He was around after, but we weren’t really a family again.
My dad was a fucking piece of work o. He womanised, hit my mom, was hardly ever present — all kinds of anyhowness. When they got married, my mom was a housewife. She ran a shop where she sold foodstuff. Then my dad lost his job and couldn’t secure another, so she closed her shop and found a civil service job to fend for my baby sister and me. She’d pay our school fees and give my dad the credit.
After they split up, she started to open up to me about things and talk to me like I was an adult. She’d tell me everything going on between her and my dad, and in those moments, I felt like I had stepped up to fill the space my dad left.
I remember going with my mom to her office and all her colleagues would hail me “ọkọ mummy e,” “The man of the house.” I had the kind of independence I don’t imagine many kids at that age would have had. At the time, I didn’t know I was being a man; I just knew there was a void and I was being groomed to fill it.
Wow. Your parents split up after the rent incident?
Yes, though that was going to be the first of many splits. When he left the house, it was basically just me and my mom. There were short periods of time where he’d come back to live with us, but they were separated from when he got us evicted. It took almost one year for my mom to raise money for us to rent again.
Do you have any fond memories of your dad?
People say I hardly talk about my dad but that’s just because there’s nothing to talk about. I don’t know the nigga, he doesn’t know me. The faintest bit of memory I have of him was when I was younger and he’d take me to Quranic school because he was a Muslim. Even when he was around, we never had much to talk about.
It annoys me when people ask me to invest in our relationship because “family is family, blood is blood” and all that shit. That ship has sailed, I’m 30 fucking years old. He should be the one hustling to be in my life, not the other way round. There’s nothing I’m getting out of this. If he had one money or connection, maybe I would be hustling for his affection. But as it is, there’s no upside for me. If he makes an effort, why not?
Interesting. Do you think his absence shaped your character?
Honestly, I don’t have a problem with him. Do I wish that he was present and he did everything better? Yes. But am I mad he wasn’t there? Not anymore. Because eventually, it all turned out fine without him. My mom’s doing okay, my sister is finding her way. The only thing I might hold against him is that life was much harder than it should have been. The hardship also helped build my character and the type of man I am today. His whole existence taught me how not to be a man. It taught me problem-solving skills as I had to be independent early on. All those struggles were beneficial in some way.
Ultimately, his absence means I’ve grown independent. I learned to solve problems myself. I love my mother, but I’ll have to be dying before asking her for help.
Wow. You were quite self-sufficient.
Yeah. I went to a military boarding school. After that, I went to four different universities where I mostly fended for myself. Shout out to my mom, she did what she could but
N15k is not a lot of money when you’re in a private uni for a whole month. I was already running some small businesses – being a middleman, reselling clothes, writing gigs here and there, promoting parties.
Four universities? How did that happen?
I gained admission into the University of Ilorin. In my second year, some lecturer had problems with me because I was with some babe he had his eyes on. He failed me twice. My mom even came to the school to beg him, but he refused. My mother was like, “You know what? Pack your things. There’s no point wasting your time here.”
Next, I went to Ajayi Crowther University. In my second year again, there was a riot in school because someone died. Parts of the school were burnt down and the school was closed. When school resumed, they hiked up the fees and my mother couldn’t afford it anymore. Again, I left.
At this point, I was tired of writing JAMB, so I went to the Benin Republic. I spent some time at Oudegebe North American University, but every so often, they’d lose accreditation for their courses. At this point, I was only going to school because of my mom. She was so insistent that no matter what, I had to get a degree. She kept me going.
I left Oudegebe University and went to Ecole Superieure Sainte Felicite University, also in Benin, where I got my degree in IT Management in 2015.
Interesting. What’s your job like?
I work in editorial strategy and comms for an international non-profit organization that’s dedicated to ending world poverty by 2030. My job is colourful. On some days, I’m a journalist investigating stories, doing interviews, analysis, research etc. On some days, I’m doing corporate communications like writing emails to be sent to CEOs and governments. On some other days, I’m a copywriter working on decks and presentations. On other days, I’m a strategist, thinking about how to pass a message across or campaign on an issue. I enjoy my work here knowing that story I covered or an article I wrote can affect one or two people in a positive way is super powerful to me.
I also run a consulting company where we do marketing comms, brand management, content marketing etc.
Based on your experience, I’m curious about what you think of toxic masculinity.
Like a lot of concepts, people interpret it differently. I think toxic masculinity is many ideas that aren’t beneficial to men but which men seem hell-bent on perpetuating. For example, not being able to be vulnerable or talk about your feelings. The aversion to talking about feelings and labelling feelings as feminine is what I define as toxic masculinity.
Has anything threatened your idea of what you consider toxic masculinity?
I grew up around a lot of women and my idea of masculinity is not really influenced by a regular Nigerian man’s idea of what masculinity is. Like crying, for example.
Interesting. When was the last time you cried?
I think that was in January. I don’t cry a lot, but I was going through a lot in my personal life — my relationships, family, job — it was just a lot. I like to think I’m a sensitive person but not much of a crier. It’s not a lack of vulnerability, I just don’t express my emotions that way.
Do you have any fears?
One of my biggest fears is not being able to afford a comfortable life. I just want to be able to afford the things that give me joy. Because of my childhood, being pensive about money stresses me out so much. I hate having to borrow or scramble for money to afford what I want. Imagine I’m 40 and broke? It’s why I’m always trying to acquire new skill sets and work in all kinds of places. I just want to be able to give myself, my mom and my people a decent life.