I grew up in a strongly mixed belief system. My dad was and is still deeply cultural. He holds on tightly to the beliefs in which he was brought up. So, I had and still have my own share of experiencing what it’s like to have an African dad. The “when I was your age”, “back in the days” and several other clauses that would eventually kickstart another long walk into history. My mom, on the other hand, is deeply spiritual. I grew up seeing my mom pray in tongues for me while I was sleeping, going to school or doing anything at all. Deeply peaceful, introspective, likes her space, has few friends, willing to be vulnerable, very organized and conservative. So, I come from a family with deep roots in both culture and religion.
I’m sharing this personal information to help you grasp the concept of this post more.
I grew up as the young boy that everyone loved. I was brilliant (always topped the class), was sweet to be around with, and quite handsome. I thought that was all I needed to live a life; the limitless one I had always dreamt of until society supposedly handed the outline over to me. If it were to have a title, no doubt, it would be; “How to be a man; A real man” and these would be the contents.
As a man, you should not cry, or show any sign of emotion at all as this would show you off as weak.
You shouldn’t ask for help, even if you were drowning: don’t you know that asking for help is equal to losing your masculinity?
You should have a baritone voice: not too deep else you might be taken for a player, yet, not too soft because only women should have soft voices. Just baritone.
You should watch football, never read novels, should be able to carry 50kg of rice without blinking an eyelid and be strongly aggressive.
The book will outline the list of jobs recommended for a man and the ones a man should not even think of because it is meant for their female counterparts.
Yellow, Red and Pink should not be found in a man’s wardrobe or anywhere near a man. In fact, why should you even care about colours; white, black and grey should be all you need.
You can’t be deeply religious as a man. Those things are meant for females. Just a few minutes of daily prayer would do.
You should never cry even if your legs get chopped off in slow procession right before your eyes. Tears were built for females.
You should watch movies like 300, Gladiator, Die-Hard, Commando and the likes. Boys over flowers should be alien to you.
You should have muscles! Maybe not as hefty as The Rock’s but you are definitely not complete without muscles that looked nicely shaped in your T-shirts.
Until thou fulfilleth all of these and more, thou shalt not be called a real man.
But, here I was, frail looking, soft-hearted, never had a baritone voice (I still don’t and don’t think I will), book-freak (part of which attracted me more towards the female folk). Football was something I couldn’t even play to save my life because I felt it was a rough game, energy draining and quite boring.
The only thing that probably validated me, outwardly was that I had beards and I owe this to the fact that I am quite hairy. But, that joy didn’t even last long as my dad would eventually force me to cut them off because according to him “responsible men don’t keep beards” (another standard, Sigh!).
I didn’t add that like many other manly guys, I didn’t really cry to physical pain but I did cry and showed a lot of emotions whenever things appeal to my core. Would throw tantrums when I’m angry, cry after a really emotional movie, cry a few times during worship in church, cry when I missed someone, said I love you when I did love someone and I meant it, cry when I passed an exam or received a very valuable gift, giving hugs were part of my default setting.
It appeared that I had passed all the laid down requirements except the last few. So, I tried. I tried to like football, but it got me several injuries. I tried so hard to be familiar with football by memorizing the Top 11 of my football club at the time – Chelsea. In a bid to sound a bit more baritone, I worked on my voice the whole time. My dad did not make things better: he also had his criteria and although, I was doing fine. I just wasn’t doing fine enough.
Then labels came and the ones who were kind enough called me “ajebota” other labels like “boy-girl” and the many others I can’t remember now, were things I got familiar with, over time. For a young boy my age, that meant so many things. It meant I couldn’t walk into some circles without being looked down on, I could not fully express my opinion(s) because people with labels such as mine were regarded as aliens. Hence, I decided to find a solution. This seemed like it would never end.
That was a time of my life when I slipped into deep thought very easily and “Help I am not a man” became not just a random chatter but, an in-depth longing. I really longed to be a man; at least, by the societal standards. To be accepted by people and verified as a man. I tried. Then, I got affiliated with Google. And like anyone who searches for things that are not missing, I found things I wasn’t prepared to encounter.
It took me a few years after living in the trauma of wanting to be a man so hard to understand that Being a man isn’t performance based. I am a man and whether or not I conform to societal ideals of who a man should be, it doesn’t make me less of a man. That was the deliverance I had desired for so long. Truth is, it was more than a point. It was a process of re-orientating myself towards living in my design and be comfortable in my skin.
The idea that a man has to do x, y and z things to prove that he is a man is one that is deeply ingrained into the fabric of every Nigerian as soon as you were born. I have seen male toddlers been screamed out when they cried out loud because, according to them, men should not cry. Toddlers who know nothing about the world they were born into.
For all you know, we weren’t born to fit into already existing stereotypes. We were born to be free, to explore, to be unique, to soar, To LIVE.
When next you meet someone: someone different from you. Don’t be in a hurry to put labels. For if we were all the same, then wherein lies the beauty of life? On this journey, I have met men, men like me.
By the way, I now keep my beard for as long as I want to. Talk however I deem fit. Cry when I want to, laugh as loud as I can, scream when in shock and shout when my passion reaches the peak. And I must say that I am still getting better.
Now, when I am challenged with statements like that, I sigh! I sigh because I’m confused as to where to start from with such an individual. Most times I ignore completely. That you grew up under some certain conditions doesn’t validate that method as the only way to raise a man
I have learnt to love God and more importantly accept his love for me: that, in itself empowered me to love the man I am becoming. I have stopped trying to be a man, I have stopped trying to make people see my masculinity. I am a man and I am not bothered by your idea of what a man should or shouldn’t do. There isn’t one way to be a man.
Drop the societal pressure. Let men, be men!