The whole world said June Sunday the 19th was Father’s Day, and different emojis flew into my social media space from biological and non-biological wards, from students I taught twenty, thirty years ago, from social media ‘off-springs. ‘Thanks for all that you have been to me’, one wrote. There was sour grape too. One father observed: which one is this again, bringing me more expenses? It’s Father’s Day I will still be the one to take them out, just as I did on Mother’s Day and Children’s Day! Hahahaha!
I didn’t grow up with the tradition of observing Father’s or Mother’s Day. Father was father, papa really. And Mother was mama, you know. Duty. Social responsibility. Provision of everything. Meeting all our needs from a modest civil servant’s income. It was a given. It was part of me, of us. The man in the house called the shots in a firm way but also ensured that we were comfortable within his means. What he could not afford now, he promised to get us later. And he did. Somehow, we knew our limits. We never asked for the moon. From deed and action, Papa taught us how to be a father, a dad, a friend. Friend? That came later, that is, after A ’Levels success and he bought me a beer at 18! I was dizzy after a glass. But a beer from Papa would not harm me, the same man who never spared the rod if I as much broke any of the rules of engagement like going to play football without permission! But all of this prepared me for fatherhood! To be a father by example…
I was 27 when I became a father. And a dad. That early morning in the hospital when I bore my tall thin baby girl in my arms, I stared at her for hours, wondering abut the beauty of a human being that had come out of my loins, my very first, (beginning of my strength’, the bible says) how the experience would change my life, how I would always have to reckon with three persons thenceforth, how I would have to ensure that she was fed regularly no matter how expensive baby formula was and how I would care for her no matter the circumstances. I had always wanted a girl, having come from an immediate family of seven boys and two girls, one five years older and the other six years younger, and how that deprived me of a close relationship with a girl at home. Odd, isn’t it? But that was it.
I also peered into the future, what I would do, what I wouldn’t do, and what direction I would give, religious, philosophical, spiritual, moral, and perhaps political. Sound education was a given. To pay fees for her through school without seeking support from my wife a given. But I did not foresee the world which she came into later as things began to tumble, as salaries were delayed, or withheld when ASUU was on strike, when our Take Home Pay could Not Take us Home, when inflation hit the roof, when the purchasing power of the naira took a terrible nose dive, or when herdsmen came into the narrative, when I ordered her to return home to Nigeria from the UK after an MSc to be able to meet a spouse and marry, how I changed my mind and asked my children to live anywhere in the world after my abductors threatened to kidnap my kids so I would be released from their custody to look for ransom money to free myself! That was not part of my vision!
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Fatherhood was trying. Stressful sometimes. Did you worry about school fees sometimes? About what they would wear? About taking them to and bring them back from school, supervising homework, organizing private coaching, preparing them for entrance into secondary school and later JAMB examinations? And they passed the examinations. There was happiness. Sense of achievement. Accomplishment. So, fatherhood was joyful too. How could, how should a father from a conservative home handle ‘tabooed sexuality subjects’ with a child of the modern age? It was a tough question! Push some to the mother? Allow her to discover some?
So, it was that as I journeyed through the walls of education as a teacher, I encountered many students who made me a father, boys and girls who said daddy was absent in their lives, they didn’t know what it was like to have a father, how to bring a child into the world was not everything, how to provide material things was not fatherhood, how being an aggressive male in the house destroyed anything about fatherhood. And in a Creative Writing class, I asked my students to describe their relationship with their father and one of them broke down inconsolably as others wrote, and how she said the only thing about her father she knew was his photograph because he died when she was two or three. Or was it before she was born? I don’t remember now. But there were no dry eyes in the class of twenty-five that day when her experience of a no-dad hit the class, especially those who had taken presence of fatherhood for granted.
There were others too who said once a second wife came into the picture, they ‘lost’ their father to the charms of Mrs. New Wife! How he didn’t bother anymore about the details of their lives. Children of ‘Baby mamas’, who grew up with dad never visiting the child’s school. Love child with no open love for the child. What about the one who grew up in Yorubaland with a Yoruba mother, and who thought his dad was Yoruba, who spoke Yoruba, who was told that his father died when he was a baby, how he once attended a party with his mom and a cousin to his mom cornered and told him his father was from Imo State, and he was alive somewhere in Port Harcourt and before she could complete the story, his mother burst in on them and almost had a fight with the woman, how she warned him never to go to that woman in his life. Pained, as a final year student, what would he say was his home state when he went into politics, what would he tell his children, why did his mother blank out his father, why the bitterness? Questions. Questions! Questions!
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Fatherhood and Father’s Day. Much later all the other kids came, and I learnt how to deal with each of them individually, separately, and together. They all came in their different ways, character, brilliance, attitude, food choices, choice of academic career, even marriage choices. So, as I was fathering kids, having eat-outs, having family dinner to encourage bonding, I was also a student of parenting too, learning things Papa never taught me, making mistakes even while correcting them, learning lessons which no book or teacher or guardian taught me. Leant that it was better to allow them blossom while you guided them into self-discovery and if they trusted you enough, everyday will be FATHER’S DAY in their lives, they would remember you positively and reciprocate proper fatherhood with good ‘children-hood! And of course, we soon moved to another level- that of a grandfather, welcoming a second generation of my own brood, male and female, a blessing which money cannot buy! Lessons learnt while grooming their parents may no longer be applicable while relating with your children’s children. It’s a new world, where a five-year old could put me through the intricacies of an android phone! Marveling about it all is part of the pride of being a father and a grandfather.
So, let everyday be a day for fathers, mothers, and for the children. So, when your son writes: ‘I’ve never really been a fan of Father’s and Mother’s Day because for me I believe my parents are special and I thank God for having you every day. I thank God because I was blessed to be able to grow up, stroll to the sitting room and have someone sitting there who I could ask any questions and from whom I could get wise answers’, one feels fulfilled. And let the spirit of love, parental, sibling, filial, govern the world. Perhaps if we had that consciousness, there would be less tension in the world!
Professor Hope O. Eghagha, Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Lagos, Akoka Lagos