On becoming a father

Yesterday, Sunday, June 16 was Father’s Day. A day when fathers are celebrated the world over. It was a pleasure to receive several calls and messages wishing me well on this day of all days. I also remember my beloved father who went into glory on December 8, 2014. The best father in the whole world. A man who lived the pure gospel in word and deed. A loving, kind, generous and God-fearing man.

Most men remember the day they became fathers. I was barely 25 and a graduate student in Paris at the time. When our son was delivered on that cold winter noonday; my world changed. Before then, my life had revolved around I, me and myself. The 19-year-old gazelle who became my wife was factored marginally into the equation. My real priority was books, books and books. Career was all that mattered, in addition to having good clothes, a sleek car and summer vacation in idyllic Saint-Tropez in the French Riviera.

The arrival of a child changes everything. You suddenly realise there is an additional life that is totally dependent on you for sustenance. You cannot go anywhere any time you like. You cannot do everything as at, and when, and how you like it. You always have to think about mother and child.

For me personally, becoming a father was an earth-shaking and life-changing existential moment. That moment was the day I became a man.

Coming back to Jos, I had a good mechanic who happened to be an Igbo man. He once casually asked me whether I have a family. I confided to him that we now have a boy. He drew closer to my ear and whispered: “Ogah, now that you a man, be ready for enemies.” I was rather taken aback with perplexity. Why would having a child make me an enemy to anybody?

He went ahead to explain. You see, when you are a young bachelor with a fast car and a great job, nobody gives a damn about you. But the moment you are married and you have a child – with an emphasis on having a son – people suddenly realise that you are now a real man. You can now stand head and shoulders with the elders. You command respect. Your opinion matters. It is at that moment that you begin to attract negative energy from within and outside your extended family.

For years, I never quite believed him. But I have been compelled by the bitter experiences of life to concede that the man was damn right!

Mystics tell us that we now live in the age of Aquarius. It is an age of creativity. But it is also a dangerous age. We live in a time when the family is buffeted on all sides. Material comforts are available for the middle classes more than ever before: cable TV, washing machines, the microwave, mobile telephony and ICT. But families are more isolated than ever before. They communicate less with each other. There are rampant cases of depression and mental illness. Wives and husbands take comfort in Facebook adultery in the false belief that digital flirtations are entirely innocent affairs. They hardly realise that social media is today the biggest workshop of the man of the cloven hoof.

Even in churches these days, half of the congregations spend more time fiddling with their mobile phones than listening to what the preacher has to say. Fathers today hardly create quality time for their children and families. They use the pursuit of business and career as the reasons why they are hardly at home. Their children grow up with hardly a father-figure worth the name. Psychologists have determined that most children, especially boys, that grow up without the influence of a father figure in their lives tend to be emotionally unbalanced in many ways. Some of them become gays while others become drug addicts and criminals.

Nature never intended for households to be headed by a mother. Real families are headed by men. And in the Christian tradition, that confers enormous responsibilities. Men tend to emphasise the injunction for women to “submit” to their husbands. At the same time they tend to ignore the rest of the passage in Paul the Apostle that urges husbands to love and cherish their wives in the manner Jesus loves the church to the point of laying his life for her. The submission of women requires the sacrificial love of husbands who must be ready to lay down their lives for their wives and families. It is a heavy responsibility.

What does it mean to be a father in today’s world?

In my humble opinion, it means many things. First, it means being the chief priest of your home. The chief priest leads by example in all the precepts of holy living, righteousness and loving-kindness. As the head, you give a vision for your family – for your wife and children. As chief priest you must spend time praying and fasting for them.

Secondly, being a father means providing materially for your children and household. There may well be circumstances when the wife earns more than the husband. In some unfortunate cases, the wife may, in fact, be the only breadwinner. Whatever the circumstances, the father must never abdicate responsibility of doing his part not only in providing materially but also to protect his wife and children.

Thirdly, the father must be the visioner for his family. If you are given to the discipline of prayer, God will lay in your heart a vision for your family. He will reveal to you a vision of the future. You have to lovingly share it with the family and enlist their buy-in. A shared vision has more chances of being realised than a unilaterally imposed one.

Celebrate your children; encourage them. Be always there for them. Inspire them to aspire to the highest that they can be. Encourage them to believe that nothing is impossible. Nothing, indeed, is impossible to him who dares and to him who believes.

These days we get sad news from Nigerian families in the diaspora. Cases of divorce are rampant. There have been several cases of homicide involving a man killing his wife or vice-versa. There was a recent case in the United States where a Nigerian decided to kill his wife and children before turning the gun on himself.

Some of us spent most of our working lives outside this country. As a young couple, nobody ever counsels you that living abroad is never the same as living in Nigeria. Back at home, you have nannies and house helps. Abroad, the best you can get is a crèche, for which you sometimes pay with an arm and a leg. A situation where both husband and wife keep regular jobs while the children are growing up can be extremely stressful. Both come back very tired. The children need attention. The husband wants to catch up with the news on TV; expecting his wife to do the cooking and all the household chores. When she gets tired and feels overwhelmed, he translates it to mean she no longer loves him. When things get out of hand the wife reports to social services alleging spousal abuse. When it involves a black man, agents of the American state are cruel and unforgiving.

The fact of racism is a reality that refuses to go away. Right from the days of slavery, Jim Crow and beyond, there has been a systematic attempt to destroy the black family. The Tran-Atlantic Babylonian order knows that if the black family is strong, black people will ultimately triumph. They do everything to turn husband against wife; wife against husband; and children against parents. After slavery ended officially, black women were favoured with jobs as cooks and housemaids. The men were mostly reduced to joblessness, alcohol and drugs. At home, they lost self-esteem; many turning to wife-beating and violence to give meaning to their puny, miserable lives. Many have ended up in prison.

Today, there are more African-American males in prison than in college. The crisis of the black family has become a millenarian tragedy.

At home, things are no better. Drivers are an alternative source of entertainment for women in polygamous homes. Men are impregnating their house girls. Northern Nigeria has become the divorce capital of Africa. The family is in shambles across the country. In all our development discourses, nobody ever talks about the family. We need a paradigm shift that places emphasis on the family. Because the family is the bedrock of civilisation.

But that bedrock will be built on sinking sands without having real men and real fathers. From today, let us aspire to be the best fathers that we can be. Let us become loving, strong and steadfast. Let us become heroes to our sons, daughters and wives. The family is the temple on which our New Jerusalem shall be established in love, truth and righteousness.