It took me 10 years to be courageous to have a child — Aribisala

Popular columnist and social commentator, Femi Aribisala, shares his fatherhood story with GBENGA ADENIJI

When did you become a father?

On May 5, 1987, my wife and I were blessed with a baby boy, 10 years after our marriage in 1977.

How has the experience of fatherhood been?

It took me 10 years to have the courage to have a child.  My wife and I agreed that having children should go beyond the desire to have children.  You need to have the maturity, wisdom and inner strength to bring up children. For years, I was convinced I was not emotionally ready to be a parent. I was a confused young man and I did not think it was wise to bring a child into my confusion.

In the end, I had a child while still confused.  But a few years later, I met Christ, and my life became meaningful.  Nevertheless, I have many regrets about bringing up our son.  Looking back, I could have done much better, but now I am trying to make up for this with my grandchildren.

Do you support some fathers’ view that caning is better than verbal correction in disciplining a child?

I don’t in retrospect. When my son was much younger, I did not spare the rod. But in retrospect, I discovered this was a mistake. The most powerful instrument in the world is love. Love is more forceful and effectual than physical force. Caning introduces an element of violence into parental relationships. Sooner than later, you are going to have to employ only verbal reasoning with children; they soon grow too big for caning. So, it is better to start and continue with this. In any case, there are many other very effective ways to discipline a child without applying the cane. You can send him to a corner, ban him from TV etc.

What lessons have you learnt from fatherhood?

I have learnt that God is the only true father.  We are just guardians that He appoints to help Him take care of His children.  Therefore, it is of the utmost importance when you have a child to give the child back to God.  Dedicate him to God.  Teach him or her the ways of the Lord.  Don’t make the child your responsibility.  Let God be responsible for the child.  There are many things you cannot do for a child, but there is nothing that God cannot do for His children.

What values did you learn from your father which you are passing on to your kids?

Integrity. Theophilus Sunday Babatunde Aribisala was a man of integrity.  I did not fully appreciate this as a child, but I know the value now.  He had great responsibility as a permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture of the old western region, when cocoa was Nigeria’s main cash crop.  Nevertheless, he was a very faithful public servant.  In the probe instituted after the 1966 coup, he was one of the few public servants celebrated in the newspapers as not having stolen a kobo of public funds.

He was also a workaholic, a distinction which served him in good stead when he was elevated to the post of Director of Agricultural Services in the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations.

T.S.B. Aribisala was also generous to a fault, ensuring that he touched the lives of many people.  It used to be that, everywhere I went, I would always meet someone who was indebted to him. Integrity, faithfulness and generosity are values I learnt at his feet and have endeavoured to pass on to my wards.

Which house chores do you assist your wife with?

At home, I am the house-husband. My wife’s job is far more exacting than mine. She leaves home at 6am and does not come back home until after 6pm. So, in many respects, I am in charge of the house. I oversee all the repairs, make sure there is diesel or petrol in the generators and see to their servicing. We have a house help, nevertheless, I make sure I sweep our bedroom every day.  I am a bit of a neat freak. I used to cook with my wife, but now we have a cook.

When I did, I was an excellent cook.  As a matter of fact, at one time, my wife and I were thinking of writing a cook book.  But my parents advised me not to put my surname on the book so they would not be connected to it and be held liable for its contents.  But I am sure I have lost my cooking touch by now.

Is there anything you would love to do differently as a father?

Everything. I wish I had been a more loving father and not essentially the disciplinarian.  I wish I told my son more often that I loved him and not that I was disappointed about something or the other.

How do you appreciate your wife for her roles?

I don’t so much appreciate my wife for her roles as I appreciate her for being my wife. I do everything for my wife. Even though she can afford to do so for herself, I employ a driver for her and regularly service her car. I am the epitome of kindness with regard to my wife. If she needs help in anything, she only has to ask.

I also take her out once a week.  July 30, 2017 was our 40th wedding anniversary.  I think I can say with confidence that my wife will testify that I have been a very good husband.

What are your greatest challenges as a father?

Raising a child to be wise.  Wisdom is the principal instrument of life.  It is quite different from book knowledge.  Wisdom enables one to navigate the vicissitudes of life.  But it is very difficult to impart wisdom.  Children like to learn from their own mistakes.  But wisdom prescribes that we learn from the mistakes of others and avoid them.  Moreover, wisdom is profitable in all things.

How do you reward your child for his good deeds?

I don’t believe children should be rewarded for good deeds. Children should be made to understand it is their duty to do good deeds. When they do so, they are not doing anybody a favour.  They are just doing what is expected of them.  The same goes for the parent.  You endeavour to meet the needs of your child out of a sense of responsibility.  You deserve no awards or commendation for being a good parent.

As a columnist, your articles are highly controversial especially the ones bordering on religious matters. What does your kid say after reading you?

The Aribisalas

My religious articles are not controversial.  Those who have a problem with them are those who don’t know the message of Christ.  Christ is not preached in the churches.  So, when some Christians meet someone who insists on preaching the message of Christ, they are up in arms.  My son reads the Bible, so he knows that what I write is what Jesus preaches.  He has no problem with my articles whatsoever; at least not to my knowledge.

Your wife, Karen, is a Guyanese-born novelist and professor, what impact would you say her support has on your perspectives as a father?

My wife and I have often disagreed on the issue of how best to raise a child.  My thinking is that mothers tend to molly-cuddle children.  They easily spoil them.  My wife is my son’s lawyer.  She would always make a case for him.  Sometimes, I feel the need to remind her that she is not the only person who is related to him. Then there are the conspiracies. They are ever conspiring with one another against me.  They keep all sorts of secrets.  But, in any case, it’s all a game.  I guess it all comes from the fun of having a family.

How can fathers raise children to be responsible adults?

There is only one way I know: by example.  Children are spies.  They are watching you like a hawk and copying you.  You cannot say one thing and do something else.  You are wasting your time.  The best reason you can give for righteous living is by being righteous yourself.

Once, as a little boy, my son did a comedy sketch on me. It involved him talking like me and pretending to be me, including acting out my mannerisms.  He knew so much about me, it was quite annoying.  I wanted to give him a slap. So, if you want a child to be responsible: be responsible.  Hypocrisy is a terrible blueprint for child-rearing.

What do you think are the challenges of raising children in Nigeria?

Nigeria is a terrible place for bringing up children.  It is a country that has seriously lost its values.  So, parents must appreciate they are in for a battle.  Our leaders, politicians, pastors, etc. are all corrupt.  The same goes for teachers, nannies and house helps.  Parents must be a watch-dog; always on the lookout to counter all kinds of rubbish they feed our children.

Then there is the television, especially western television, which seems to be currently on a mission to promote homosexuality; the Internet, which can expose children to all sorts of evil without filters, and even cartoons and video games, which are increasingly very violent.

Parenting in Nigeria today cannot be a part-time job: it must be full-time.  Parenting should not be delegated.  Don’t expect people, like your children’s school-teachers, to bring up your children for you.  The responsibility must be yours 100 per cent.

How did you feel the first day you became a father?

It was one of the most peculiar days in my life.  I felt completely alienated from the child. He was a tiny little thing and, at the time.  I wondered if they had given me someone else’ child by mistake. It also took me a long time to appreciate that I could be someone’s parent.  I just had a difficult time getting used to it.  I was something of a child myself, how then could I possibly be someone else’ father?

How can kids without father figures become responsible individuals?

Sometimes, kids without father figures are better off because many father figures are atrocious.  God is the father of kids without father figures, and God is the very best father of all.  As a matter of fact, many kids without father figures become better adults than kids with lousy father figures.  Kids with lousy father figures have great difficulty accepting God as their father.  They have great difficulty trusting God.

Do you have preference for any child gender?

None whatsoever.  Children are gifts from God.  We take care of them in God’s behalf.  Therefore, harassments over the sex of a child is totally uncalled for.  Girls are not better than boys and boys are not better than girls.  If God gives you a child of whatever sex, thank him for it.  There are many that are dying to have children but have not been able to do so.  My only preference is that the child should be healthy.

How do you relax?

I change channels on television.  I spend time with family and friends.  I am a people person, so I like to entertain guests.

What are you most happy about as a father?

At the moment, it is the delight of having grandchildren.  I just love my grandchildren to bits.  They are so fascinating.  They don’t even look like me.  Nevertheless, there is something fabulous in the fact that they are connected to me somehow. Sometimes, I just stare at them and wonder where they even came from.  There is only one conclusion: God is great.  His ways are unsearchable.

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