21 June 2020

WHAT FATHERHOOD MEANS TO ME


Fatherhood was and is always a big thing to me. I love being a father, I desperately wanted to be a father. For 16 years. So, when it came, it was bigger than winning the lottery.

I have two daughters, so I am the only male in our family of four. I have tried to take this responsibility quite seriously as I realise that I am a template, not only of what a father should be, but also of half the human race.

Coming into fatherhood rather late meant that, perhaps, I have been a bit more intentional with the responsibility. I planned a lot of things before my children were born. We have family meetings so they can learn to be confident. We go for walks, the theatre and cinema so that we can have family time together. I have a reminder for family quarterly holidays. Not always possible. But I have taken them to the National Portrait Gallery, the Natural History Museum and a few other museums which I can't remember. Our holidays are strategically planned to be an educational experience. We take in lakes, waterfalls, botanical gardens etc. I even took them to the University of Cambridge, and while rolling on the grass, I informed them this is the university of choice. They were five at the time. And they have totally forgotten this experience.

Although there is no fatherhood manual to follow, a few principles have guided me. I want them to know that fathers must be present, so I have had tried to re-engineer my work as a trade-off. The simple logic for me is that once children go to university at 16-18, that is it. So, it makes sense to get optimal advantage from this period when I have them 100%. Because I know that presence is not enough, I cook, do the school run and homework, we go for picnics, I wash, dry and iron their clothes. I enjoy doing all these and I hope they do too. I do not like DIY, neither do I claim to be the archetypal physically strong dad, but I have taken to doing the odd things around the house and I oblige them by carrying them each time they request I do.

My wife and I are no tiger parents, we do however want them to have an idyllic childhood. And this for me means memories, so I try to create as much as I can. That's why we have Sunday roast every week and games night too. It's also the reason for the holidays and the hours of video and audio recordings I have made of them.

Although we freely talk about most things, we have shielded them as much as possible from the matter of race. But they are no fools. They are aware of the killing of George Floyd, and we have had to answer difficult questions as diplomatically as we could.

I was away as the coronavirus was spreading, but I got back just in time before the lockdown was announced. This meant that the last three months have been a time of being together 24/7, learning together and trusting together. I would have been devastated had I not been able to make it back before the lockdown. I recognise this period is a challenging, even tragic time for many, and I hope that they can begin to find some comfort in the days and months ahead.

I suppose my principal role as a father is to provide anchor and love, both of which I have found in my heavenly Father. I am trying to model Christ to them. I often fail. I shout "go to bed" when I see them faffing around at 9pm. They waste no time to remind me of the Biblical instruction that "fathers should not exasperate their children." This is one of the perils of making them read the Bible daily. I know how very important faith is becoming to them. I place my hands on their head in prayer every night. Even if I am busy when they go to bed, they expect and know I would come to pray for them. I also have to create new stories most nights. This is their preferred bedtime reading. If I claim a lack of inspiration, they would offer me a plotline. They pretend to love my stories even when it is evident, I have lost the plot.

I am aware other peoples' experiences are different. I am also aware of the many limitations I have and the many times I have failed. I am aware mums are indispensable. I know that whatever I bring to the table, my wife's is double. But I feel the dads who read this must know they have a role to play too. We must not miss out the rewards of being a responsible father. We must not make our children miss out on the memories a responsible father can create.

Last night, my daughters got me to do 10 press-ups . This morning, on Fathers' Day, they brought me breakfast in bed (cover picture). This afternoon, they are baking a cake for me (they will eat most of it), and they have given me a 30-minute private performance of Little Red Riding Hood with their own twist, complete with about 15 dolls. I enjoy being a father. I believe it's one of the greatest privileges of life. Certainly, the greatest of mine. PostcardfromLagos



30 March 2020

After The 2020 Pandemic


I don't know whether the coronavirus pandemic is from God as many commentators have suggested. I am not sure whether it's the devil that is behind it either. What I know is that what we are witnessing is unprecedented. Whilst the Spanish Flu of 1918 and the Bubonic Plague of the 14th Century killed several million people; the whole world has never experienced this near-total shutdown.

Exactly how the coronavirus jumped from a wild animal to another animal and then to humans remains a mystery. So, although I'm not a doomsday prophet, it would not be far-fetched to suggest that perhaps, just maybe; there is an underlying trigger. Maybe, God is in the ‘shaking’ we are currently experiencing.

What is clear to me and to everyone however is that our great grandchildren will learn and talk about the pandemic of 2020 in school. Some of them may base their PhD thesis on it.

It is also clear that the world after coronavirus will be a different place. The way we work is bound to change for good. Many people will question the need to travel to work post the pandemic, particularly if they have been able to successfully execute their deliverables from home. It's not impossible that having bonded with their respective families, some will give up the rat race altogether.

As a Christian, I think the church will be profoundly affected by this pandemic. As someone who occasionally worships at home on a Sunday with my family (most recently in February), I have always found the experience very rewarding. Now that they have been forced to taste and appreciate its authenticity, many people may want to continue with this new refreshing way to worship. I also hope that people will find it easier to follow Christ rather than a pastor or denomination.

Given the enforced home-schooling, many more dads would hopefully engage the more with their children's lives and school work. Apologies, if you already do so.

In some countries, a silent revolution may start with regards to politics and political leaders. Why vote for clueless leaders who have no strategy to protect their people from a pandemic? I sincerely hope that even the poor and uneducated will see the naked emperors for whom they really are. 

Sadly, democracy could yet become the next victim of the virus as dictators find it difficult to give back powers they acquired to fight the virus.

It is also likely that countries of the world will question their fanatical reliance on China for everyday necessities such as medical equipment, drugs, syringes, building materials etc.  

I suppose that in nine months, there may be a baby boom in this country and around the world. PostcardfromLagos


01 December 2019

The Visitor


What do I know. After all, I am not a woman. What I know is that, in the past, I didn't like it whenever my wife had her monthly period. Not for the reason you thought! Just that at the time of pining for children, the appearance of the visitor was a stark reminder, a veritable proof that no baby was coming anytime soon.

Fast forward to now. Not seeing the visitor can be a cause for panic as neither of us want any more babies. How things have changed? I never knew I would be in a position where I would not desire to have children.

So, menstruation as I see it is about life, sacrifice, fertility, unfulfilled hope, despair, time is running out, fear of impending menopause, and many more. Perhaps it is known as 'PERIOD' because it's for a time and season. The time will come when the flow ceases.

I chose to write about menstruation because of its importance to life. And also because of my respect for the way women handle this 'issue' (pun intended) for 30 or more years of their lives without as much creating any scene.

It takes me all of one minute to shave my beard each day, yet, I find the process mildly stressful. So, you can understand why I doff my hat to women for the incredible dignity with which they handle this 'monthly visitor' that often stay for several days. I know this can be an extremely discomforting and discomfiting period for some women.

Talking about discomfiture; growing up, I attended this church that barred women from entering the church building during their menstrual period. Each week, a few women, from teenage to middle age had to make do with worshipping outside the church building. They could come for the service quite alright, but they get confined to the outer court like despised in-laws. Everyone walked past this line of women to get into the church building. It must have felt like running a gauntlet of men pronouncing them unclean! unclean!  I wonder why none of the women defied the rule. Of course, they had been made to believe that this would be disobedience to God. But what if the cycle suddenly starts when a woman was already inside the church building? What I remember was that the women took the experience in their strides, but imagine the feeling of knowing that everyone around you is privy to what was going on in your system.

Given that I am male, I have no window into the psyche of a woman on this matter, and can only conjecture. I can never truly understand the whole gamut of emotions surrounding menstruation. My aim was to write from the perspective of an external observer awed by the very little I know of this phenomenon that has an overwhelming impact on every life, male or female. 

So, for the incredible lightness with which women handle what to me is a very big deal, they have my full admiration.

31 July 2019

The Geography Lesson Experience

It was a Geography class in the  fourth year of secondary school. Each subject ran for about 40 minutes. However this particular session was what we referred to as a 'double lesson' as it ran non-stop for 80 minutes. Our Geography teacher was Mr Ojoxxxxx who was notorious for his tendency to be tough and uncompromising.

Mr Ojoxxxxx was very good at teaching his subject and seemed to enjoy doing so. I can still hear his booming voice enthusiastically talking about 'Pampas of Argentina, Prairies of Latin America. My memory of Geography lessons was that they usually take place in the afternoons. The tropical sun would be out with fury and would easily have created a river of sweating students but for the cross ventilation in the classrooms. In the outside sweltering sun, one can make out a lone pupil digging up a large tree or using machete to tackle a sea of very tall grass in one direction. A different direction may show another pupil on their knees.  Both would be under punishment for a misdemeanour which may be as mundane as being two minutes late to school that morning.

Mr Ojoxxxxx was also fond of using what we referred to as 'Black Maria' as his instrument of choice to discipline eering students. A student may err in many inumerable ways including being late to his class, not answering a question correctly, dozing while he teaches, talking in class, failing a test etc.

The 'Black Maria' is a thick round cable of about one inch in diameter with a hollow inside. I suspect they were discarded phone cables which somehow found their ways into the hands of teachers determined to prove their miserable prowess at 'teaching difficult pupils a lesson.'

It was not exactly Mr Ojoxxxxx that we feared, it was the Black Maria and the pain it inflicted when it hits your back, buttocks or hand with brutal force. It wasn't only him that was fond of this instrument of torture, some other teachers including our former principal Mr Faxxxxxxx also wielded it with glee. Those were really difficult days to be a pupil. On a bad day, you could be subjected to 'corporal punishment' from multiple teachers, many of whom picked offences easily and derived a sadistic joy from this form of abuse.

Years later when I briefly taught at a high school, I remember that a fellow teacher publicly flogged a female student widely known to be his lover after their affair had gone awry. These were the different faces of abuse prevalent in those days.

Back to the Geography class that sunny afternoon, we had only just begun the lesson when I felt a deep and pressing need to use the toilet. I approached Mr Ojoxxxxx to inform him, but he rejected my plea to leave the class. I couldn't believe my ears. The knowledge that it was a 'double lesson' compounded my dilemma. It would take almost one and half hours to the end of the lecture. There were no options. I was only 12 and did not have the mettle to walk out of the class. It was not the done thing in those days. I stayed in the class and employed every skill a 12 year old could muster to hold myself back. It must have been one of the longest 80 minutes of my life.

As soon as the class ended, I dashed out of the class towards the school toilet some 150 metres away. As I made my way through the lawns, I could not hold it any longer. I continued to run perhaps faster than Usain Bolt. Although I was not amused, I however felt free from the bondage of Mr Ojoxxxxxx. I was relieved. It was not a good experience. There was no change of clothing. It didn't matter. All I felt was relief. PostcardfromLagos


Postscript - When I wrote this essay on a Sunday afternoon in February 2015, I naturally included the name of the Geography teacher. However, when I decided to publish it recently, I took the decision to protect his name. My intention was not to blacklist him. Perhaps Mr Ojoxxxxx felt it was an attempt to play truant on my part. Or the session that day was so important that he didn't want me to miss out. I would never know but even if there was no justifiable reason for his action, I still consider him a victim of his time.  

27 May 2019

WHY DO WE MAKE LIFE DIFFICULT FOR SINGLE PEOPLE?



In the opening statement of her romantic novel 'Pride and Prejudice' published in 1813, Jane Austen observed "it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." That was in the early 19th Century. In 21st Century Nigeria, we have flipped this statement, and assume that every woman over 20 is in desperate need of a man. It's a stereotype that unleashes the 'poor Ola,' or 'poor Ngozi' look.

Undoubtedly, one of the most shameful characteristics of our society is this unspoken, but widespread grand design to make life unnecessarily difficult for people who are not married. You probably have done so recently without given a thought to it! Although this action is directed at both men and women, it is much more pronounced against young women. The approach includes the subtle, pseudo-religious 'it is well,' 'I am praying for you' phrases, or the pained 'I feel for you' look. Sometimes it is much more aggressive - "When are you getting married?" "Do you have a steady boyfriend?" "When are you settling down?" "If you don't 'package' yourself very well,  you may miss the boat" etc. As we all know, the phrase 'it is well', borrowed from the Biblical Shulamite woman is a popular euphemism for desperate situations in Nigeria. It has become our own version of 'Houston, there is a problem.'

I suppose, it is understandable if this kind of pressure comes from parents. After all, it's in parents' DNA to be concerned (even unduly) about their children. However, what is loathsome is how friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, and sometimes strangers make it their responsibility to impose the marriage rule on innocent people. The fact that this may not be malicious does not absolve anyone of the damage being done to those at the receiving end. Our society makes it look as if an unmarried lady has a problem. We have honed this rule so well that we check people's ring finger to find out where they belong. To us, there are two categories of people - the 'lucky' ones (married) and the 'unlucky' (unmarried).

As stated above, our ladies fair worse in this categorisation. 'Yours will come o,' 'you will not be left behind o,' are more of the pressure phrases we routinely employ to nag unmarried ladies, some of whom are barely out of their teens. 'Naggers' who are not content with these little niceties take things a step further by asking pointed questions about a woman's competitiveness in the bridal market.

Our churches have not helped either! Not only have they not taken a stand against this unhelpful situation, they encourage it by creating the belief that being unmarried is linked to being jinxed. We treat unmarried people as if they have been hexed or are in the throes of a deadly virus. Innocent parents or family members are often accused of being the ones behind an unmarried person’s perceived 'misfortune.' This phenomenon creates fear and a path for naive singles to be controlled and exploited by dubious religious leaders. It also creates an impression of women as commodities that must be traded off before a sell by date. Sadly, this belief is so ingrained that many ladies have become complicit. They get into a panic mode if they are not married at 25. I blame them not! It is difficult to shake off a narrative that has been driven into you from birth. 

The consequence of these hydra-headed pressure is that some ladies, against their better judgements,  date, and in many instances, marry guys they know are clearly not right for them, just so that they could keep the pressure away. Our society thus clearly become complicit in pressuring young women into doomed marriages. That's not the end. On their wedding day, we start to put the newly married couple under a different form of pressure often using the avenue of prayer. 'In nine months’ time, we will come and rejoice with you again.' This generates a loud response of a-a-a-men from un-thinking listeners. What if the couple are not ready to start a family? What if they want to climb mountains, and explore the world first? What if their career plan is not in tandem? Why pile on them the pressure of children when they hardly know each other? What if there are unexplained fertility issues? All of these appear not to matter. To us, what we want supersedes what an individual or a couple wants. I think I might just know what I am talking about as I was married for 16 years before I had children.

I have found that many single people can handle their single status but for the unrelenting pressure of the nosey parkers who make their lives hell. Apart from choosing a wrong partner, some have lost their self-esteem, and many are being emotionally damaged by the ocean of pressure from every corner. 

So, what can we do?

1.       For a start, why don’t we just leave people alone. Yes! Leave people alone! However much you may be tempted, refrain from asking any intrusive questions about marital status.

2.       Given that we are outwardly a deeply religious society,  if indeed you are praying for somebody about marriage, keep this to yourself. There is no need to let the beneficiary know. Shouldn't prayer be between God and the supplicant? "But when you do merciful deeds, don't let your left hand know what your right hand does", says the Lord in Matthew 6:3

3.       Let's stop targeting single ladies in our churches by 'blackmailing' them to come out for prayers so that they may find a husband. These exercises can be humiliating and is downright wrong.

4.       While it is the desire of many people to marry, it is not impossible that some people might have chosen, for whatever reason, not to do so. Their choices should be respected and not in any way impugned. 

5.       The reality of life is such that some ladies that do desire to marry might not have been asked. We should never make it their fault that no one has asked for their hands in marriage. 

6.       We should also note that some young men are aware they are not yet mature enough to marry. It would be criminal to pressure them into doomed marriages. 

7.       Finally, we must become a society where people are treated with dignity whatever their marital status. Life is complicated enough. Let's not make it any harder. PostcardfromLagos

22 March 2019

20 Children, 20 Years; 30 Adults, 30 Months - A Story of Human Dispersals & Change

The Yorubas have many interesting concepts and sayings. As a young boy, I used to ponder on some of them, the clear majority of which were simply a conundrum to my then small mind. With many of these sayings, you would first have to understand the context and oftentimes, you also need to make sense of each word. What is not in question however, is the richness of what is being said, pun, fact or fiction. An example is this saying:

"Ogun omode o le sere f'ogun odun, ogbon agba o le sere f'ogbon osun."

In its simplest form, this proverb is about the dispersal of people, the scattering of hitherto young lives to the far-flung corners of the earth as age, desire to achieve and the quest for life forces them to move. Old relationships are shattered or abandoned as the actors seek new ones in their new schools, universities, workplace or cities. Life happens, and people are transported to new destinations in their beliefs, methods, ideas and even political leanings as they grow older. We shift and change leaving behind fractured relationships.

In its morbid form, the saying is about death. It anticipates, even predicts the death of older people. It makes no pretensions about the fact, that in the spectrum of life, octogenarians are far closer to the grave than the day they were issued from the womb. So, this saying pulls no punches about the decay of relationships and the decay of life itself.

The literal translation of the phrase is that it is impossible for 20 children to be in the same playgroup  for 20 years. There is bound to be some trigger that would see to the break-up of the group. This trigger is usually not negative. As stated above, some would move because of school, university or due to family relocation. Whatever may be the cause, the effect is a dispersal. It is inconceivable that 20 children would still be closely knitted 20 years down the line.

In the same vein, it is hard for 30 older people (we are talking of octogenarians here) to be together for 30 months. Whilst senior citizens are not usually concerned with the need to move frequently, the undertone is that at least one in 30 octogenarians who meet up regularly would have moved to the great beyond within two and half years. It is not impossible that a group of death-defying 30 octogenarians may be able to pull off this feat, the overarching moral of this saying is that there is a time and place for everything. Life is seasonal, so make hay while the sun shines.

Here is a simple exercise to end this essay. Think of your classmates at your first school, how many of them have you seen in the last five years or how many are you still in constant touch with? What about friends from church or the community where you lived 20 years ago. Would you ever be able to assemble 20 of them in one place? Even if you could, you probably can't keep all of them in the same place for a week. Change happens, we follow and adapt. PostcardfromLagos




16 February 2019

Death at Noon & Nigeria's 2019 Presidential Election


Next Saturday, 23 February 2019, millions of Nigerians would turn out to vote in the presidential election. As always, many people are fearful about the process and the outcome. They have every reason to be. The election was postponed earlier today five hours to the opening of polling booths! Besides, in Nigeria, all the major political parties use thugs to scare, threaten and to kill, so it isn't far-fetched that people are understandably fearful. This year, there is a long list of 73 men and women jostling to become our next president. However, the real battle is between the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari and his main challenger Atiku Abubakar.

I should be concerned about the elections. I certainly am concerned. But my mind is pre-occupied with a different matter - the killing last Sunday of a young man in his home at Ojota, Lagos, by what appears to be a robbery gone wrong. I did not know the deceased, Adeola Okungbaiye. My link to him is through his cousin, a work colleague who on Sunday evening, sent me a distress message requesting I join her family in prayer as her cousin had been shot. He had just returned home with his young family from church where he was a youth pastor. His father and his younger brother who attend the same church were visiting. Shortly afterwards, he answered a knock on the door. When he realised the person at the door was not known to him, he tried to shut the door but, in the struggle that ensued, the assailant pulled a gun and shot him. An accomplice joined in to strip his wife, father and brother of their phones and a laptop before they both disappeared into the streets. This happened at 2pm.

Seriously wounded, Adeola was taken to a hospital in Gbagada. He was initially refused treatment - a common occurrence in Nigeria. His wife who is a medical doctor prevailed on the hospital to reconsider. They did, but precious time had been lost. By the time a decision was taken to get him to a teaching hospital, he had died.

Adeola left behind a five-month old baby and a wife of three years. He was 32!

The tragedy of this sorry event was not just that Adeola was needlessly killed, leaving behind a young wife, a baby, an inconsolable father who lost his wife (Adeola's mum) to cancer three years ago, the tragedy includes the following:

1. Three family members, his wife, his dad and his brother witnessed the shooting and the traumatic process of his life ebbing away.

2. The fact that the killers could carry out their heinous crime with impunity in broad daylight. Of course, they knew that we dont have a functioning government, and that
the chances of being caught is rather slim.

3. The injustice to the family of knowing that the killers may never be caught or prosecuted for their crime. Ask any Nigerian: where do you report a crime like this? Who would investigate?
4. The reality that in an emergency, no one knows what to do or where to turn. Perhaps Adeola would not have died if an effective medical emergency service had reached him, or if the hospital did not reject him or several other 'ifs'

5. That none of our presidential candidates have been able to articulate a credible security strategy to protect our people.

6. That Adeola's death did not feature in any of our media. It was just one of those things that happen in our country. One of the many injustices. Everyone just moves on.

7. Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that although we huff and puff about Buhari and Atiku being undeserving birds of the same feather; on election day, many electorates would outsource their brains, close their eyes and vote for one of these two gladiators. They would conclude that doing otherwise means their vote may not count. Tragedy!

Unfortunately, I won’t be voting this year as I am away from the country. So, unlike in the past two elections where I voted for Muhammadu Buhari, I would have voted for Kingsley Moghalu in this election. He, in my view, was the only one, amongst the 73 that seems to have been able to craft a credible vision for the future.

What do I want to achieve with this post? I am not sure I gave much thought to it. I suppose it's my own way of dealing with the tragedy, and also an opportunity to remind you that it's your decision who you vote for, I just hope you will think about Adeola when you cast it. PostcardfromLagos