Author and journalist, Dr. Chidi Amuta, speaks with OLUSHOLA RICKETTS on his fatherhood experience
How would you describe fatherhood?
For me, fatherhood comes with lots of responsibilities. Fatherhood has a beginning, but it only ends when one is dead. Once God blesses one with children, one will continue to be a father but the nature of one’s role changes as the children get older. However, I think the role of a father gets difficult at the beginning, especially if one is growing up with one’s children.
Were you apprehensive when you wanted to start a family?
I didn’t have any apprehension as I was sure of what I wanted. I married when I was a bit young; so, I could say my case was exceptional. I married at 26, which made me grow up with my children. Most people don’t believe that my children are mostly adults.
Why did you marry early?
I didn’t get a woman pregnant and rushed into marriage. Getting married at a time I did was a personal decision. I felt it was better I did it and move on, which later paid off. I was able to struggle to put my four first children through education while I was still relatively young. The timing paid off.
How did your parents react to your marriage decision?
Though I was 26 at the time, I was already working and I had completed a Master’s degree. I had also become an assistant lecturer at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). When I graduated and completed the National Youth Service Corps, the university wanted me to stay. I stayed since I didn’t have a choice.
How old is your first child?
I have two generations of kids; I have the older and younger ones. My oldest child is 38 and she is married. As a matter of fact, my first four kids are married and I have four grandchildren. When anyone sees me with my daughters, they think they are my girlfriends. My son, who works in the Federal Civil Service, has two children. I also have two younger boys. The first boy, who is preparing for university education, is 18 while the baby of the house is nine.
How many women did you marry?
The first four kids have a different mother. We divorced and I remarried. The mother of my two younger boys was a friend before marriage and I knew her family. When I divorced, there was a challenge of getting a wife who fitted my taste. She then came into the picture.
Why did you remarry since you already had four kids?
I was relatively young when I divorced my first wife just like I married early. I was 53 when she left. If God would give me more years, would I live alone for the rest of my life? I don’t drink and I don’t sleep with different women. If you don’t find me in the office and you don’t find me travelling, you will find me in my house. For someone like me who needed a stable companion and family, it was only natural for me to remarry.
How did you meet your ex-wife?
My ex-wife and I didn’t start out as husband and wife; it all started with friendship. At that age, I had a car and an apartment of my own. I had all the things women wanted. But the personality of a wife is different from that of a girlfriend. Once you meet a girl who fits into your concept of a wife, no one will tell you before you take the next step. Among all the girls with me at the time, she was the one who fitted the image of what I wanted in a wife.
Were you ever with your wife during labour?
When my wife was in labour for our first child, I couldn’t stand it. I drove from the teaching hospital in Ile-Ife to my office on the campus. Yet, I couldn’t concentrate. But when I returned to the hospital, she had given birth. At that time too, the atmosphere had not become liberal so even if I was in the hospital, I wouldn’t be allowed to enter the labour room. Since it would end with the birth of a child, I wasn’t comfortable sitting with my mother-in-law and others. I was expecting a child, but I was not the expectant mother. It wasn’t fear but I only wanted to reduce the anxiety.
Did you wish your first child was a boy?
No, I don’t care about the gender of children. I have six children; three boys and three girls and it wasn’t my making.
What are your challenges as a father?
The first thing that happens to a young father is learning quickly that it is not about one alone any longer. This makes one take many things into consideration when making decisions. If you are driving fast, once you remember your children at home, you will caution yourself.
You will also nurse certain concerns when you start having children. For instance, what happens to your children if you die? All these make you make rational decisions. Also, everyone worries about the allocation of resources. I put the welfare of the family and children first and try to give them the best because I didn’t get that.
My parents gave me their best, but the concept of best changes every day. For instance, my father sent me to OAU to study and it was the best he could do. But I had to send my first four children abroad because I saw that the educational system had collapsed. The private universities were not around then. A situation where a kid got admitted for a four-year programme but ended up using nine years was unacceptable.
Have you ever used the cane on your children?
I have never! Nobody used the cane on me; I do not remember any time my late father caned me. I believe in the freedom of the individual either in the workplace or at home. By beating children, they become hardened, scared or abused.
I am free with my kids on most issues; I have never compelled them to become Muslims or Christians. Though we are a Christian family, it doesn’t mean you should be sleeping in the church and it doesn’t mean you should snub the church as well. I expect them to understand all the religions and make their choices. But they should always remember where they are coming from so that they will not be an embarrassment to the family.
How do you discipline your children?
If they do wrong, I tell them. My children always tell me that my silence is terrible than caning them. One will be tempted to have a favourite child but I treat everyone equally.
However, women beat their kids and I don’t get involved, as it is not part of my department. And when one’s wife beats a child for any wrongdoing, one must support her. If one has reservations, one shouldn’t say it openly. It saves the situation whereby a child misbehaves and finds a haven in the arms of the father. But there had been cases I wished I could stop my wife from beating the children because I am not violent by nature and I don’t want to see my kids cry. My closeness to my children is influenced by the fact that I grew up as an only child. So, my kids are like the sisters and brothers I never had.
How do you combine work and your responsibilities as a father?
When I am home, I am home. Luckily, I don’t have many distractions except to pursue my business and other professional engagements.
How do you reward your children whenever they impress you?
I take them shopping for whatever they want as long as I can afford it. But there are grand rules. I have never gone to beg any teacher on behalf of a child. I have never asked anyone to bend the rules because my child was involved. I taught them that every action has consequences. If a child initiates a negative action, the consequences will affect the child and the parents.
My first four children studied abroad but I gave them the procedures they needed to study there. They got their admission letters and provided the money. The same thing applies to their Master’s degrees, but none of them was interested in getting a PhD.
Don’t you feel bad that none of your children wanted to earn a PhD like you?
I was running away from my humble background, which made me get the highest qualification. But they were not running away from anything. I could fairly understand why my children were not interested in a PhD and they were confident about their career choices. I didn’t try to impose anything on them; I just explained what they would get if they took a career path. I made my own choices and they needed to make theirs too.
Also, often, what people studied in the university had no bearing on what they would become in life. We see lawyers who have turned cloth designers but everyone needs a good education.
What do your children tease you about?
They can predict my choice of clothes and what I am likely to do at a given time. They also know that being on holiday doesn’t mean they can pick any car they see at home and start driving it all over Lagos. They know I don’t joke with my cars. For me, once they are 18, they learn how to drive by going to a driving school. I don’t allow my drivers to use my cars to teach them.
But they don’t own a car until they earn a first degree. When I attend the convocation of any of them, I give the child a car. By this stage in the child’s life, the child will know the values of life and what it takes to get a degree. At that age too, the child must have become a bit responsible. If the child wants to wait until he starts working before owning a car, it is okay too. I have hugely pampered and protected my kids, but it doesn’t make them misfits. They also know that things are not easy out there.
What would you have done differently as a father?
Frankly, there is nothing. I have done my best for my children and I hope that they make the best use of it, especially when I am no longer around.
Did your daughters discuss their relationships with you?
Yes, we discussed many things; we are an open family. Their mother did the major part but I did my bit too. But I think I am very lucky. My girls, without any religious indoctrination, are well-behaved. However, I told them that they could only bring home the boys they wanted to marry and not boyfriends. Luckily, for my three daughters, they married the first boys they brought home. My daughters’ husbands are like my children. If you see my sons and their brothers-in-law, it will be hard to tell the difference.
When would you regard as your happiest moment?
I was happy when my kids graduated from the university and got married. I don’t think I have any low moment because none of my children has disappointed me or themselves.
What did you learn from your parents which helped in training your kids?
My parents didn’t beat me and I don’t beat my children; I learnt this from my parents. Probably because I grew up as an only child, my parents put me at the centre of their world and I try to replicate same for my children. As a father, one cannot have any other possession that one will treasure more than one’s children.
How was the feeling like when your first grandkid was born?
It seemed I was getting older. Initially, it was strange to see my children having their own children. As a father, you become fond of your grandchildren than even your own children. I don’t know why, but I have noticed it in my relationship with my grandchildren. They could easily get away with anything whenever they came around. I don’t scream at them though their parents do.
What is your biggest fear as a father?
My biggest fear is for my children to be illustrious enough to carry on my legacy. If they don’t, all the work one has done will be wasted.