Picking the bills

By Francis Ewherido

I read a post where a friend was talking about housewives who inflate children’s school fees to dupe their husbands. She was condemning the act, which actually is most condemnable. But my interest was not in the fraudulent behaviour of these women. I wondered why these men do not know the fees of their children.  Do they feel that providing money for the children’s fees is enough?

Is it possible that beyond providing money for the fees, they do notget involved in any other aspect of the children’s education?It could also be that they are practising division of labour: I provide the money, my wife makes the payment. Unfortunately these wives are toying with a fundamental element in their marriages: trust. But that is not the issue of concern today.

Last Sunday, a woman and her four children, probably between three and 12, sat two pews in front of me in church. The children were so noisy and uncontrollable throughout; they were a real nuisance. The mother made occasional feeble interventions, but that was it. As a result of their uncontrollable behaviour, I asked  myself, where is their father? It is possible he is out of town, or one of those fathers who take their families to church and drive off to engage in some other activities. My experience over time is thatthe fathers of such uncontrollable children are usually absent in the children’s lives.

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Many men still do not get it, God made it in a way that both parents are supposed to collaborate to bring up their offspring. If God felt one parent was enough, He could have made human beings hermaphrodites. The family unit is one institution I have been interested in for a long time before I started studying it consciously. I have seen offspring of families where the father shirked his responsibilities; I have also seen children from families where the mother shirked her responsibilities; I have seen children from families where both parents left them to their own devices. The outcomes have not been the best.

We have exceptional cases where single parents are raising the children. This happens when the couple is divorced, separated (temporarily or permanently) or when one spouse is late. The surviving spouse plays the role of father and mother. Some of them are putting in their best to make the children’s lives as complete and stable as possible, but they will readily confess to you that it is tough playing the dual roles. A family, with both parents present and involved, remains the best environment to raise stable children.

Back to the men; many fathers still feel that paying school and picking other bills are enough for the children. Have you discussed with your children or listened to their conversations? I have and I also rub minds with other parents who do. Children appreciate parents for paying their fees, among other financial commitments alright, but you will be shocked when they do their recollections of their earlier years.

They talk about those times when their fathers gave them their baths, fathers driving them to school instead of their drivers, fathers being present at open day, inter-house sports and other school events; fathers spending quality time with them and fathers being in their lives generally. Their most cherished memories are when their father made sacrifices in terms of time.

Back to the men; many fathers still feel that paying school and picking other bills are enough for the children

Of course it might be slightly different in homes with lean resources, where fathers give up a lot of material comfort to provide the children comfort or education. But there is still a common denominator: sacrifice. It is the sacrifice that they appreciate and treasure most.

I always wondered why a multibillionaire I know drove his children to and fro school if his wife was not able to do so. There were drivers in the house and he could employ a driver for each child. But the wife did the school runs and he took over if she was indisposed or unavailable. Today, when I see how the children have turned, and are turning, out, I appreciate the sacrifice.

The children are grounded, unassuming, level headed and focussed. It is a far cry from many silver spoon-fed kids, who have their heads in the clouds and just want to enjoy without adding value either to their lives or the family’s. The last time I saw him, you could touch the joy and contentment he felt about how his children are turning out.

Fathers need to be futuristic in perception and action. Your children are your future. Build a strong bond now, make sacrifices. Just as parenting goes beyond financial commitments, so also taking care of parents in old age goes beyond sending money to them for upkeep. A young man told me in course of our discussion that his father is in the village, of course, lonely. Meanwhile the mother is here in Lagos with him.

He sends the father money every month, but might not see him in a whole year because there is no bond. What happened? The father was not there for them when they were growing up. In addition, he was a bully and often maltreated their mother. As children, they watched helplessly and gnashed their teeth. Now, it is payback time.

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Some farsighted retirees I know have already sorted out their financial future, so it is not an issue of children sending money. But even if you accumulate tons of money, someone has to apply it with love to bring you joy in old age. You also need family around you at this critical time.

Young fathers have to deliberately build a bond with their children: One, by being in the lives of the children from cradle. You cannot jump in after the “food is cooked” (when your children are now adults and successful) and expect to enjoy it. May be that worked in those days, but children these days do not allow that. Two, do not maltreat their mother. If you do, they will pay you back when they are old enough to flex their muscles.

Men can argue from now till tomorrow, but the truth is that there is always a natural bond between real mothers (as distinct from agbayamothers) and their children. They carried the pregnancy, breastfed the babies, cleaned them up in the early days and, and there wereso many other sacrifices and occasions that necessarily involved bonding between mother and child. You think those bonds and special moments count for nothing?

Think again. The bible did admonish children to take care of their parents in old age, but many children these days do things their own way. Even the fabled father-daughter bond is earned, not automatic. But be a good father – not necessarily because of reciprocal expectations in old age – because that is the right thing to do.

So young upcoming fathers, start laying the foundation of your relationship with your children in old age. Go beyond being a sperm depositor. A real father is a leader, teacher, mentor, provider, friend and protector, etc. The foolishness of yesterday is haunting many old men today, avoid their pitfalls

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