Today is Father’s Day! Father’s Day is celebrated worldwide to celebrate and pay tribute to fatherhood. I have been thinking a lot about my relationship with my father and how that shaped the woman I am today. It is only fitting that I explore fatherhood and the Nigerian male in my first post. What role does the Nigerian father play in the psychological development of his offspring and how does this factor in the child’s overall gender identity as he/she grows into an adult?
It is a fact that mothers tend to be more hands on, self-sacrificing and involved in the day-to-day parenting of their offspring. Why? It is quite simple: nature predetermines the female to shoulder the weightier burdens of parenting without the option of choice. However, research has found over and over again that children who have healthy relationships with their fathers are more likely to have healthier and positive relationships throughout their lives. In other words, male parenting is just as crucial, indispensable, and significant as motherhood to a child’s development.
Lets explore the role of fatherhood for a moment: boys are less likely to be involved in criminal activities if their fathers are positive role models; they are also more likely to develop healthy gender identities if their fathers foster healthy gender roles in the home. A father’s impact on his daughters, on the other hand, is even more important. A healthy father-daughter relationship is more likely to foster healthy self-esteem and prepare the girl to be an emotionally healthy and confident woman. Girls are known to idolize their fathers from infancy, and as they grow older, they eventually start sizing up potential suitors to their daddies.
On this Father’s Day, I would like us to reflect a moment on our Nigerian men. What kind of relationship does the average Nigerian man have with his mother, his sister, his wife, and his daughter? The answer to this question is complex, but for the purpose of this post, we will delve more into the Nigerian marriage in relation to male parenting. But first: how is the relationship of the Nigerian male with his wife, and by extension, his daughter?
As a father, are you the type of man you hope your daughter will find as a husband? Or…are you the man who believes in the commodification and, thus, the exchange of women between men—upholding the “Man’s World” by all means necessary? We do not need much statistical data to prove that Nigeria has indeed produced mostly the kind of men in the latter question, from east to the west, from north to the south.
Eight out of ten Nollywood videos point to examples of the Nigerian female’s status as a commodity. From the oppressed and long suffering wife to the neglected daughter who is left to “hustle” by sleeping with men old enough to be their fathers, from the “barren” wife to the woman who is only able to produce girls! What about the perfect wife who produces both male and female children, but still has to put up with the unfaithful husband who, by the way, has continues to have children outside the marriage? The stories are endless.
If Nollywood cannot be taken as a serious reference, how about the worldwide media posts on the Nigerian male and domestic violence? What about the girl child who grows up seeing her mother physically and mentally abused by her father? What sort of wife and mother is she expected to be? Will she learn to stand up for herself or be swayed and silenced by the belief that she must yield and continue to be a victim in this “Man’s World?” How can she stand up for herself when she learned how to be a victim from her father firsthand? How can the daughter of a hapless philanderer expect faithfulness from her husband? Who can she turn to for help? Certainly not her father? Her mother will only tell her to “be patient.” Her pastor, a father figure I might add, will only convince her that a woman’s place is by her husband with no room for divorce.
As I mentioned in my opening statement, my relationship with my father has been on my mind a lot lately, and I’m afraid, many of these memories are not warm and fuzzy. My sister and I often talk about how our father’s sexism stunted our psychological growth and self-esteem. It is still surprising to me that my father, a modern and highly enlightened man was a misogynist beneath the surface. What is even more surprising and eerie is that I have experienced misogyny and sexism in my relationships with Nigerian men as a woman.
I will share a little about my life with you in order to make my point. After my parent’s separation when I was five years old and my sister was under a year old, my father insisted on raising us alone and deliberately cut off contact between our mother and us. He was physically and emotionally abusive towards us in many ways. He was unusually tight fisted when it came to providing our basic needs, including food unless you consider a daily diet of beans and garri to be healthy. He almost never bought us clothes, books, or hygiene products, but very generous to outsiders. As he beat me, he often told I was nothing and useless like my mother, I was stupid like my mother. My mistakes as a child were blamed on my mother.
Apart from the fact that I once read a letter where my mother accused him of stealing us away from her when he had made it clear he was not happy about her giving him female kids, I heard him tell people about his desires for a male child in a way that made me feel like my sister and I were not good enough. When he eventually remarried, I watched him beat my stepmother off and on again. He even beat her when she was pregnant. The emotional abuse was a given: “You were nothing before I married you! Your parents were so poor they died of hunger! Where would you be today if not for me? You are nothing but a vagina, a common peeing vagina! If you don’t keep quiet, I will kick you in the stomach!”
I must applaud my father for having a strong moral character when it came to women. He had access to lots of women as a college professor in Nigeria, but I never saw, heard or witnessed him being unfaithful to his wife unlike some of my peers who knew of their fathers mistresses and love children outside of their parents marriages. I can attest to his integrity as a single man for those nine years before he remarried. I will leave the rest of my childhood memories alone for now and discuss how these incidents have played out in my life as a woman in my next post.
Meanwhile, Happy Father’s Day! I hope it’s been a wonderful day for you and your loved ones!
Written by Nneoma Cox