Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Baracking A Father

“Dad,

Happy Father's Day! Thank you for everything you have done for us, and everything you are doing now. I speak for all of us when I say that you are our role model and our hero. You make our days brighter with your advice and your voice and your aura, and we know that we can come to you for anything, and that knowledge has made my life so much brighter. Thank you for being so open and caring, and showing us the way to be true to ourselves and our family. You have taught us so much, from how to appreciate good music to how to appreciate life in general. We know you are working hard to provide for us, and we appreciate that so much. For that and everything else, we are deeply grateful.

We love you.

From Tari, Ola and Ami.”

Dedicated to my three teachers who have thought my soul the dignity of manhood.

That was my fathers day gift from my boys, personal, vulnerable, open and powerful. It came about the same time as I read Senator Obama’s speech on absent fathers. I have resisted writing about the good Senator for a while because as he closed in on the nomination I thought it was time to get on the ‘balcony’ and observe the broader patterns at work. It was time to move away from the skirmishes and horse race to see how the forest behaves different fro the trees. There are certainly differences such as Senator Obama is culturally as American as Chino’s for casual wear. He is mainstream in ways only the rest of the world can see and only his fellow citizens can ignore. His speech at AIPAC signified that he intends to position himself to the centre for the General election. However one should expect no less from him if he wants to win. One area where the voters in the United States have not been given credit that they deserve is in their commitment to seek renewal. The coalition of higher income, higher education, Younger people, significant minority identity groups that delivered him the nomination are a powerful representation of a potential 21st century renewal. The nomination is a victory for their commitment to renew American leadership in the world by re-engaging the only thing that matters its enthusiasm and commitment to opportunities over the fear and insecurity of the past 8 years. I wish them well.

On Friday, here in Lagos I closed for the day at 12 noon to hang out with one of my boys. We had decided that we would go to a spa , get a massage, manicure, pedicure, drink and go to a concert. It was totally unlike him and it is nearly not me as often as I would like. I have the great fortune of being honoured by my friends as a source of counsel in troubled times. It was troubled times for both of us whose wives are our contemporaries, who found life’s purpose in honouring duty, who are the go too for many people but had really nobody to go to. In my case and like my father before me i am trained to be a provider and no one expects less across my vast family in at least three continents. I feel honoured and elevated by it, wanted and centre of attention. It also means that there are few places where I can be

vulnerable or needy. No one want to see the person is their backbone, their person of last resort without the fortitude or even the courage that they rely upon. In the same token my boy was hurting, sad as he confronted the fact that in his attempt to be the father, husband and son that Senator Obama so eloquently seeks amongst African Americans he had buried a critical part of himself. The part of him that seeks adventure, that discovers possibilities and explores alternatives. Now in his 40’s that part of him awakens with a vengeance and will not be denied. He is angry and also confused but where he goes from here? Who does he speak too? What can this mean for his family? Where can he cry openly?

Here in Nigeria I suppose men don’t cry without a physical reason. They just drink hard and live hard hiding behind the ‘big man’ mask. We end up using sex, drink and work as the drugs to deaden the trap that the ‘stereotype’ of the good man has turned our lives into. We had a ball by the way. The spa thing was a blast and the concert afterwards well Haruna Ishola is the blues cure for wounded soul. I will be back for a massage this Friday.

Senator Obama like many other domesticated males over-simplifies the challenge of manhood in the 21st century. He ignores the natural disposition, reducing the social complexity and seeking part solution. No one can ever absolve any man from the responsibility and obligation of being the best father they can to the children that life, choices and sometimes circumstances have delivered their way. Nobody ever said it would be easy. The email I got from my 15 year old son also shows it is a privilege when the souls put in your custody flower to full and sweet smelling bloom there is no greater love. The Senator however is obliged to understand that the sociology of his country and increasingly the rest of the world portends a crisis of manhood which leads different men to make very difficult and sometimes destructive choices. They range from the increasingly bitter and dishonourable battle between the sexes that neither will win but when two elephants fight the grass always suffer and this are our children. It also includes the feminisation of family law and jurisprudence that institutionalises the simplistic split of the sexes into primary carer and resource provider. All these in a world where working class men have seen the workplace flourish to women’s emotional intelligence and stereotyped competencies. At the same time as their manufacturing domains disappear almost comletely.In the African American communities these issues are further polarised by an history of Slavery as well as a tradition for racial fear of black alpha males and their competitive potential. If one doubts the global crisis of manhood, explore the despair of increased suicide, murder, antisocial lifestylles and even extremism amongst young men in the western world. In the UK, it is street killings, in Scandinavia its suicides, in South Africa and Jamaica its guns, in US well take your pick, Middle East its extremist politics.

There are no excuses but the reasons are still there and must be understood for there to be sustainable solutions. The Senator has good intentions and disrupts the elevation of victimhood into a standard of pride. Nevertheless he is a much more nuanced person and far more aware of complexity than to stumble into this critical minefield without bringing in the best of himself. For some this is a great Sister Souljah moment for him for those of us who are fathers of boys whose entire lives are constructed by the question of how we restore a dialogue of mutual respect and curiosity amongst the sexes his speech only raises questions. The same questions I felt on Saturday as Asa serenaded her mother from the stage and I pronounce the formidable legacy of love from my mother on these . I suppose the Yoruba saying that ‘Iya ni wura, Baba ni digi’ which translates into Mother is the gold and father is the mirror comes to mind. Go figure.

2 comments:

ayo said...

"The part of him that seeks adventure, that discovers possibilities and explores alternatives. Now in his 40’s that part of him awakens with a vengeance and will not be denied. He is angry and also confused but where he goes from here? "

Egbon please enlighten me: This sounds like mid-life crisis to me - and the 'alternative' ends up being a younger woman with the wife left holding the babies.
Or did I read this all wrong?

Onibudo said...

`maybe it is midlife crisis but that for me is a low hanging fruit that fails to capture the complexity of the many things that shape the transition to your 40's. You see for most of our lives, most of us choose a role we play to the satisfaction of those we live or socialise with. We bury other aspects of our character especially those that find the least charitable analysis. The older we become and the more our mortality is transparent the more likely we are to confront those things.

It is possible a younger woman is the response but if this is just a flourish to run away from things inside himself that need answers then he will turn her into the woman he left. The real challenge is to have a space for your journey. No ones life should be imprisoned by commitment or duty. It should be an at best an exploration of many possibilities with a healthy those of concern for its effect on others.

One thing is certain for my friend the status quo is untenable. It will kill him slowly but surely. Most men die earlier than their wives. Is it not possible to evolve the relationship to a true friendship where both honour that it is a privilege to be together not an obligation?