Sunday

Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, talks about his challenges as a father with GBENGA ADENIJI

How would you define fatherhood?

Fatherhood is an important aspect of a man. One of the elements which qualify anybody to be referred to as a man, apart from being financially successful, is that he must have offspring. In our society, when a man is being greeted, people ask, ‘how is your family or how is your home?’ They are actually referring to the man’s wife and children. There is a socio-cultural attachment to children in our society. The fatherhood figure thus signifies procreation and that in itself indicates financial provision and care for the family. Fatherhood is not just about a man having many children all over the place. It goes beyond that. It includes whether the person unites his family, stays close to them and provides for their pressing needs.


What have been your challenges as a father?
I was rascally while growing up. I exhibited the behaviour from my secondary school days till I went to the university. I recall that my father used to say that he prayed that none of my children would take after me in my rascal act. My first child who is a boy, Oluwaseyi, picked up the habit. He studied Accounting at a British university. We always argued over things anytime he came home. He has relaxed now and we understand each other. He is a graduate and I no longer beat him. It is not easy training children. Sometimes, I remember that I was like him. My daughter, Mojere, who is a law student in a school in the United Kingdom, is his opposite. My wife, Igbinijesu, is also a lawyer.

Would you describe yourself as a disciplinarian?

I am not. I am the weaker link in my nuclear family when we talk about disciplining children. I mean between my wife and I. My wife is tougher. She had a military background. Her father retired as a General in the Army. So, she ensures that none of our two children misbehaves and would not have me pamper them needlessly. Sometimes, I used to jokingly tell her not to bring her military mentality to bear in the training of our children since we are in a democratic rule. There was a time I used to beat my children but when they entered secondary school, I decided to correct their misdeeds verbally. Some people would think because I was tough as a child, I would be hard on my children. But it is not so.

What harshest punishment have you employed to discipline any one of them who acted up?

I used a belt to flog such a child. In the UK in 2009, I flogged my son with a belt and he threatened to call the police. He said the act was child abuse and I told him that if he carried out his threat, I would send him out of the house. However, I do not think it is good for parents to use the cane on their children. If it is done repeatedly, the offending child will grow up with the mentality that no matter the offence, he or she will only get beaten and nothing more. Parents can talk with their children and not beat them at the slightest provocation. Children are not animals. I am not saying that children should not be beaten when they offend their parents but there should be a limit. Verbal correction can go a long way rather than using the cane every time to discipline erring children. A child who is corrected verbally will always remember what he or she is cautioned for.

What advice did you give your children about relationship and marriage?

My first advice to my children is that they should study hard and earn good grades. They know that they owe me a university certificate. It does not mean that one cannot succeed without university education.  University certificate may not immediately provide food for the holders but it creates opportunities for them. The Agbaje family is well noted in Akoko-Edo area of Edo State for quality education. My late father was as an Archbishop of the Anglican Church and he earned a PhD in Church History from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University). When I obtained MPhil, he insisted that I must earn a PhD. I am taking it easy and doing it gradually because of the nature of my work.

After education, my children know that I will not dictate who they should marry but I gave them some pieces of advice in that regard.

When I completed my law programme, my father told me that I must marry a lady that would match my background and complement me. He said my wife must be someone capable of taking care of my children well. I had many girlfriends at the time but my wife was the most intelligent and the most beautiful of them all. She lives abroad with our children and I am happy with her parenting style.

It is important to marry the right person. Nobody should marry anybody with a ‘logo,’ of someone who perpetually lags behind. Nobody prays to have a child that will suffer in future. Everybody wants the best for their kids. Rich people who ensure that their children marry from another rich home know what they are doing. My wife is a pillar. She supports me totally. She also changed my orientation about marriage.

What did you fear most about fatherhood before you became one?

My greatest fear had happened. I feared that I should not have a radical child. I recall that when my son was young, I would hold his hand and he would try to wriggle out. I felt then that he would be tough and my father-in-law also observed that. I thank God that he has changed for the better now. I want the best for my children and that made me to send them to the best schools abroad for them to be able to stand on their own in future.

What were the things you learnt from your father that are useful for you today as a father?

I learnt from my father that one should love and be responsible to his family. He loved members of his immediate and extended family. He pursued unity among them. He made sure that our family was closely-knit. Though my father was tough on us, he nonetheless loved us. It was from him that I learnt how to use a belt to beat stubborn kids. He would ask us to hold the edge of the table and beat us with a belt whenever he noticed that we were misbehaving.

What house chores did you help your wife with?

I ironed clothes. After my wife washed the clothes with a washing machine and dried them, I would gather and iron them. I still iron my children’s clothes till today. There was a day my children left the dishes in the dishwasher. I entered the kitchen and saw the dirty dishes. I decided to wash them so that their mother would not punish them when she returned. My wife suspected that I was the one who washed the dishes when she got back. She said the children could not have washed them so clean.

One of your children is studying Law. Are you the one who influenced her to choose the course?

I did not. She chose Law herself and I encouraged her. She was the one who chose to follow in my footsteps as a lawyer. She told me she would pursue law for public good. I would have been happier if my son chose Law. When he was in the secondary school, anytime he came to my law firm, he would ask when I had the time to read all the books in my office. I used to tell him that he would also read them and he often replied that he preferred to study another course. He added that he had no time for lengthy reading.

What would you have loved to do in a different way as a father if you could go back to the past?

I would have loved to be close to my children but I have been unable to do so because of the nature of my job. They are abroad while I stay in Nigeria. I only visit them and return to Nigeria. I am what is called an absentee father. The good thing about an absentee father is that one tends to create a strong bond with one’s children anytime one is around them. My children feel my presence whenever I am with them. You will hear them say with excitement, ‘‘daddy has come,’ whenever I travel to see them. They are always looking forward to my arrival.

Since you are not comfortable being an absentee father, why don’t you relocate your family to where you are?

I like this question. I did not just choose that they should live abroad. When my son was a baby, he needed a medical attention and a hospital in Nigeria referred him to St. Thomas’ Hospital, London.

We could not be taking him abroad and back to Nigeria every time. That was why my family had to relocate. I do not regret the decision because they have access to good education and mingle with their peers there. It was not that I sat down with my family and decided to relocate them.

Do you have any preference for a particular gender in choosing children?

One cannot blame men who prefer the boy-child to the girl-child. Our society is male-dominated. I have an in-law whose five children are girls and another that all his children are boys. The fact is that one should accept whatever gender of children God gives one. I know that girls tend to cater for their fathers more than boys do. My daughter always tells me that she loves me. She treats me specially. If I had only a daughter, I would also not bother. I am not saying this because I have both sexes. Like my wife always says, she gave me the whole world by bearing male and female kids. My daughter can call me four times a day. My son will not bother to call because, according to him, he knows I will be fine hence there is no need to call me.

Do you give your children pocket money?

Of course I do. It is the first commandment in my family. As a child, I collected pocket money from my parents. My children have copied this too. They will ask for pocket money from my wife and also ask me too. Their request can come weekly, daily or monthly depending on their needs. There is no limit to the amount one can give to one’s children.  I am prepared to walk naked to provide for my children. I am not saying that one must give them everything they want but there are some important needs that should be met.  I recall an event four years ago. My daughter was preparing for O Levels and she saw a pair of shoes online that cost about £120. She asked me for the money and I promised to buy it for her if she made good grades in her examination. She performed excellently and I gave her the money for the shoes. When my wife saw the shoes, she told me that I was spoiling her. I told her that I made a deal with her and she fulfilled her part and that it was also important for me to fulfil mine. When my sister-in-law in the UK saw the shoes too, she asked if I was not exposing her to a high taste by buying her the shoes. It was my wife who explained to her why I bought the shoes. My daughter knows that anytime she makes a request, I tie its fulfillment to an academic feat and whenever I do that, I notice that I have put her on the path of an academic race which she will study hard to win.
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