Tag Archives: Marriage

Parenting As A Child – Welcoming Charles III

I recently had a child, a second and a boy. He came almost five years after the first, in spite of my dodging tactics. Now that he has come, I have been quite excited, the kind of tearful excitement you feel but cannot fully express. Somehow, the excitement is entirely different from what the majority of people might think. Several of my friends and associates decided to display their chauvinistic worldview with handshakes laced by “you’re now a man,” in reference to the male child. It was to spurn this chauvinism that I decided to name the first, a girl, after myself. Unfortunately, I am not excited – only thankful – that he is a boy. I’m thankful because I now have comparative basis to understand how male and female children act and I can do experimental parenting in some respects, trying to test some ideas I have nursed. My excitement about Charles III is entirely based on the reaction of his elder one, Charlene. Like true soul mates, she and I waited for the arrival of the newborn and when he finally arrived, those who had the grace to watch us reported that we acted as school children.

I approached parenting with trepidation. No matter how much fun lovers may feel towards each other, I think parenting should be approached with a great sense of reflection and responsibility. Deciding to get married didn’t come to me as a life mission. In fact, it was one aspect of human consciousness I never gave much thought about. I still remember vividly having to make arrangements to get married after the initial traditional requirements – paying for the wedding gown, the cake, ordering souvenirs, booking the reception venue and taking care of all other logistics. Then few weeks to the time, I called the prospective bride and told her I wasn’t sure I was meant to get through with the marriage. Maybe if I have the luxury of ever writing a memoir sometime in the future, I would tell the whole story; but suffice it to say that I walked away and didn’t look back, even amidst the tears she shed. I still remember a friend who hadn’t heard the wedding was called off going to the church and sitting through a wedding ceremony on the assumption that it was mine, until she heard different names of the couple being called out. I have been a misfit most of my life in many aspects, but this tag has helped me to know the things that matter. I can talk about it now because I ended up marrying the same woman I walked away from, though three years after. As part of the twist, I’ve been married to her at four different ceremonies. I must admit that experience has been a most binding force of our lives together than any other. So, it was not difficult to give in to her pestering desire for a second child.

I have been asked several times why I walked away then. My answer has been simple: I walked away because I didn’t know why I should stay. Over the past six years of being married, I have tried to pore through my subconscious to understand why I walked away. The closest reason I came up with has been fear of parenting. Getting married is the littlest of my concerns. Marriage is about companionship; same thing as partnership. My background in sociology has been helpful in making me see that when two people are involved in a harmonious relationship they form symmetric bonding and human energies, when well harnessed, can bring about healthier interaction. However, when you throw in a third party, things turn somewhat asymmetric. Now, you have people playing different roles, viz. the man plays husband and father in addition to plethora of other roles outside the relationship and the woman plays wife and mother in addition to several others too. The likelihood of role strain is very much near.

I decided to look too deeply into the decision to marry and focused, not so much on the marriage itself, but on the resultant condition of becoming a father at some point. I was brought up to believe, though erroneously, that having a child is a natural consequence of marriage. This erroneous content of our upbringing has robbed many marriages the joy of each other’s companionship as the society put so much pressure on the couple to deliver on their marriage mandate. Having watched marriages hit the rock and children grow up without bearing, I have been concerned about the task of taking care of a child in today’s morally tasking world in the face of pursuing a career. The crave of materialism has not also helped matters. I believe no child should be brought into this world without being given a good moral compass to navigate the poisonous waters of human choices and consequences. In addition to this moral compass, children must be provided for but never to be made to crave for money or wealth. The greatest wealth anyone can attain is containment. In fact, in these increasingly expensive educational times, having an insurance arrangements that would take care of one’s child in the future when your income or continued employment may not be guaranteed is wisdom. With life expectancy as low as 51 years in Nigeria, it is even more pertinent that our planned parenting be imbued with wisdom each step of the way.

I have been busy watching my daughter play the role of big sister. There is so much attention paid to the newborn and I have decided to let mine focus on the older child. I still remember holding her hands in the maternity section of the hospital that Sunday afternoon to offer prayer of agreement for safe delivery. Through my relationship with the young one, I have come to realize that we actively collaborate with God to bring forth children for a purpose, a process that builds our faith and teaches us so many things. I have adopted the approach that the best way to be a parent is to approach parenting as a child, freeing oneself of the adultness baggage we carry about. Children should be allowed to be children, given healthy worldview and opportunities to be fully that. Parenting as a child is adopting the worldview of the child to look at what the adult sees. For me, freedom of expression has been my primary commitment. I want to offer the children opportunity to say whatever it is that may be on their mind, without hushing them. It is only when I know these expressions that I can understand their thought processes and provide necessary guidance. In approaching this too, I am mindful that many adults need guidance and sometimes a child might provide a glimpse of a direction not thought of. So, I am choosing to be free-spirited, exemplary and loving in encountering the experiential learning process called parenting.

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Husbands Wanted: Apply In Person

A romance with poverty is an intriguing and debilitating experience. It’s a romance that could either generate the humorous or bring one to a vegetative state. I’m talking about material poverty, inability to survive on your own without dependence on kinship or the state. In such a state, your ability for independent choices is dependent on your inner wealth and strength. But that isn’t what is common among women in Nigeria, especially in Northern Nigeria. Demographic studies have highlighted the cultural subjugation of some of these women, many of who are neither heard nor seen. They are behind-the-scene attendants, with their needs dictated to and provided for by others. It was news last year when Kano State Government organized a mass wedding ceremony for about 100 widows and divorcees in the state. It smacked of a carnival. One would have thought that perhaps the women and men so married had chosen themselves, but lacked the financial resources for a ceremony. After all, mass weddings are widespread in Nigeria. The churches do it, so why can’t the state governments do it as poverty-alleviation projects? The difference lies not in the conduct of the ceremony by external parties like church or government, but in the decision of the marrying parties.

Vanguard Newspaper of today (January 5, 2013) has published Zamfara State Government’s announcement of plans to find husbands for about 2000 widows as a means of curtailing the rising numbers. I read the news and began to wonder what underlines this act of charity. As I read the online comments that followed the publication, I found that to be more intriguing than the news report itself. One of the most worrisome questions that emerged was “How did this large number of women become widows?” In trying to wrap my head around this, another post gave suggestion as to possibilities, suggesting that many of them may have been wives to late terrorists who have been killed within the last three years following the intensification of attacks by state security agents. That might be over-generalizing as the attacks have been more in the North East and not the North West where Zamfara State is. But, with the possible homogenous nature of the North, who says a widow in the North East cannot relocate, with clandestine state assistance, to the North West for purpose of swelling up their ranks and justifying the allocation of financial resources? Nigeria is a land of absurd possibilities. Nevertheless, if that line of reasoning is valid, then we are having a situation of indirect state-financed terrorism in the country. But I will let the state intelligence agencies do their work.

Now, back to the marriage arrangements; I’m wondering where the husbands will be sourced from. Will they be sourced from within and outside the state? Or will the search extend to outside the country to neighbouring Niger Republic and even up to Libya and other North African countries? Inter-marriage between northern Nigerians and citizens of Northern African countries is common and with the large number of women involved in this case, this wider search might be necessary. Anyway, come to think of it, only 500 men are needed actually. Since Zamfara is a Sharia state, a man is allowed to marry four wives. So, if the 2000 widows are distributed among 500 men, they would have been adequately taken care of. That will, however, be dependent on the State Government’s ability to source for and find willing single men.

Exploring the above further, there are several other concerns about this arrangement, unanswered questions. What are the qualifications for the husbands – cultural, religious, citizenship, psychological, etc? Are they going to be economically active and independent men? Are they going to be single or widowers? Are they going to be healthy enough such that they don’t die too soon and leave these widows widowed again? Are they going to be given employment to enable them to provide for the new wives? Will the women be given a chance to choose among the assortments of men that are going to be lined up? Have they discussed with the widows their specifications in terms of the kind of man they want? I would expect that in collating information from the widows, they were asked to fill out a form or one was filled out for each of them and in that form, they were asked adequate demographic information as a basis to match appropriate men.

There is another question that stands out. What is in this for the State Government? Is it part of their social security/development arrangements? Is it so difficult for the government to execute interventions that would make these widows economically independent on their own? I want to believe that many of them have children and these children have a right to grow under conditions of appropriate care and provisioning. I know in certain cultural settings a woman is denuded of her humanity to the extent that she is not given a voice to choose her partner or spouse, but should this be accepted as the best solution? As is common in Nigeria, it may not be surprising to find out that these “widows” are really not widows, as it could just be an arrangement to syphon money from the state treasury through some phony means. If the basis for this “project” is to address the perceived deprivation these women are exposed to, then it is hinged on the erroneous assumption that marriage is an empowering institution. In fact, marriage is a subjugating institution, especially when the basis for entering into it is not negotiated in some form.

It is my assumption that many of the said “widows” have children of varied ages and their peculiar needs may not be addressed within a marriage context. It is my reasoned opinion that the needs of many of these children may be addressed through their mother’s economic independence. These children should be situated within the entire project as the most vulnerable group; not the widows. They are vulnerable to all kinds of abuse – physical, moral, sexual, psychological, economic, etc. This is a task for the civil society groups who have a mandate to protect rights of children. There is need to understand the basis and dynamics of this project. If the women have chosen to subject themselves to this experiment, how have they factored the helpless children into the whole arrangement? It is even worrisome that the announcement was made by the Zamfara State Commissioner for Women and Children Affairs, who incidentally is a woman. In a cultural setting characterized by complementarity rather than equality, we are facing a situation where new organic problems are created by trying to solve existing ones.

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The Hug

It’s been fifteen years since we last saw each other. In-between, we had settled into life’s exploratory encounters, hopeful that we would someday connect again, at least to find out how the years and their twists have treated us as we strove to cope with the bliss and blight of daily survival.

How do you hug an old friend? I mean one you both shared fraternal friendship with, and as the years passed, you drifted away, wondering what has happened to the other, sometimes looking back with nostalgia.

I sighted her walking towards the reception desk. She was her old self! Grown and mature, but her true self still, with same gait I’ve identified her with. I didn’t want her to start asking around, so I decided to meet her up. Our eyes met, gazelle-like. She, with her arms open in dancing dexterity and I, smiling with suppressed excitement to control the attention of standers-by, rushed an embrace, silently. Breathless! It might have been fifteen seconds since we hugged, each second bursting with life of a year of absence. Then, I looked into her eyes. There was that silent wish in her suddenly sullen eyes: I wish you could take me away. I wish I didn’t have to go back to him. The words were needless, too heavy to say, but I could feel each stroke through her heartbeat.

In letting go my hold of her, my mind raced through memory lane, to the years in the university. One scene emerged from the hazy memory. The scene was my living room. She had come to inform me of the release of our grade for a particular course. I had an A and she, a D. She had put in so much effort and the result didn’t reflect that at all. As she complained of the poor grade, droplet of tears sauntered down her cheeks, then a torrent. She became uncontrollable and as much as I tried to calm her down, she didn’t come around. Helpless in wiping her tears, I fell into a sudden siege and drained my back on the wall till I was on the tiled floor, my eyes letting out torrents that competed with hers. I can’t say if I cried out of sympathy or helplessness. Whatever it was, her tears dried up and I was now to be consoled. We were that emotional.

As the memory receded, I asked her to a seat at a quiet corner. I wanted to listen to her, not to recount the tales of pain she had undergone lately, but to tell me how she had survived it.

“I’m not happy and I know I wear it as a veil.” Her voice couldn’t betray the timidity and innocence of years ago.

“I know.” I’ve always known, anyway, even without saying a word about it.

“I feel trapped in this marriage; helpless. I don’t want to be seen as a failure.” Her pain was palpable. Her skin had grown tough, her beauty beaten by the pain. I let her reel out the highlights of her almost-a-decade-old endurance, starting from the short-lived joys of newly-weds through the seething moments of her undiagnosed ill-health and miraculous recovery to masculine insensitivity and abuse she had to live with. I’ve heard these before, only now I had to endure the pain of watching her tell it with so much stress and grace. She was broken, and I was too. I spoke little, almost nothing. I didn’t want us to spend the few minutes we had wailing. I wanted to remember the meeting, to make her laugh and remember the laughter. I ordered chapman for two and as we waited, I turned on the camera of my phone and clicked. I clicked again. She lightened up, her full-blown smile back to life. She seemed delighted to leave a part of her with me; as much as I wanted to take away a part of her too.

“It’s so good to see you. Really nice we could meet.”

“Yes o. I’m so happy we could see.” She was shy; it wasn’t a strange trait.

“I know life hasn’t been easy and with all you go through…” I nodded in disbelief. “I’m wondering where you got the grace to withstand all these. You, of all people.” It wasn’t that I felt she wasn’t strong, but that she was the least to trouble a man who’d love her.

“Hmmmm…Honestly, I’ve wondered too. But it could only have been God.”

“Good to hear that. That means God isn’t done with you.”

“I know,” her voice betraying her disbelief. “But for how long? I’ve reached the end of my strength”

Silence fell upon us. It was that trice one lets in the moment to allow its truth simmer through the pores of our thoughts. I reached for her palm and held it closely. She looked up to my eyes, with a questing that seeks some uncertain consolation. “Sometimes we assume our marriage is the worst or we’ve hit the wall.”

“I really don’t think any other case is worst than mine. Not knowing what my husband wants and his not expressive of his thoughts truly compound the strained relationship. I can’t say we’ve a marriage. It’s like a forced union.” Her voice had that lachrymal underlining, ridden by intensity of subconscious but debilitating pain.

“All we need is a little more faith; faith that lives not on grand hope, but one that takes us through each moment, each day. You’ve held on this long. You could hold on longer.”

I decided to share a story with her, for whatever it was worth. It was a story of a friend who had been married for almost twenty years before the husband died out of an accident. They had two children, a boy and a girl, and a marriage that was obviously an enviable one. Both were active members of their church, respectable couple. Sort of a model as seen by the outside world, yet somewhere did an unknown secret lurk. On the day of the burial, as the church called out the man’s children for blessing, three other children he had with another woman also stood up. It was the first time the wife was to ever become aware that her husband had other children after marrying her. She would later discover that her husband’s brothers knew about the out-of-wedlock children and kept it diligently from her knowledge as though they had sworn to an oath of secrecy.

Now my friend looked on with disbelief, but I managed to ask her “How do you think the wife felt when she discovered the truth and the deception? ”

“I don’t know what to think. I’d think I was never married, that the marriage never existed.”

“Now you can see that every marriage is like the waves of the sea. Each wave brings its own experience and you’ve to learn how to adjust the sails, steer your ship or be drown.”

She breathed in deep, then let out some air. “But at least she had her kids to console her.”

“And who says you won’t have yours? All you need to focus on is building a loving home that welcomes a child.”

“I’m only hoping on God. It’s not easy, but I guess I’ve no choice.”

These were the words I needed to hear, an agreement that she could take a step of faith each day, trusting God in the littlest of things. I could sense that a ray of hope seems to have tinseled through her consciousness. I reached out for her two hands and quietly took the role of the muezzin. Only that this was conducted silently, asking for strength for her and the courage to look up when dragged down. When we were done, she relaxed her back and took a whole look at me.

The tension in the air dissipated and we settled down to our drinks that had long stood there in lonely company. “You look quite good,” she said. “Your wife is taking good care of you.”

A smile gathered around my cheeks, causing a gaze of affection that drew a hearty, relieving smile from her. Our hearts seemed to have hugged again.

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