A Mother’s Christmas Present

by Banjo Odutola

I take particular interest in family issues because I grew up in a dysfunctional one. I do not discuss my family because along the years, I have had to determine who is in and who stays out. I come from one of those families with countless children and a string of wives that surprise was a tool when a particular woman escaped the bedspread of the child making factory room. In my opinion, my family members are the ones that stayed my course of what true family values are. They chose not to be nasty to a boisterous or wayward son or brother, when growing up. They decided honourable paths for the sake of family. They were understanding. They prayed. Their prayers paid off. Never at any point did they consider me an embarrassment. They did as they do what has to be done. They loved and still love me for being different. I cherish them a great deal and as opportunities arise, like a grateful lamb spared the knife of the slaughterer, inwardly, I remain extremely grateful to them and outwardly, my appreciations know no bounds. The family members firmly shut out mean nothing to me, as I hope I do to them. It has nothing to do with rancour or unforgiveness, it has a lot to do with lessons in life that are often repeated and for which this treatise is submitted to touch someone in a positive way.

I read the tributes of Kingsley Moghalu, the United Nations Lawyer to his father, and spent time deliberating on those of Laolu Akande, the formidable journalist, to his mother. When parents deserve to be praised in life and death for discharging their parental responsibilities; when a child in mid-life looks back and on balance of the harsh and good days, says of his parents that they are good people, I am always moved. Well, at least I can say of my mother, what Mr. Akande says of his. In life, I still thank her for the posterity that was said would be a Judge, has judged her well. For the pains and embarrassments of the past that I caused her, I cannot atone. She reminds me that I do not have to atone because her redeemer who lives has a purpose for charging me to her. What can be more moving? As she moves towards the sunset of her life, I never stop to recount what she means to me. How she taught me to pray and trust in a divine power. When everybody gave up and had consigned me to the heap of life. How amidst plenty, she suffered degradation and abuse in the hands of her husband’s children for whom it was predicted the future was theirs. The reality is that the boastings of years gone by have turned into hollow noises of the present. It is true that posterity is a Judge. At this Christmas, permit on this occasion that I reflect over the good and bad days; and to my mother, who needs no gratitude from me, as I am reminded by her that all she has done and still does on my behalf, are the expectations of my maker and her maker. Humbly, I place my gratitude on public record. Thank you so much, mother!

Recently, in England, the Justice system dealt with Ian Huntley, a murderer of two young children, who has started a life sentence. His crime fits the punishment. The acres of newsprint and amount of airtime to condemn him may even be inadequate for all we care at these shores. I read a great deal of the aftermath of Mr. Huntley’s case. The police have been blamed; so have the press and the provisions of Data Protection Act. Many have condemned the murderer and rightly so, perhaps. The reactions may not be appropriate. However, of all the denouncements, his mother’s “Hang my son” and the father’s reaction that there is none left for his son; so, he must stand firmly behind him, caught my attention. I honour the father. I lambast the mother. A father who realises that in spite of what his son has done, he must remain his son’s shield needs to be praised.

Let me share a story. I know of another father, who sent his daughter in the early 1960’s to England to become a doctor. When other Nigerians were returning with various lofty qualifications to start their careers in the early 1970’s, the father declared a five star party for the returning daughter. A motorcar was appropriate for Sisi Ilu Oyinbo, as a gift for capturing “Omo Epuro” . The father soon realised that many others who had less financial support had done extremely better and were taking plum jobs. The daughter worked night shifts at hospitals in Lagos and the secret was soon out that after many years in England, her only qualification was adequate for entrance to a Nigerian University on the basis that she was a mature student. Not many qualifications as the rumour mills had it. Instead of the father seeing the wastrel in his daughter, the son that drove the car he had bought for her, without permission and had a fatal accident, was never to be spoken to. After all, the value of that son to the father and his family compared to the price of a car for his daughter is negligible. The motorcar was more valuable. Anyway, despite all the money spent on that daughter, selfishly, she is seeking a better life abroad. So, where is the gain that the daughter would look after him in his twilight years? Upon all the money spent, where is the care or the triumph? Clearly, it is all vanity upon vanity. Ian Huntley should be grateful in many ways that to his father, his life is worth more than the price of a motorcar.

Nonetheless, the support that the father gave to another child who for reference, I shall refer as the “pretender” is appropriate. After the pretender had, at school impregnated the daughter of a family friend, the father declared a society party to ward off what he would have termed a destruction of his name. Had another child of the pretender’s age dared to do the same – hell would have been let loose. Instead of a party, the father would have meted out a greater condemnation for which Ian Huntley would consider himself lucky.

You know in all of what happens in life, whether our children have bad habits for which we are not proud of them; whether the criminal justice condemns our child to a life of incarceration; whether our children are not doing well at school and it seems that they will not attain what we desire for them; whether a child is doing better than another: what matter most is to do the best visibly by which the child can be proud of us as parents. We must support the child; reinforce that the child matters; appreciate that as parents, we are not monopolists of wisdom; consider that the child did not ask to be born and it is our action that brought about his life; reach out to a child who harbours anger against us because we must have got it wrong along the way. There is no point in taking pride on all the children who like the sheep are with the Shepherd. The society snobbery that we so much fear may not exist. Anyway, if the damage were expected to be repaired by the children, we need to look at the parents who may deserve what they get and at the same time, request the child to take a breather.

At this time of Christian Charity, may those whose children look back and take pride in them rejoice for on earth theirs are the good tidings of what their makers have prepared, when they shall give accounts of what they did to the children in their care. May those, who can hear the hunter’s horn have the heart to admit that they are erring. May those who are angered by the content inhere stop to look at their own lives and resist belligerence, for it is only a heart at which the coldness of truth means nothing, that would want to kick against an advice to reach out to one’s own children. As you take this piece for what it is, may your Christmas be one at which the children that surround you are truly saying that they are lucky to have you as a parent. Happy Christmas!

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