To Mum: on Mothers’ Day

by Michael Oluwagbemi II

“A man loves his sweetheart the most; his wife the best, but his mother the longest.”
Irish Proverb


Good morning, it is mother’s day. Indeed, unlike many mothers around the world and particularly in Nigeria, you will not have the pleasure of my 180 degrees prostration this morning; your son is miles away in search of the proverbial Golden Fleece. It is true that you will not have me sing to you those eye sweltering poetry of the greatness of mothers this morning from Iya ni wura to Iya mi ku işę; and it is also true that you don’t have the luxury of nice presents or the pleasure of eating a good plate of amala and ewedu soup prepared by your favorite child (not as if you told me, just my guesstimate). Indeed, I won’t be able to chauffeur you to church this morning while playing our favorite music – Sweet mother. May be you will just make do with my phone call and that is it. Not as if you cared; I am sure like the dutiful and considerate mother you are- you will just be pleased that these thugs, hooligans, terrorists and good people of NIA have not pursued me out of their hollowed village in a fit of momentary madness.

Mother, this morning like every other morning , I am conscious of the sacrifices of the past and the role you have played in making me the man I have turned to be today. There is no doubt, that I was not the first man in your life. That man was my father. There is also no doubt that you were well prepared for your role in our family. You are our mother, sister, caretaker, helper, queen and matriarch all rolled in one. Unlike all these later day feminists you will rather not settle for the role of a neck that turns the head of the house; you are not a control freak. You realize that you are the crown that fits the head. You are the crown jewel of our family- the backbone of the network that inter connects the very foundations on which our family is built; our Jewel of inestimable value. You are a virtuous woman, my mother.A thorough bred disciplinarian that endure no nonsense; you are proud mother of three successful children, and the one that bore those nine months burden multiplied by three. I was an over-sized burden; you always reminded me of how kicked and how I made you so uncomfortable while you carried me around for those nine months. Not once did you settle to have yourself released prematurely from this heavenly burden and you only made the best out of it.

Many years you catered to my needs and the needs of my two sisters. I can remember back in those early days when you were my first teacher – both moral and academic. You taught me my spellings and my arithmetic.A teacher by profession, you never accepted less than the best from us. You instilled in us the ethos of discipline, self-reliance and self respect. I remember you handing me your reading glasses when I goofed on those spellings while I prepared for the entry interview to my primary school. I remember the grueling torture of learning my multiplication tables. But also, I remember the pride and stride in your steps while we walked back home from that interview. You told everyone we met on the road – those you know and those you didn’t, that your son had just been admitted to one of the most exclusive catholic primary schools in town. You were a proud mother, and I am still proud of you.

Many years later, you left your job as a teacher and vice principal. You liked what you do- but you left it notwithstanding for us. Unlike most of the feminists on this website will want to belief, you didn’t leave to sacrifice for the family or my father, you left for us- my two naughty sisters and I. In order to give us your undivided attention while we entered our crucial teenage years and are formed into young men and women. You took a voluntary step that has paid out well today. You were a teacher’s teacher. I remember one day, while we both shopped at Orita Bashorun Market in Ibadan, a nice looking young man stepped out of a nice luxurious car and in no moment was lying flat on his face in front of you. I wondered aloud who he was and you did as well. The young man unfazed replied and informed everyone around that you were his teacher. Then, he had finished his medical degree and was doing very well. I remember the look in your eyes while he recounted the details of the tutelage and discipline you gave him to remain on the straight and narrow. The same thing happened many times over in Warri, Lagos and other Nigerian cities.

It is true that in those early days of my teenage years when you retired after fifteen plus years of meritorious teaching service that you didn’t just hang your boot and became just any housewife. You were industrious; in fact, I cannot count the number of ventures you were involved in. You sold everything on the planet to anyone that could buy them. Somehow, I now know where that business instinct in me came from: it could not have been from my overtly risk averse father, it could only have come from you. I was your business partner. I remember while we both hatched our business plans and how I was your foremost debt collector. In those days, while on those collection rounds I learnt the first rules of doing business. Be nice to your customers, and be tactful with your debtors. It also taught me that owing people is a sure way to live a miserable life.

Apart from the business acumen, we (your children) also inherited your unparalleled book intelligence. You were a brain. You were not just a brain, but you worked very hard at it; and you worked us as well. You reminded us frequently that the child of teachers don’t bring zero home. We never brought zero homes, but the problem of course was that your definition of zero was totally different. You demanded perfection and more often than not got it. Woe betides any child that brought anything less than a hundred in French and English. You required of us to compete with our own set goals. You asked us not just to be the best we could be but to be better than our self. That was tough considering the fact that competing against one self means overshooting beyond highly set goals and objectives that you have already trained us to set for ourselves. But it worked; yes, I must admit that it works and still works. Even today, that word of yours (“omo teacher, ko kin gba odo wale”) continues to ring in my ears while I take the different stages of my professional exams that culminate in my licensing. It is funny that after so many years, those words stir me from my sleep to my working table and makes me work harder at anything I do.

Of all the things you taught me the ultimate lesson from you was that of self reliance. At an early age you taught me that the only person that had my back was myself. It is true that I was your only son, but you treated me like your only brother (may be because you didn’t have any). You confided in me at an early age those age long family secrets that is only best heard from the mouth of the woman from whose breast you sucked. It was great the way you shared with me your deepest pains and your greatest fears. You demanded that I be my own man. You taught me to be independent and you demanded it from me. When I came home crying after suffering from the hand of the bully, you added pepper to the injury by encouraging me to seek manly revenge instead of crying like a sissy. If I didn’t stop crying, I was guaranteed a good dose of your quick sharp hands and fists. But this didn’t stop you from coming to school the very next morning to extract revenge on my behalf. It was the best of both worlds, since I must have summoned enough courage by then and drawn good red saliva from the mouth of the bully before you came. In line with your ethos of independence, you taught me how to cook at the tender age of eight even before those two naughty girls learnt. You told me that a man that is versed in the culinary arts of t

he home can stand up to the trifling shenanigans of the modern women of my day. Today, I am the master of my own kitchen- any woman that will not cook will only make herself hungry while I gobble away at the various works of African delicacies that your wondrous hands taught me to carve.

I can go on and on about how much of a gift you are. I remember the day I knelt down before you as I left my father land; in your characteristic self you waxed strong in the oriki of my fore fathers (of both my maternal and paternal tradition) that can make the head of a man swell and burst. You prayed for my success and I prayed silently to meet you again. And I did. Last December, I met you at the airport here in the US of A in the arms of your dear husband- a man you appeared to have been made for (since you both share a common birthday and wedding anniversary), smiling and confident of the future. You are ageing gracefully with him. Tendering to his needs like a baby, you remind me of the great tradition of our mothers that men of my generation might never benefit from. You had been there for him while he confronted the middle age health challenges that have radically changed his diet and his personality and you have been there all the way since when he was a young man. Indeed, when I saw you last you had even managed to add an additional Master’s degree in the great tradition of an Ekiti woman of lifelong education and hard work. Yours has been a lifelong career of teaching; teaching me the essence of the African woman that transforms to our wives, and then our mothers- the foundations upon which our society is built.

It is for these and many other reasons I say thank you. Thanks for being there when we need you most. Thanks for being there for my two sisters and I.; and above all thanks for being there for father. It has been nice knowing you for the past quarter of a century or so and it will be nice knowing you for the next two quarters. God Bless you mother and God bless the mothers of the world. May the generation of all women be blessed, because it is through them our civilization is preserved and our lineage perpetuated. Once again, happy mothers day.

Last line:

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials, heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine, desert us when troubles thicken around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.” Washington Irving

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1 comment

Private April 27, 2010 - 12:45 am

This is absolutely beautiful. Touching, and it sure did drop tears from my eyes. It resounds to me the characters of my Mother as well. May God bless our mothers and i pray God build me to be better than our today mothers.. IJN.. Amen


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