The many joys of fatherhood

by Ikhide R. Ikheloa

When I was a little boy, I looked forward to being a father. We did not call them dads in those days, we called them ‘father’ or ‘papa’. Any other term of endearment was liable to get us in big trouble which usually meant an adult fist or something more malevolent colliding with a sensitive area of a child’s head. It just seemed at the time that my dad did not have much responsibility. Our main connection with Papalolo was extracting money from him. In retrospect, he was a generous giver, but at the time I remember us going to him for stuff with great trepidation. There was always drama accompanying any request. There would be the history lesson on how children of nowadays do not value money, blah, blah, blah. There would be the interrogation; “What do you need money for, do you think money grows on trees?”

Dad was the breadwinner and he made sure we knew it. He went to work in clothes that we had starched and ironed and in shoes that we polished so well we could see our teeth in their shine. He would return from the day’s job loudly protesting the stress of work, blah, blah, blah. One of us would be deployed to grab his briefcase (we don’t remember ever seeing the inside of that briefcase, maybe it was for show), one of us would take the shoes off him once he had sat down to continue his tale of woe about work and one would hand him a glass of cold water from the pot (we did not have a fridge at the time, we heard rumors that some families had it). Then my mother would, with great drama, produce his dinner. It just seemed like a great life, this patriarch that got his way without as much as snapping his fingers.

I am a father now and I can only say that I should sue my father; he cleverly hid all the indignities that fathers are subjected to in the household. The good news is that unlike the male praying mantis, our heads are not decapitated after sex. In my generation, men have lost the perks of patriarchy and added other responsibilities to the weighty ones that my father hid so well from us. For one thing, the children seem to be in charge around here, and heaven help you if you complain. They may call the police and social services on your black behind. The Princeton sociologist Viviana Zelizer, perhaps inspired by a tall glass of cognac (VSOP, straight, no ice cubes), blurted out the other day that today’s children are “economically worthless but emotionally priceless.” This truth told under the influence inspired hundreds of angry essays in support of her great words like this one called, well, Why Parents Hate Parenting. We are about to #Occupy our kids’ bedrooms. Kids have gone from being our cheap labour to being our bosses.

Why, the other day, our teenager Ominira’s phone broke. I remember the day quite vividly, when she came to me very calmly and assured me that her phone was broken and we would need to go to the store right away to get a replacement. In Ominira’s world, breaking a phone is like breaking an arm, and our daughter’s pain threshold is pretty low, more like zero. We had to go to the phone store right away. Ominira goes everywhere with her friends, all 5,000 of them. They tweet, they Facebook, they instagram, they snapchat, they rarely see each other in person, in fact like every other member of her generation, she has only physically met five of her 5,000 friends.

So, we went to the phone store with the offending phone. Ominira was not happy with the phone; the stupid phone had made the mistake of falling into water all by itself. This is one stupid bumbling phone; I don’t understand why they call it a smartphone. Why would you drop inside water all by yourself? Ominira was in the car fuming at the world. She had commandeered her little brother’s phone because she needed to do some really important stuff with her friends on Facebook. Her little brother was unimpressed with the urgency of the moment and insisted on accompanying his own smartphone with Ominira to the store in case Ominira attempted to drop the phone in the water like she did her own phone by accident. This unnecessary move was not appreciated by Ominira and a huge fight broke out in the car with all 5,000 Ominira’s Facebook friends witnessing. This she accomplished by posting on her status the kinds of gory things she would do to her “doofus stoopid” brother once there were no parental witnesses. Little brother Lion Cub did not take kindly to these Facebook threats and blamed me for not allowing him to have a Facebook account, otherwise the whole world would know that Ominira has a boyfriend! Until that moment, I had not known this very important distressing news. Sigh! I want my mommy!