Beating I got from mum discouraged me from caning my kids – Prof Osadolor, ex-Dean of Students’ Affairs, UNIBEN
Prof Benson Osadolor is a former Dean, Students Affairs, University of Benin, and current Head of Department, History and International Studies, with special interest in Military and Security Studies. He tells ALEXANDER OKERE the lessons he learnt from fatherhood
For how long have you been a father?
I got married on August 23, 1986, so I’m going to the 35th year now.
At what age did you get married?
As of 1986, I was just 29 years old when I got married. By my own understanding, it was appropriate for me – not early, not late. It was immediately after my youth service and I had planned also to continue my education for a master’s programme and thought I should begin a family while studying so I would have the opportunity and time to raise my children early enough, not at old age.
What would you say fatherhood is?
As far as I’m concerned, a father is a male parent, and to be a father is to be proud in a society where you belong that you are a responsible man. By implication, fatherhood is all about taking care of the home front – providing for the needs of your family and taking care of their responsibilities. For me, fatherhood is all about sacrifice of the man for the success and survival of the family. There are certain legitimate things I would like to do to put food on the table for my family. I don’t expect my wife to do that. There are certain legitimate places I will go and get food for my family and won’t expect my wife to do that. These are things about fatherhood that I love and admire.
Do you agree with the perception that fatherhood is an indication that a man has become responsible?
Yes. When people say, ‘responsible,’ it means the responsibility to look after yourself and also care for others. That means your resources are not only for you; you think of your wife, child or children and their survival. The children have to go to school. They may be ill and you have to take care of the medical expenses.
In this modern time, what should a man consider before deciding to get married and have kids?
In this modern time, a man must think of economic security. Does he have enough resources to cater for that family? Does he have shelter? He doesn’t have to build his own house; he must have an apartment that is comfortable for his family. These are things he must put into consideration. Part of the economic security is a job or business. For most men, they expect that they are going to spend money on marriage, so they don’t go to family members or friends to beg for money to look after your family. So, a man has to think about that and make provisions.
But some unmarried men complain about the poor economy…
There is never a time the economy will not be hard for anyone. It is just a matter of planning and knowing what to do. I tell my students all the time that there are opportunities for people, even graduates. It is not just the (university) certificate that makes you qualified for any appointment; it is the additional skills that you have acquired. But beyond those skills, you must also have a drive to think of something. Society has problems. How do you find solutions to those problems? As you are thinking about that, you are creating a job for yourself.
Wealth creation is part of the creativity of every human being. But here (in Nigeria) we don’t just do that; everybody believes the government must provide jobs for graduates. That is not correct. My mother used to tell us (and I also tell my children) that if we didn’t want to go to school, she would have asked us to go into business to learn how to trade. So, there is no way the government can provide jobs for everybody. What is important (for the youths) is to think of the problems in society and find a solution.
Do you think the Nigerian economic situation has made many men take family planning seriously?
It (family planning) has to do with the economy because most of them (men) are thinking of how to provide for the children’s education and other needs, rather than having so many children they can’t take care of. The fewer the number (of children) the better, so you can allocate resources to them. And I strongly believe that this generation is different from my generation; they are thinking of having two or three kids at the maximum so that they can conveniently allocate resources to them. There are parents who are thinking of good schools for their children. I gave my children the best of education and I’m proud of that. But there are some people, even in the University of Benin, whose parents can’t afford to give them N5, 000 a month. Some students cry that their parents can’t support them and I think that is the reason people decided to have fewer kids. The harsh economy has made couples take family planning seriously.
What are the lessons you learnt as a young father?
One of the lessons I learnt is that I must show love to my children – letting the children know that I love them. I learnt that I must understand their peculiar needs. Children can demand one thing or the other. You should not shout at them or scare them. As a young father, I took time to listen to them and understand their needs. I also realised that children have peer influence from school; they want to go on excursions and visit places of amusement. So, I took these things as a priority so they would not feel that their daddy didn’t want to take them out to have fun. So, whenever they made such requests, I honoured them.
Also, as my children were growing up, I paid attention to their academic work. I made them understand that they cannot spend all their time playing; they must also spend time studying. I made them understand that television is ‘idiot’ box; they can stay up all day watching television and accomplish nothing. So, we prepared a timetable for them to watch TV and read their books. More importantly, as a father, my children knew what to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. We had a timetable for food and I insisted that my wife must follow that timetable. That made my children proud of me that they were not eating anyhow but eating good food.
What did fatherhood take away from you?
In the beginning, I could not own property or buy land to build a house because I didn’t think about that because I felt my children were my priority. But today, I have my own house.
Fatherhood didn’t take away my privacy. I have been in the university system all my life, so I let my children know that I need time for myself to study and write academic papers. They used to wonder why I was awake at night when I should have been sleeping. But they appreciated that it was the nature of my job.
Since you were studying for a postgraduate degree when you got married, were you with your wife when she was delivered of your first child?
Shortly after my marriage, I went to the University of Ibadan, Oyo State, for my master’s degree, while my wife was in Benin City working. But I used to visit her often from Ibadan. But I was physically present when the first child was born. I was in the hospital with her.
Before I saw the child, I heard a cry and told one of my relatives, “That is the voice of my son.” Nobody told me the sex of the child. As soon as the child came out, I was filled with joy and satisfaction. I also gave thanks to God for blessing me with a healthy boy.
How many children do you have now?
I have six children.
Are they married?
No. They are still struggling.
What do you do when your children misbehave?
That is one aspect of my life with my children that I find a little ugly.
My children thought I was wicked because I instilled discipline in them. I gave them a time to be at home every day and when they violated it, they found themselves in trouble. There was time for church, play and school. If they err, I deny them gifts, extra money (allowance). They understand that.
Did you use a whip on them?
I avoided using a cane on them. I made them serve physical punishment.
Why did you avoid it?
I didn’t want anything to affect their skin or bodies. The cane may injure them or cause a problem that I would regret and they would not like it when they grow up.
Are you speaking from experience, based on how your parents used a cane on you?
My mother gave a beating when I was growing up and that disciplined me. I realised that though it was good, it was not the best for my children. However, I give my children tutorials on moral issues and character moulding every evening before they go to bed. I talk to them about character, morality, how to avoid danger and how to relate with other people – elders and their peers.
So, what do you tell them about relationships?
I don’t hide it from them; I tell them to be very careful. I cannot decide who their friends will be, so they should make their choices carefully. When they find anything wrong, they should stop the friendship. I tell them to make friends with those who are Christians, not those who do dubious or evil things. But I tell them that a relationship is not a one-way thing. They should listen and understand and not always impose their views.
As an academic, did you influence the career choices of your children?
I did not. I gave them the opportunity to make their choices. My first son said he wanted to study Law and I encouraged him. My second son chose Engineering and he is a mechanical engineer; in fact, he is now a lecturer in the university. My third son is an economist by choice. My daughter said she wanted to study Accounting and do business and I encouraged her. So, I didn’t choose for them.
What did your tenure as a dean of students affairs teach you?
As a dean of students affairs, I realised that all students had peculiar problems that require peculiar attention. You cannot group all students together and assume that one solution will solve all their problems. I also realised that some of the students get into the university and become heavily influenced by their friends, so we had to put in place a counselling strategy to keep the good students away from the ones that are ‘bad’ among them so that they are not influenced. Many of the students also had financial problems in the area of feeding and clothing; some steal to have clothes to wear because they want to ‘belong’ and I have had to settle cases like that. I try to let them know that these things (food and clothing) would be easy once they graduate and succeed because they would have opportunities to have big wardrobes.
How do you relax with your family?
We see movies. We haven’t been travelling together, though I have travelled out of the country for one programme or the other. They haven’t had the opportunity of having a family vacation because they were at school as of that time. But I have it in mind to give them a treat; I owe them a family vacation.
What can you tell young and unmarried men about the right time and the right person to marry?
You can never tell who a man or a woman is until you get married to them. Some court for five or six years before getting married. Some court for a few months before marriage. So, I think it depends on the individual. Some women plan to get married after their service year so they won’t return to their father’s house. There are some men who want to get a job before marriage, so the lady they are interested in has to wait. So, it is not one’s timing but the circumstances surrounding that relationship that determines when one will get married.