A Professor of Radiotherapy and Oncology at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Remi Ajekigbe, speaks with TOLUWANI ENIOLA about what fatherhood has taught him
What does fatherhood mean to you?
In my view, fatherhood means greater responsibility morally, financially and in other areas. A father must be a good template for the children to emulate. A father must be responsible, caring, loving and disciplined.
At what age did you become a father?
I became a father when I was 29 years old. I was very proud of myself as a young man. Being a pharmacist then, it was easy to get job opportunities in well-to-do companies and change jobs with ease. It was quite easy to bear the responsibilities.
Can you share any memorable experience with your father?
My father was one of those who believed in having a male child first. He did not know or believe that the father dictates the gender of the baby. He was really desperate to have a male child. He already had five female children from three wives before I was born. I became his first male child. This was what informed my name, Aderemilekun, which means that my birth stopped him from crying.
In those days, our fathers didn’t believe they were responsible for the gender of the babies and not their wives. In medical science, the woman has the XX sex-determining chromosomes. So, the woman donates X. The man has the XY chromosomes. He either donates X or Y. If a man donates Y chromosome, his wife will have a baby boy. If he donates X, the woman will give birth to a female child. In their ignorance and desperation for male children, they kept marrying more wives until they got a male child which is usually by chance.
As a busy man, what are some of the challenges as a father?
I had a rough academic journey before I became a medical doctor. I attended The Polytechnic Ibadan. It was called Ibadan Technical College then. I studied electrical engineering there. I later went to the then University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, to study pharmacy. I worked as a pharmacist for over three years before I proceeded to the medical school to study medicine. I got married while working as a pharmacist. It was not quite easy combining fatherhood with further studies. I had to study medicine from the scratch in LUTH in 1975. I later attended the University of Vienna to specialise and then to Manchester. I came back to Nigeria and began a residency programme in radiotherapy. I had to leave my job as a pharmacist because being a pharmacist was not challenging enough. Pharmacy was a tough course in the university but when you become a graduate, what many were assigned to do was to count tablets for patients in the hospital. I was not comfortable with that so I decided I would go and study medicine. Combining that with one’s daily duties that brought in the money for the upkeep of the family was quite tough. I had to travel within and outside the country from time to time. I worked with a few industries and was mature enough before I got married. When I became a father, it was not really an additional trauma because I had gone through a more daunting experience in life.
What is your advice to children without fathers?
I sincerely pity them, irrespective of the cause of not having a father. With a dead or unavailable father in their lives, a portion of the goal post is lost. It is very unfortunate but there should be a brother or an uncle or somebody from the family who can stand in to play that fatherly role. In the olden days, an uncle stood in for his late brother’s children. These days, things are so hard that such uncles may not be able to assist. As a doctor, I usually advise women to have the number of children they can personally take care of. If you say your husband will live long and be available to take care of the children, what if he dies? Women have to note this.
What role did you play in your children’s career choices?
I did not force any of them into any profession. Can parents actually force any child these days into any profession? I wished that my children studied pharmacy or medicine. My children refused to study medicine like me because doctors in Nigeria are poor. Not many people in Nigeria believe that doctors are poor. In Nigeria, the job of a doctor is for paupers. I know what I was earning in the UK as a doctor. In Nigeria, doctors are not even regularly paid. Recently, it was reported that doctors working with the Federal Medical Centre, Owerri, Imo State, were last paid eight months ago. My children refused to study medicine or pharmacy because they know I am a pauper.
Is there anything your children watch or listen to that makes you laugh?
The type of meaningless music they listen to and their dance steps these days make me laugh. Their dress sense is also not acceptable to me. When we were younger, we listened to meaningful songs like those of Haruna Ishola and Ebenezer Obey. Some of the songs were prayerful in nature. Sometime ago, my children were listening to a song titled, “Ori e, o fokasibe.” What does that mean? And they enjoyed it. How can you be singing “Fokasibe.” Do you want your head to scatter? People sing nonsense these days. The music videos produced of late are also full of obscenities.
Tell us any of your memorable experience as a father.
A long time ago, my son unconsciously swallowed a sweet. The sweet got stuck in his throat and we were in a gridlock. Luckily, the sweet got smaller and smaller with saliva on our way to LUTH. By the time we got to the children casualty unit, the sweet had slipped down his throat. All necessary X-rays revealed nothing but the sweet being ‘glassy’ in comparison with a glass.
Have you cooked at home before and what was it like?
I used to call my cooking “abasha” when my children were younger. I was the type who would put every ingredient together and allow the cooker and the heat to do the rest and it worked. My children teased me about my poor cooking ability. I used to tell them I had some females born before me who did the cooking and washing for me.
If there’s one lesson you want your children to take from you and imbibe it through life, what would it be?
Humility is the most important. In life, one has to be humble. It is important to respect elders. This is one thing the Yoruba are noted for. Even if you are the richest man in the world, you have to be humble and respect your elders. The gift of life is the grace of God. One has to be humble.
As a university teacher, how have you been able to impact positively on your students to be responsible citizens?
Honestly, many of my students admire my humility, simplicity and being approachable and many of them have bought into it. Many challenges students face are traceable to their homes; being unserious, being unnecessary proud, and almost totally lacking in manners are traceable to lack of parental care. Some find it difficult to respect elders. I talk to them about these.
What is one of the most important gifts your wife or children have given you in appreciation of your fatherly roles?
They remind me of my birthdays even though I don’t celebrate birthdays. I only quietly pray to God and appreciate Him for granting me an extra year.
In African setting, some believe that fathers are basically to provide for the home while the mothers take care of the home. Do you agree with this?
All parents should work now as things are getting more and more difficult in the country. Even when we were much younger, all of us were working and earning something. A jobless lady may get married if her suitor is employed.
A jobless man may also go ahead and get married if the wife is employed, provided there is a mutual agreement between them and that the woman would not feel pompous pending the time the husband gets a job. But I would not advise two jobless lovers to get married. What if, for instance, they give birth to triplets? How will they feed the kids and themselves?
Will you advise your children to join politics?
Politics in this part of the world is rough and dangerous. I would never encourage them to be politicians. When the political landscape becomes less risky, they can participate in politics if they wish. In Nigeria, if you are not ready to risk your life, don’t go into politics. Many of those in politics are ruffians. There are few good men in politics but the terrain is too rough. If you are the quiet or the humble type, politics may not be a good option for you. It is not for real gentlemen. That is my fear.
How do you punish your children when they behave wrongly?
I did not use the cane to discipline children. I shouted on them occasionally and made them see reasons why they should not do what is wrong.
What is the most important relationship advice you have given your kids?
Respect elders; respect your partners; be a good listener; tolerate other arguments; work hard and pray well. There are bound to be turbulent times, but that is all part of life.
As an expert, can you share experience counselling families in Nigerian on cancer prevention and treatment?
Things have fallen apart for many families in Nigeria owing to the prevalence of cancer. Cancer deaths occur because the disease had reached advanced stages before the victims visited the hospital. Many Nigerians prefer to go to pastors and imams for assistance before they go to hospitals. Unfortunately, in our part of the world, people blame it on spiritual attack which is not true. When they come for treatment, the tumour has advanced beyond control.
This is why I counsel women to quickly visit the hospital if they notice any lump anywhere in their body, particularly in the breast. If blood comes out from the nipple, please report to your doctor. If you are up to 40 and there is a change in your bowel habit, it may be cancer. Any black spot on the body whether painless or not should not be joked with. There is nothing wrong in submitting yourself for cancer screening at least once in a year. Husbands should urge their wives who are up to 40 to undergo mammogram of the breast at least once every two years. Men should go to a doctor to examine their anus whether there is enlarged prostate gland. Early detection helps.
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