I use travels to negotiate with my children - Ojuade

Date: 2019-07-07
Jeleel Ojuade is a professor of Dance in the Performing Arts Department, Faculty of Arts, University of Ilorin, Kwara State, and President, Association of Dance Scholars and Practitioners of Nigeria. He talks about his fatherhood journey with BOLA BAMIGBOLA

What does fatherhood mean to you?

Fatherhood, in trying to give it a meaning, goes beyond literary or dictionary connotations. Concisely, father means a male parent; and or to become the father of a child through biological processes. The state of being a father could also be viewed as fatherhood. Fatherhood, therefore, is a divine role bestowed on a man (by virtue of being the head of a family - either nuclear or extended) which is expected to be discharged with a huge sense of responsibility.

When did you become a father?

I think my closeness to my late father (Alhaji Fatai Ojuade) and by extension, my paternal and maternal grandfathers gave me the confidence to say that I had been a 'side' father for decades and became the 'real' one about 15 years ago.

The early exposure afforded me the privilege and rare opportunity to see how genuinely my dad selflessly and joyfully raised his nuclear and extended families, being the head (father). It was baffling how he did it but part of the reminiscence was that at every point in time, the house was filled to the brim with his immediate family members and that of other children from other parents.

My close relationship to my father while growing up was an impetus to fatherhood for me. The experience taught me kindness, selflessness, love, sincerity among others and I was actually looking forward then to playing fatherly roles in the future. Alas, it came to be years after playing surrogate father and the previous experience served as a good foundation to build on comfortably.

How was the feeling when you had your first child?

It was a glorifying moment and was highly pleased with the bountiful joy that Almighty Allah bestowed on me and my family as a starter that year. It brought about songs of praise and electrifying footwork (dance of joy).

Is your first child's gender what you initially wanted?

I never played the role of being God in my life. He is the supreme and created order within the universe. He knows what, when and why things should happen. No permutation or speculative anxiety. In any case, both (male and female) are precious gifts from God.

How has fatherhood changed you?

I would rather say a complete transformation. It has been a fulfilling ambition which I am enjoying by the seconds as it ticks. It was a complete departure from being a helper to my father while running errands on his behalf, then having to do it, as the person in charge and seeing the seeds growing marvellously well. Fatherhood further compelled on me uncertified, necessary and important degrees.

One needs to add more to one's patience, humility, radiate genuine love/affection, human relations as one nurtures oneís family. All these and numerous activities changed my life positively as a father.

What is the most intimate experience you have had with your children?

As a dance specialist, my intimate experience with my children is not limited to those exhibited after birth till date but it included that of the gestation period. However, I will mention a few instances while growing up which I believe are pointers to intimacy.

The initiate experiences are numerous and I am finding it difficult to know where to start from. They enjoyed being rocked to sleep by their father. The experience of my daughter at early weeks after her arrival was interesting. She enjoyed sleeping lying on my chest, sucking my lips. If you dare try to gently remove her lips or lay her on the bed no matter how deep is the sleep, she would wake up to protest.

Importantly too, due to the nature of her motherís job as a marketer in one of the commercial banks and had to resume work after her maternity leave, I had to device a method of creating 'child's corner' in my office as a university lecturer.

After dropping my wife off in her office routinely, I will put the baby in a comfy chair made of basket, and take her to my office for care and will only call the mother to breastfeed her intermittently. We spent together larger period of times playing, singing and talking until she started kindergarten.

Though the younger brother didn't enjoy such privilege because he started school early, I was completely in charge of the school runs except while out of town officially. Thus, it gave us opportunity to bond.

Is any of your children showing interest in following in your career path?

I would say yes. It is actually turning out to be what the Yoruba people refer to as Abinibi (inborn or natural acquisition by virtue of birth) or aj'ogun ba (that acquired by virtue of one's parents' trade). I am very sure that my father's gene is a powerful one and affective in nature.

All his children, irrespective of their field of studies, took after him as great performers - dance, music, drama, oratory or as poet. In fact, some of his wives acquired such skills on getting in contact with him. It became a family affair and communal one too.

Of course, times are changing and today's children cannot be coaxed or forced to do something except they have interest in such. I left it open for them to see all we have developed over the years through documentation, live performance. Interestingly they were practically involved in my PhD fieldwork research. Sometimes, they keep vigil with me while I am going through interviews or watching and studying field Ďbataí performance or writing academic papers for presentation at local or international conferences.

It was such a joyful moment and they had numerous sessions with my late father teaching them aspects of Yoruba culture. At times, he would tell them stories though with little comprehension on their part, sing for them and they saw lots of our performances. Hence, both are lead players in their schools today in cultural dances and performance. They are toeing different career paths from mine with deep respect and serious interest in our culture and tradition.

How have you been able to combine your duties as a lecturer and father?

I need to thank God for one of the greatest gifts He granted me - to be able to multitask stably and successfully. My parents and teachers at every point in life assisted in this feat too. It got more complicated at a particular point in time and more of 'triangular' responsibility, with added administrative job for the university. But one has to discharge oneís responsibility daily as a lecturer, father and director in charge of a unique unit.

How do you discipline them whenever they misbehave?

As kids, there are moments they tend to exhibit youthful exuberance due to restlessness. Prior to those moments, I engage them in different kinds of attention catching and engagement to fill up free spaces in between school hours and when they return home. I ensure their teachers treat them as others without special treatment.

As a form of discipline, I engage in serious discussion with them to enlighten them about life and teach them morals. When they misbehave, they get punishment equivalent to the offence.

How do you assist your wife in house chores?

I thank my dear mother for ensuring that I watch her cook when I was young and particularly my grandmother, Sabitiyu Akindunni (alias Iya Etio), who was one of the recognised cooks at Okeigbo/Ifetedo Grammar School in the 70's.

All these influenced my cooking which was one of the benefits to the home front. I enjoyed cooking, washing my kidsí clothes and educative movies together and driving them to and from school every day and occasionally outside Ilorin. All these are necessary because children learn a lot from what they see around them.

How do you reward your wife for taking care of the home?

However, part of the reward is to offer selfless service to the overall growth and development of the entire family and other numerous ways of showing kindness. As part of the reward, I prioritise a number of activities at home including getting the kids ready for school, cooking their meals (breakfast and dinner daily), except weekends and getting them to sleep. This is in consideration of their motherís job. Importantly too, I ensure that they join me once in a year to attend academic conference internationally. Aside, I drop her off and pick her from office daily and numerous official travels vis a viz supports that added value to her career development.

Do you mandate your kids to study being a professor?

I often use that to get their attention. Anytime I am going through their report cards and I discovered that they are low on some subjects, I tell them bluntly, 'as parents, we have got our degrees and they are not transferable to any of you. You need to work hard to get yours and lead a comfortable life'.

I have noticed that smart kids these days are ambitious and have set goals for themselves. All we need to do as parents is to support them in order to achieve their dreams. We should not allow peer groups to take them off the track. On this, I supported them with extra lessons, Arabic and Quranic lessons and working on their psyche to learn two other international languages. If well absorbed, it will be to their advantage in future.

What kind of experience do you intend to create for your children?

Experience they say is the best teacher. I would rather allow them to have a feel of ideal growth which I enjoyed from my parents. I had opportunity to attend schools, travel far and near, got acquainted with our culture, tradition and history among others. As a father, I have been trying to give them equal opportunity to explore, search for knowledge and translate such experience to personal development.

What were your fears before you became a father?

It is no longer safe to allow kids to even play outside alone not to talk of strolling to friends' house. Quiet a number of questions kept coming to my head unanswered. It created fears not for me really but the 'unborn' kids then.

What has been your most challenging period as a father?

Challenge? I would rather say or call it reservations. The social media craze is worrisome among the youth. I see this as 'misapplication'. The use of mobile phone to me could be more functional if redirected to proper usage. Rather than the usual application to play games, listen to music, watch movies and others, they should use this for educational purposes.

The early exposure of kids to handling mobile phones without proper monitoring or censoring the usage is one the greatest reservations I have as a father. The kind of English they type or speak on social media is bad. For instance, words are spelt as they feel and they spend lots of their precious time listening to music.

How do you reward your children when they make you proud?

Rewarding the children is a form of motivation. For my children, I don't wait until they excel in class and make me proud before they get rewarded. We are constantly negotiating grounds and they get their gifts once it is met. Though, we use travels to negotiate sometimes and it works.

How would you describe your experience serving as President, Association of Dance Scholars and Practitioners of Nigeria?

All glory to God almighty and so far, so good.

The goals of ADSPON among others are to create synergy between the scholars and practitioners, revive the culture of carnival in Nigeria, create a platform for the unification of the global community and develop curriculum for dance studies and practice in Nigeria from elementary schools to tertiary institutions of learning.

In addition, we have been reaching out to stakeholders, traditional rulers and notable Nigerians to discuss and create a pathway for dance culture and tradition in Nigeria. Equally, we are bridging the gaps between the scholars and the practitioners in order to create a symbiotic relationship. The 2019 conference will hold in October at the University of Calabar, Cross River State.

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