Few years ago, Parenting Now! Editor-In-Chief, Kingsley Obom-Egbyulem had the rare opportunity of discussing fatherhood, raising girls and the challenges of parenting the 21st century child with Sam Adeyemi – arguably one of the most influential voices to have come of out of Sub-Saharan Africa.
Adeyemi is Senior Pastor, Daystar Christian Centre –a dynamic 44,000 man congregation comprising young purpose-driven Nigerians, budding leaders, thriving public and motivational speakers and entrepreneurs. Excerpts are reproduced below:
What is your perception of fatherhood in Africa?
I will say first of all, there is a dimension to fatherhood that we have excelled in as Africans and that is in enforcing discipline. The role of a father is that of a leader. That is why a man is described as the head.
So fatherhood in our culture aligns with our concept of leadership. In fact in Africa leaders are served and men expect just that from women and their wives. Children also are to be seen and not heard and that is if they are even seen at all. So in the area of building the self- esteem of our children, we may not be doing fantastically well.
Some people have powerful fathers but that power is not credited into their own accounts. That power is not something they can leverage on. I grew up to know that fathers in Africa take responsibility for their families. I saw my own dad take responsibility for his family. I didn’t grow up to see men shirk responsibility for their families. And talking about responsibility I’m beginning to see a disturbing trend that I’m uncomfortable with especially being a pastor and that is seeing nice looking young men who looked good to be husbands and they get married and are not willing to hold the ball and take responsibility for their families. And that breaks a woman down completely. It doesn’t matter how wealthy she is financially.
At the beginning out of love she can try to cope and assist here and there. But she can only take it for so long after sometime it affects her esteem because she is expecting the man to play the leadership role. I grew up to know that fathers in Africa take responsibility for their families.
Looking back, what would you have done different if you were Chief S.B. Adeyemi raising the boy Sam Adeyemi?
I think one thing that was missing which interestingly has been made up for now is building intimacy; getting to talk one-on-one with one’s child and creating a bond that makes it easy for the child to discuss anything. By the time I was a teenager, I realised that sometimes my dad would be in the living room but we would feel more comfortable staying in the bedroom. It’s a cultural thing. The things that children have to say don’t sound important enough for adults here.
But I would say that my dad tried, he did quite well. I think about the values I grew up with-for instance. I never thought stealing was an option for me, lying was no option -they had serious repercussion in our home. But that area of intimacy was a huge gap. But I also feel whatever he didn’t do well, it because he wasn’t a believer then. After he got to know Christ, he really tried to make up for it. For instance, I didn’t grow up hugging my dad. Now we do!
What difference does it make now?
It makes a world of difference.
What was the price you had to pay for this gulf or lack of father and son intimacy that existed between you and your dad? And what could it have cost your siblings as well since it wasn’t just you?
When a child does not get open display of affection from his or her parents, the child becomes vulnerable when that affection is provided elsewhere. I think that being hugged by people outside our home had a great impact on me.
People have different love languages. One of mine happens to be physical touch. It’s even fair that I’m a guy. When it’s a girl, it makes it worse. If a father doesn’t hug his daughter, show her affection and create an atmosphere for her to be free and have intimate discussion with him, if somebody else provides that affection, it can tilt the child suddenly.
The child may not even be conscious about it, she may understand why and the parents may be completely surprised that their child had changed suddenly. I think that was where I was susceptible. And we had that issue with our first child. She is a ‘touch and feel’ person.
Do you think the average father today is prepared and equipped with what it takes to raise the kind of children that will take us into the Nigeria you have been preaching about?
I must admit that is one subject that scares me about our country. We try to underestimate the impact of the environment on individuals. Just like a tree draws from the soil to grow itself, that is how a human being draws from its environment.
The political environment created over two decades ago has caused awful damage to our psyche as a nation. I give you an example: a young man goes through public primary school which I went through by the way and anyone who goes back to that same public school now will feel like shedding tears and children absorb this environment like sponges.
That mediocrity, lack of standards, lack of values, the poverty is getting into their mind. They go through secondary school and enter the university and they don’t even know what is going to happen. A young man told me weeks back that he graduated four years ago and he has not earned anything; marriage can’t be the next thing he will be thinking now.
At the end of the day, this person is going to become a father and in a system that makes people hopeless, a system that makes it difficult for people to dream and plan and that reality is taking its toll on the men and even families. Considering the fact that the average man really loves his child, I see a situation where some men are willing to beat the law, beat policies to make sure their children succeeds. They are willing to give bribes, they are willing to pay lecturers so that their children can pass exams, some are willing to hire mercenaries to write exams for their kids. Most people vow that their children will not have to go through what they went through.
Over a million candidates write JAMB, universities take less than 200,000 and parents are desperate over their kids getting this admission. That’s why I say I’m afraid because in the course of this process the values systems are eroded and still eroding.
What would you say is the greatest challenge facing fatherhood today?
Hmmm…I would say it is that of inculcating values into our children in a changing world. Fathers now have competition; they are competing with the internet-it’s a different world. Before, your community is made up people living around your neighbourhood and they help you to discipline and raise your child. Today you have invisible people, virtual people all over the world helping you to groom your child. And that’s a serious matter.
So what’s your experience with regards to confronting these challenges of fatherhood you just referred to?
First making sure that the voice or voices our children hear the loudest are my voice and that of my wife. They are hearing many voices but I want them to hear ours loud and clear and we realize that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. So, we are loving them in ways that are unmistakable, loving them fully. The love includes telling them the truth, showing them affection and giving them discipline-that’s a major part of it and also ensuring they get best quality education they can get.
Secondly, teaching them God’s ways. Ultimately, the most important voice they need to hear is God’s voice. If they can recognize that voice and obey it, I think our job is done.
Thirdly, we pray for them. You can do everything you know how to do right and something will still go wrong. So, we pray for them daily, we can’t compromise that.
You are a pastor and motivational speaker and we know that charity doesn’t always begin from home. What is the reality for you?
I try to craft a personal statement of purpose for myself; like “to inspire millions of people all over the world to discover their potentials to fulfil their destiny beginning with my family.” So I ask myself ‘why would I want to change and inspire millions all over the world if I can’t inspire my family.
So we have exposed our children to our library and to reading. When my son was nine I remember him asking his mom ‘how come all my mentors are pastors?’ and the mom said ‘name them?’ He said ‘Myles Munroe, John Maxwell, my daddy and you’. Moses emphasised in Deuteronomy to make sure they passed on all the things that God was teaching them to the next generation. So, we share with all of them what the Lord is telling us. And knowing that each of them are different ,we discuss their personality and temperament and I’m happy that they are reading books on temperament and taking temperament tests and they are getting to know who they are.
These are books and materials I came across in my 20’s so we are trying to give them an early start to discover their strengths, their careers, not forcing anything on them but closely working with them on their academics.
Our educational system is not designed to take in different learning styles. And we had that issue with our first child. She is a ‘touch and feel’ person. That’s how she learns and our system is designed to be very theoretical and abstract. Imagine teaching Agricultural Science without a school farm and I had a farm as a student.
Do you have any recipe you can share for programming children for success?
I think the number one thing is for you to be the kind of person you want them to be. Every living thing has the power to reproduce after its kind .Be the kind of person you want your children to turn out to be. Almost every other thing will follow naturally.
Secondly, love your children genuinely .If you love your career or business more than your kids, you will discover at the end of the day that you made a big mistake. Thirdly, discipline them. Discipline doesn’t mean beating. The word discipline is from the word Disciple which means “to tell them exactly what t do and how to live”; give them boundaries. Jesus said narrow is the way that leads to life and broad is the way that leads to destruction. \
If you look at the narrow way what characterizes it are restrictions. Obviously what Jesus was saying there is that the more latitude people have the more they are likely to go wild. Let there be rules clearly stated and when they are violated let there be consequences. That’s one of the ways to prepare a child for life. If they have to live in a society that has laws they need to know that there are consequences for obeying or disobeying the laws.
Then give them the best education you can afford. If parents think very well about this they will consider carefully about the number of children they are going to have because they will think about the cost of university education and career choices too for that number of kids and the financial planning involved.
Would you say your daughters trust you?
I think so!
Do they look forward to marrying a man like you?
I believe so! (Laughter)
What gives you that impression or conviction; have you got any proof?
(Another prolonged laughter) Wow! This is a tough one! Anyway, I haven’t asked them directly. But I think our children have this picture that our family is a good one and they want to have this type of family when they grow up.
They’ve told us so. And I try to work hard to sustain this and be their role model. One important thing about children is to create memories .We make out time for their school’s PTA meeting and even their teachers are shocked when they see us at such meetings given our busy schedule. And our kids are happy that we are concerned about the things they are concerned about.
Several years ago, I was bothered that almost every evening I was going out to speak. I knew something wasn’t quite right with that. By the time I was home the children were asleep and the following morning they are up and rushing to school. I didn’t quite like it. That was not how we grew up. Our parents were always around. And then I felt that if I don’t go out to speak, aren’t I depriving people of the call of God on my life? But I was wrong.
So, I had to cut down on those engagements. Now, when I sit down to plan my yearly schedule at the beginning of every year, I block out our family days and vacations and nothing; I mean absolutely nothing can take those days!