I praise, write poems for my kids when they behave well — Mimiko
A former Vice-Chancellor of the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, Ondo State, Prof. Femi Mimiko, talks about his fatherhood journey, family life and his role as a lecturer with Toluwani Eniola
When did you become a father?
I became a father a few months after my 31st birthday. When I saw my baby, I had this unprecedented inner joy. It is somehow indescribable. Joy welled up in my heart. The fact that God had just used my own life as a basis for fashioning out yet another was amazing.
Where were you when your first child was born?
I wasn’t there when my wife gave birth. Dr. Abbas, my younger brother, stood in for me. It was him who took my wife to the hospital when it was time to give birth. I was far away at work in another town. She had stayed back in Ondo because it was going to be easier for her to access good maternity facilities there than where I worked. So he took my wife to the teaching hospital where we had our son. When I came to the full realisation of being a father, it just occurred to me that I could not just be any more as laissez faire about life as I had always been. You know, this careless outlook; this sense of not being bothered by anything, and not really fixated on anything. Now, lying there was another human being who I was completely responsible for; and that sense of living for someone struck me remarkably.
When did you meet your wife?
I met my wife in April 1985. I was 25 and she was going to 21. She came on a visit with a friend of hers. Her friend is from a family that had been acquainted with mine for a long time in Ondo. We, the children, attended the same elementary school.
How did you propose to her?
How I proposed to her? I hope you are not hoping to hear any narrative of some funny looking guy on his knee stretching forward an engagement ring. In the first instance, that type of thing was rarely known, at least in this part of the world, during our time. That (kneeling to propose) is a culture of the West that the kids of today have imbibed.
It is funny to me. How on earth does a young man kneel, begging to be admitted into a lady’s life? I can’t understand. It is so funny and quite out of place with me. I come from a very conservative background that does not admit of that type of act, symbolic or real. I mean, is it every aspect of the white man’s culture that we must embrace? It is like guys wearing ear rings or plaiting their hair. These are gender-specific fashion and cultural forms that I do not think should have a place in our own setting. Forgive me if I sound out of the world to you, but that is the way I feel.
I simply asked Bosede (my wife) to be my date. It took me a few months to persuade her that such was worth her while. From there, our friendship grew, until it became obvious to the two of us that we were good to be husband and wife.
What do you wish you had been told about being a dad before your first child was born?
I was fairly close to my dad when he was alive, especially at the later stage of his life. We shared some very deep thoughts. He was quite knowledgeable and a little argumentative. I listened to him carefully, talking not just about fatherhood but indeed all dimensions of the human condition. I guess my idea about fatherhood was formed from such deep, insightful interactions with him. He remains my utmost hero.
What were your memorable moments with your father?
My late father, A. B. Mimiko, was gorgeous. A very kind, compassionate and socially committed gentleman. He lived for justice and fairness.
He could not tolerate treating equal people unequally. He was fair to all that came his way. He was hard-working, and gave priority attention to the education of his children. He was not a man of means, but he would rather go hungry than allow the education of his children and the horde of nieces and nephews he always had around him, to suffer. Dad was a very knowledgeable man. He did not have much of formal education though, as he could not continue after his father died. But he ended up self-educating himself. He subscribed to the Woolsey Hall Correspondence College in London and advanced his own education thereby considerably. Some of the materials he got from the correspondence college came quite handy for me when I was doing advanced level Literature in English and Economics. Our dad was a rabid follower of global events, and indeed my decision to take a doctorate in International Relations benefitted greatly from the inspiration I got sitting at his feet, discussing global events. He was a good man.
Memorable experience? I was his resident barber in his later years, and it was always a surreal experience for me dotting over this old man, at least twice a month, tending his hair, and ensuring that he looked cute. He died in 1996 at 83.
Did you experience any idea block when you were trying to name your children?
That is one very beautiful part of the Yoruba culture. They say, ‘ile lanwo ka to so’mo l’oruko.’ The Yoruba do not just name a child anyhow. So, hardly would you find a Mr. Stone, Mr. Bird, and all manners of misters that have no real meaning. In Yoruba cosmology, names signpost landmark events in the lives of a community, a family or an individual. They all come with a meaning and a story. Thus for me, it was pretty obvious the direction of my mind. I had just defended my PhD thesis – and, that gave me a lot of joy. That was in October 1991, and my boy came in December of the same year.
The challenge was how to give expression to this double joy, if you will, that the arrival of my boy signalled. I had always found the name Ejilayomi quite fascinating. The only person I knew that went by that name was a higher school friend. I thought the name fitted completely into what was happening to me. I gave that unique name to my boy. The name speaks to the fact that I was reveling in double joy by reason of my brand new PhD, and a brand new guy that God just gave us.
What is the most difficult aspect of fatherhood to you?
I thank God, my wife and I did not have any major challenge over our kids. My most difficult experience of fatherhood happened when I had my daughter, our second child. It was a really troubling experience for my wife. We had initially thought it was a simple thing, and it did not take my wife and I much time to agree that I should proceed on my scheduled post-doctoral trip to South Korea – a six-month study programme, only for the situation to get worse later. Unquestionably, this was my most difficult fatherhood experience. I thank God my girl is doing well. She graduated from college this June.
Do you support some fathers’ view that caning is better than verbal correction in disciplining a child?
Why should I cane a child when it is more effective talking in order to correct them? For me, it smacks of abuse to cane a child. The mind of a kid is a tabula rassa, a clean slate. It is what you write on it that remains etched on it. So, do the talking, do the living by example, and your kids would not need to be spanked to know and do the right thing. I never for once caned my kids. I take the biblical injunction on not sparing the rod as metaphorical.
Which house chores do you assist your wife with?
Getting the spaces set up, maybe. The truth is that my wife is compelling when it comes to household affairs. She delights at ensuring that everything is in place; and mind you, she has this prodigious capacity to get these things done, to sort things out. And so, for her, a relatively lazy husband like yours sincerely is not a bother.
Is there anything you would love to do differently as a father?
I probably would not send my kids to private schools. I just have now come to the full realisation that our public schools have something going for them. The type of environment and reality that the private schools try to create for the kids is not real, and unless you make deliberate efforts thereafter to retool your kids, you may simply discover that they do not really fit into the reality of existence here.
What do you feel most happy about as a father?
Seeing the kids grow up. Not just as a father, even as a teacher. One of the things that give me much joy is seeing my students and academic mentees grow up, in terms of knowledge, emotional maturity, and general advancement in life. I love gardening, and it is the same feeling I have when I plant a seedling and it begins to sprout and grow. It’s surreal.
What do you say to those without father figures?
It is that we all have a duty to live life the way it comes. We must make the best out of any situation we find ourselves in. Nobody gets all of the things they want. Indeed, the Yoruba have a word on that, which roughly translates into this: a fatherless child must listen carefully and take a cue whenever their age mates get counselled by their own fathers.
What challenges did you face as a father?
My kids are now grown up; yet, I have this frustration of not having enough time for these children by reason of the way our school system is organised. Beyond the primary school age when these kids live with you fully, subsequent levels of education ensure you keep them in the boarding house or hostel. Upon graduation, what do you begin to think about? National Youth Service Corps, work, marriage, and off the kids are gone. I wish it were a bit different such that children spent more time with the parents.
How do you reward your children’s good deeds?
I praise them profusely. I also do write poems for them.
How do you appreciate your wife?
Appreciation comes in different forms – a pat on the back or some praise here, acquiescence to some long standing requests there.
As a university teacher and manager, how have you been able to impact positively on your students to be responsible citizens?
I try to lay out correct values, and emplace a system that motivates my students to aim higher in whatever they set their minds to achieve.
I make them appreciate they have a duty to society, especially to assist anyone weaker or less advantaged than themselves. I demonstrate to them that I trust in their ability. I also make it a point of duty to live by example. My students must see me as a role model. I met one of them recently, who said people often talk about my achievements when I was vice-chancellor in terms of infrastructural projects; but that for him, it was the type of impact I made on him as an individual that he thought I should be celebrated for. I gave vent to some of these perspectives in my new book, Getting Our Universities Back on Track. I feel fulfilled listening to such comments from my students.
Can you share any funny experiences as a father?
It wasn’t funny at the time. My wife and I packed lunch for our boy when he was in kindergarten. A couple of hours after we left the school, we had a sense that the food might have been made from some stuff not too good for human consumption, as both of us had reacted really badly after taking portions of the food. The type of anxiety and speed with which we raced back to the school, hoping that our little boy had not eaten his meal, is indescribable. Luckily he had not. Looking back, I laugh at the drama that went into all of that – from the time we became suspicious that the meal may not be good, to the time we snatched the meal bag from the minder. It was plenty of tension and drama.
Do you agree with the view of some that there are specific roles for wives and husbands?
There are no hard and fast rules about this. What I feel a bit awkward about, however, is the act of our brothers in the Diaspora who make a rule about their wives bringing a percentage of the financial needs of the family to the table. That does not seem dignifying enough for me, both as an African and as a Christian. The Bible expects us to provide for our homes. Yes, our wives are to help, where they can, but we should not make it a rule and begin to allocate percentages on what they have to bring if the roof is not to come down.
Have you cooked at home before and what was it like?
I pride myself as a good cook. Our mom was a restaurateur for many years. Even so, my wife hardly tolerates the idea of me cooking. She feels quite uncomfortable with someone intruding into what she regards as her forte.
Would you encourage your children to join politics?
I guess what you mean is in terms of the modern democratic system of governance of a country. My answer to that is, why not? If my children desire to take a go at politics out of the conviction that they can make a difference, they can take my support for granted. That is what in Political Science we call political efficacy – the conviction that you can make a difference in a political setting. Remember also that ours has always been a political family – from the time of our great grandfather to our big brother governor.
(Culled from Punch)