A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Tayo Oyetibo, shares his journey into fatherhood with TOLUWANI ENIOLA
How would you describe fatherhood?
A father should be a role model for his children. He should provide guidance and counselling to them. The Bible teaches us that the father is the head of the home. He is expected to guide his family in the way of the lord. His duties also include providing for the home.
I was 29 years old when I had my first child. I would have loved to be a father when I was 25 or 26. But it was a good experience. I was fairly mature at that age. It was very exciting because I had a unique experience of carrying in my hands a living being that proceeded from my loin. I was anxious to know about the delivery. After the delivery, I relished the moments. My first child is a male.
Did you achieve your gender preference with the birth of a male child?
No one can control birth really. These days, quite frankly, I don’t think there should be discrimination between male and female children. I have both anyways, so it does not really matter.
How have you been able to balance being a successful lawyer and your roles as a responsible father?
It is only recently that I began to realise what my wife had been going through. I work at the chambers and get home usually very late. I didn’t know that somebody at home was the victim (of my busy schedules) until very recently when she shared her personal experience with me. Now, even though I use to work at weekends, I try to create more time, particularly on Sundays for my family. From Monday to Friday, I am always occupied. Part of my Saturdays also has to do with work. I now devote more time on Sundays to my family. And these days, in the evenings, I try to create time. Sometimes, when I get home, my wife would have slept. When you are away for the better part of the day, you don’t remember that somebody is bearing the brunt. But I think it was all for the good of the family. The responsibilities that come with fatherhood are daunting, because it is an office that comes with certain duties. If you are a night crawler in the past, definitely you have to change when you become a father.
What special gifts have your wife or children have given you in appreciation of your fatherly role?
Usually, they remind me about my birthday. At times, I forget my birthdays but my family never forgot mine, particularly my wife. We go out for dinners on such days.
What are the similarities in your childhood years and your children’s?
During my childhood days, there were certain things I could not discuss with my father. The gap between my father and I was so wide, unlike these days when I sit with my children and chat. I exchange views with my children. I listen to their points of view. They ask me questions. But I could hardly asked my father questions then.
Some of my father’s views may not be in tandem with today’s demands. I had a hardworking and energetic father. The method he used in those days is not exactly the method being used these days. I had to balance it, taking some of his good methods and the ones which fit with modern times. When my children were younger, I sat with them to discuss issues. I sometimes embraced their viewpoints because they suggested good ideas. My children are computer literate so they are able to advise me and even correct me at times. I have to listen to them. In the past, older men “knew” everything. If I should continue like that, I would be on the wrong side of life. One has to adjust.
What did you learn from him?
I learnt a lot from my father who worked in the construction industry. During my holidays, I followed him to his sites. I remember one occasion he was going to the defence headquarters because he had a project he was doing for them. I took his briefcase. The elevator was not working so we were climbing the stairs. He had got to the 10th floor but I was still on the seventh floor. He came back hurriedly and collected the briefcase from me and I had to run after him to know the office he was going to enter. I think he was time conscious. I benefitted a lot from my visits to his construction sites. It helped me a lot when I started building mine.
Can you share any of your experiences as a father with your kids?
One of my children is so big now. But I remember I used to carry him on my shoulders and jump with him over the stairs. But each time I look at him now, he is taller than me. I used to wonder if he was the same child I used to carry on my shoulders.
Some believe that fathers should provide for the home while mothers take care of the home. Do you agree with this?
Primarily, it is the duty of fathers to provide for the home. We cannot deny that. The woman should take care of the home. That is still correct. But that does not mean that there cannot be partnering in those roles. For instance, when the financial ability of the man is not strong enough to unilaterally shoulder the responsibilities, the wife can support him. Equally, there is nothing wrong with the man helping the woman, especially when there is no cook or maid.
Do you cook at home?
I used to cook in the past. But time does not permit me now. I must say that I enjoyed doing that. My family didn’t believe I could cook. I was a good cook when I was a bachelor.
How can fatherhood influence leadership and build good citizenship in Nigeria?
A country is made up of many homes. If many homes are bad, then you have a bad country. If the majority of the homes are good, Nigeria will be good. The problems start from the home. We have had cases of parents enrolling their children in examination centres so they could pass examinations illegally. This is ridiculous. It is ungodly and they are not leading the children in the right part. What foundation are those parents laying for a child who cheats? The home is the micro unit of a country. We need good homes to build good countries.
How much has fatherhood changed your perspective about life?
I can’t afford to do certain things because of my children. I ensure that I don’t lay bad example. A father has to play the role of a leader at home.
The impression people have of lawyers is that they sometimes twist facts to defend their clients? Is it possible to practise law without lying?
It is an unfortunate impression because that is absolutely not correct. If somebody is in the witness box, if you ask him questions thousand times, he will repeat exactly the same thing; that is if he is saying the truth. It won’t be difficult for an experienced lawyer to discover a lying witness. It is not a lawyer that lies but a witness could lie. It is a wrong impression and I don’t know who put it in the minds of the society. Those who say that are not well knowledgeable in the law. If you read the Bible carefully, the greatest and most senior advocate is Jesus Christ. When the Pharisees were about to stone the adulterous woman, Jesus advocated on her behalf. That is what a lawyer does.
What are the fears of your family concerning your job?
It is particularly dangerous for lawyers who handle high-profile cases. At times, they face attacks. You have to stick to your principles. I have been practising law for over 30 years now. I have gone through the most dangerous part of it and the thick and thin. God saw me through. I don’t entertain the fears of taking up difficult cases again.
How did you influence your children’s career choices?
Two of my children are lawyers and are practising the profession. But the other two are into something else. I don’t believe in forcing anybody to accept my profession. It is better to allow children to do what they like.
How did you punish your children when they behaved wrongly?
I could lock them up in a room for one to three hours. I used canes many years ago. There is nothing wrong in using the cane but one has to be reasonable. I know that it is a crime to cane children in some countries. That is why there is indiscipline in those societies because the parents don’t use canes. A child should be trained appropriately, but there is a difference between cruelty and training. There is nothing wrong when you apply the cane as a means of punishment, especially when it is necessary.
What is the most important relationship advice you have given your kids?
As soon as they started approaching the right ages for relationships, I ensured that they didn’t fall into the wrong hands. This is an important aspect of fatherhood. At this critical stage, one has to be closer to them. I told them that all that glitters is not gold. I emphasised that a lot. I didn’t start my career on a silver platter so I told them not to look at where they are now to judge their relationship. I advised them to go beyond the surface; they must also consider compatibility, such as character, career and religion of their spouses. Those are the things to consider before getting into relationships.
You have to be realistic. If a man is jobless, for instance, how does he maintain the home? If it is the woman, the husband can find work for her. But it is different for men because they should provide for the children. A jobless man should get a job before getting a wife. If you don’t have a job and you want to get married, you are going to cause more problems for yourself. The best thing is to get a job before marriage. That is the order of nature.
How did you propose to your wife?
You know the way we used to do it then is not the same way it is done now. Immediately I met her, I knew she was the one I would spend the rest of my life with. I proposed to my wife immediately I first saw her. It was not a fashionable proposal. It was from the first contact that I knew she was the one. That might sound somehow but that is the truth. She didn’t believe it was going to happen. Imagine somebody meeting you for the first time telling you, “You are going to be my wife.” But the spirit in me spoke.
If you were to propose to her again what would you do?
I would love to propose (marriage) in a different way. I could do a surprise; it could be on the high sea or it could be in the air.