Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Watching my children sleep. Random thoughts of a Father

Wood Green at 4am on 1st February 2009

Watching my children sleep, random thoughts of a Father

By Kayode Ogundamisi

It has become a routine for me to observe at least one out of my little angels sleeping and I recommend this to any father, you cannot but witness what true love is until you observe an innocent child, particularly one of your own go to sleep.

It is more surreal and emotional when a baby falls asleep on your chest. The whole process guarantees you one thing and that is, though you may be doing every other thing wrong, if only you provide love and protection for your children you are doing the right thing.

There are times when I am caught between the love of my country and the love for my children, not for once, but many times. I have spent over 80% of my adult life bearing the brunt of pain for my country, making sacrifices for my nation and my homeland and then I took a step back to choose and I’m glad I made the right choice. You cannot be a good leader if you are a bad father.
I grew up with a father that showered me with love, gave his everything so I could rise above the injustice that was the neighbourhood we called home. I have seen people describe success in terms of the number of houses they inherited from rich parents, or the number of money they have in their account or that professional fat pay they earn every month, or that appointment they just got from the next government and I look at myself today and say ‘oh my God’ see how successful you have made me.

Each smile beamed from my children is the success I am talking about, the smiles I could not afford as a young boy. Where being streetwise was the first law. Knowledge of every bus stop from Agégé to Idu Mota would bring the next little change that would allow me to pay my school fees.

Knowing when Lagos football clubs were playing at Onikan Stadium so that I was guaranteed a high turnover volume for the sales of my ‘ice cold water’. Those were the days when working underage was like a gift from heaven.

Where you have to choose between Lipton tea with sugar or milk and watch in awe as you visit your friend’s house and see the spectacle of that “peak milk” can in the dustbins.
I have been blessed with childhood friends who when I look back today, made that loaf of bread they shared with me make all the difference, those times we spent together kept me going, and as I see them live in close to opulence I keep saying “that is the life I want for my children” not the opulence but knowing that they would never lack the next meal, that they would not lack education, that they would be first amongst equals, that they would know that the basic things of life are guaranteed by God as a right and not a privilege.

And my friends I will never forget. With some I still keep in touch, with others I have good times and bad times, quarrel over little things but knowing deep down that we share special moments from the past that can never be shaken by the greed of today.

I have been blessed with friends from childhood whom I owe nothing but love from the deepest part of my heart. Whom even when they do me wrong I right that wrong with love and forgiveness knowing that I can never replace the memory of the good they have shared with me, and the pain they witnessed and the blessing of God in today’s life. With that opportunity you can say to your children, “there was poverty and here is victory”.

I have had the pleasure of comrades, some dead, in fact mostly dead in the struggle we dreamt will change my fatherland and I have seen betrayals, backstabbing, pettiness and self righteousness I have been mislead, I have mislead and I have retraced lost steps. I am weary of people who make the most noise and genuinely intrigued by the silence of those who can give voice to the voiceless.

But in all I give thanks to God for the beautiful gift of watching my children sleep. I see them go to the refrigerator and come back with a big mug of milk and then insisting they want yoghurt instead; and I shake my head thinking, if only you little angels knew that when I was your age and saw milk at my friend’s house, I could not have it. However, I glow in the joy that my children have a choice, and I feel sad that not all children have that choice in my homeland Nigeria.

Now the guilt of choosing my children’s future over that of the voiceless millions creeps into me and I ponder back at my childhood and hear that voice that say, “a failed father cannot lead his people.” And then I try to make sure I do the little I can, to contribute all I can to make a change in my homeland. I look at the work done by my other friends in Diaspora and then remember that word of a comrade in New York who recently said. “Sankara most of the good ones left home” a greater number of those left at home joined the oppressors and I don’t blame them, who am I to question them, they might as well want to watch “their children sleep” but it gives me joy that I do not watch mine sleep at the expense of others, in my status as a working class man at least I am not failing my children, that is the consolation that I hold on to, it erases the guilt of spending all those years putting my country before my children.

And I thank God knowing, that, if I am called home today, I will go knowing with the joy that I at least took time to watch my children sleep.And like my father proudly told me I can say to my children. “Look, I do not owe anybody any money, I work hard for all I have, I buy what I need and not what I want” I am wealthy because I have contentment and I can watch my children make a choice, chose between milk and yoghurt, white bread and corn bread.

Sleeping in my own room was a choice that I never had as a child. Ours was a one-room apartment that six of us shared with our loving late father. We had to compete for every inch of space, we all transformed into site engineers and space managers at night, moving the baskets to create space for the mat and the bench for dads mobile foam bed.

And now I look back and say to all fathers, watch your children sleep and see if that wealth is not greater than all the riches in the world. To those who hold our country in bondage watch your children sleep and make that great choice so other fathers in Nigeria could watch their children sleep without the pain of wondering what the next day will be like, were the next cup of Lipton tea would come from or how to get the next meal. If we can feel that way for our children and wish better for every child our future as a nation would be smooth.

Kayode Ogundamisi.