A former Group Executive Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, and former director, Research Division, Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Vienna, Austria, Mr. Mike Olorunfemi, tells ARUKAINO UMUKORO about what it takes to be a good father
Fatherhood is a responsibility; one doesn’t have to be a biological father before one assumes that position. Fatherhood entails bringing people up in the knowledge and fear of God. It is like having another job. It is something you have to do with passion and love. You must also understand the job and be dedicated to it. My children knew they could confide in me about anything because I have a listening ear. I can’t remember anytime I flogged any one of them, but at the same time, they know when I am angry because they see it on my face. They are all grown up now and have their respective families, but we are best of friends. In essence, fatherhood is another profession, which one is not being paid for, but one is paid back in love.
That was when my first daughter was no longer doing well in school. I faced it headlong. She was in a federal government college at the time, I realised that I wasn’t giving her enough attention like I did when she was at home. I, thus, decided to devote two months of my holiday to teach her mathematics at home. I used to close at the office at four and I would go straight home and sit down with her for one or two hours to teach her. By the time she took the senior school certificate examinations, she had a distinction in Mathematics.
Because of my personal history, I never experienced a father. So, by the time I was ready to have children, I decided I was going to be an exemplary father. Even before I got to the position of having more responsibilities, I had made up my mind that family must be my number one priority. I knew that, therefore I created time for my children. I have all girls. As a Christian, I must say there was never a time I knelt down and asked God to give me a particular gender for children. But God gave me girls. I have four children, and two are twins. What I did was train them so that they would be like men. I don’t want to claim credit for raising them well, but I thank God for them.
One thing I learnt very early was time management. Also, I learnt how to create and spend quality time with my children. Every Saturday morning, I spent two hours with them, going through their homework and lesson notes. Because of that, my children started concentrating more on their school work so that they would have something to tell me when they came back from school. It became a routine for me and my children for several years. It is important for fathers to create time for their children despite their busy work lives.
Also, one’s children look up to one as their father, therefore one must show good examples. I remember one incident. I usually pick the hymns and Bible passage we would read during the crossover night. This was in 1985 when I was general manager in NNPC. My daughter was about to start form five. That day, our boss, the late Aret Adams, called for a working lunch in his house. Although I usually took a few glasses of beer, I was cajoled to drink an extra glass of champagne as toast for the approaching year, the mix wasn’t too good for me. And when I took that little sip, it threw me off. When others went to the office, I went back home and slept throughout. By the time we were supposed to assemble as a family, my daughter came to wake me up to ask if we were not going to do the crossover night. I was too tired. It then dawned on me and I decided never to take alcohol again. Since then, I have never gone back to it.
I coached my children for the common entrance and JAMB exams and I am very proud of it. Even for the GMATs, there were times I prepared them all, except one of them, for it. My teaching career in the past helped me. When I came back from London where I had my MSc from the London School of Economics, I taught for two years in the department of economics, University of Lagos, before I decided to abandon the academia.
One of my late half-brothers, who was a Muslim, thought he was doing me good when he called me aside, and asked if I wasn’t worried that I didn’t have a male child and he suggested that I should marry another wife. What wasn’t a problem for me became a problem to others and I had to warn him seriously. I told him that whatever God gives me I would take. We first had a girl, then a set of twin girls, and a girl again; although I was thinking it was going to be a boy. But I was grateful to God, because at that time, I had understood the word of God. St. Paul never had children, but we still make reference to him every day in our places of worship. A former minister, the late Shettima Ali Monguno, who was my very good friend, told me he tried seven times before he had a male child and I told him I was not going to do that. My wife and I quarrelled over it, but I said no. And as an economist, I knew I shouldn’t have many children. Three times was enough. My mum used to tell me that, every mother is like a bus, she carries passengers (children) on the way. When they get to a point, they (children) would disembark to lead their own lives.
It was when I was lecturing at UNILAG. I was grading WAEC scripts in Ibadan in 1971 when they called me that my wife had put to bed in Warri, Delta State. It was in the heat of marking the examination papers. I went to my supervisor and asked him for permission to go see my wife. The next day, I took a bus from Ibadan to Warri. I never witnessed the births of my children due to work schedules or location.
I cannot say I’m an expert in raising girls. But I know quite a bit and I’ve helped some of my friends in that regard. For female children, one must pay attention to them. My children like to be around me, listen and talk to me. Girls like to listen to one and like to pour out their heart to you. And if you develop a listening ear, you will be their best friend.
I told them, “You must know you are a product created by God and He has deposited in you everything that you need for your life. Also, you must identify and know what those things are.” I told them that my duty as a father was to help them discover it. But once they discovered it, they must run with it.
I’m glad you asked this question. When my wife and I first got married, she was earning more as salary than I was. She was then working in SHELL BP while I was a poor lecturer. But somehow, through the Ministry of Mines and Power, I got the job at OPEC. I had to relocate to Vienna, Austria. My wife had to resign her job in SHELL to move with me so that she could devote her full time to raising our children. She gave up her career for us. It was a huge sacrifice on her part that we will never forget. Even when we returned to Nigeria she devoted her time to the children and they always knew that whenever they returned home from school, their mum would be there waiting for them. That is the greatest thing when it comes to raising children. But nowadays, one finds that both husband and wife are career people, they always leave home early and there is nobody to raise the kids or pay attention to them. My wife was always at home to give them attention. I thank God that when I had the resources, I helped her to build a school. I and my children appreciate all that she did for us.
In 1995, when I retired, my first daughter was already working and the twins had three more years to go in university, while the other had just finished her BSc. By the time I retired, I had already finished training all my kids. I didn’t have that problem. I set up a consultancy company servicing the oil and gas industry. That’s what I have been doing.
I had close friends who had fathers with them; I learnt from those experiences too. I also learnt fatherhood from the word of God. My biological father was a trader; he was the person that brought Islam to my village in Ekiti. They hated him because he spoke against their mode of worship. My mum was already six months pregnant at the time he left for his usual trading trips in Osogbo or Ilorin and never came back. Some said he was bewitched, that they made for him so that he would not come back to the town. I would have become a Muslim if my father was around when I was born. Later on, my mum remarried. I had a step-father. In 1966, when I finished my first degree, I went to look for my biological father. We saw twice before he died, and I spent four hours with him in total. But I never held any grudge against him. I believe it was ordained that way. I still helped my step siblings.
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