When I want to romance my wife, I send my kids on errand —Akintola

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A Professor of Islamic Eschatology and Director of Muslim Rights Concern, Ishaq Akintola, shares his fatherhood experience with TOLUWANI ENIOLA

At what age did you become a father?

I became a father after I graduated from the university. After returning from Cairo where I obtained my first degree, I got married. I ensured I got a job before entering that phase of life.

Where were you when your wife delivered your first child?

I was with her at the hospital. I was quite excited and prayed. Some friends later joined me in prayers.  I told the doctors, “Prepare two beds.  I will like to lie beside my wife.”  They insisted I stayed outside. I was restless until they finally called me after many hours that she had been delivered of the baby. My only regret was that I was not allowed to be with her in the labour room.

What was it like growing up with your own father?

My father was a loving, responsible and caring person. I was very close to him. He provided our needs within his means. It was a polygamous setting.  All the wives were treated equally.  I didn’t know my mother. My mother died three years after I was born. The wives saw one another as partners and took care of the children. Each time I was busy and any of my elder brothers called me to do something for them, my father would ask them not to bother me. I loved reading novels as a child. My father had a reclining chair which he allowed only me to sit on.

How was he able to love each wife equally?

He didn’t discriminate. Naturally, it is not possible to love every woman equally but he gave each wife her due. The level of love may be different but you don’t need to show it. I listened to a radio programme when I was in the United States. It was during the winter.  A woman called in while the programme was going on. She was complaining bitterly about her lonely life. She said instead of being so lonely at the age of 33, she would not mind marrying a married man.  She said even if it is once a week the man can spend with her, she won’t mind.   What women in such a polygamous setting need are for the husband to show a sense of responsibility and ensure he spends time with them.

Why didn’t you marry more than one wife since it is permitted in Islam?

My religion permits me to marry more than one wife but it didn’t say I must marry more than one wife. It is not mandatory. The Quran (chapter four verses 3 and 4) says if you have the means, marry more than one wife. In the African setting, when you marry a woman, you marry her family. If you marry a second wife,that is an additional family you marry. The burden is more if you marry more than two wives.  I nearly married a second wife. But when I looked at my salary and considered the cost, I changed my mind. Marrying a second wife means I would have to buy clothes for my in-laws, rams during Sallah and other demands.  I decided that it is better for me to have a wife and satisfy her than to have two or three wives and fail to satisfy none of them.

Do you consider your dad a stricter father than you?

My father was strict. I am stricter.  I know what my children go through (laughs).

What do they go through?

When I was growing up, we only needed to tell my father where were going. He didn’t stop us from going out. But for me, if my children tell me they want to go out, they have to explain why they have to go out. I don’t allow my children to visit friends. I am very strict at home. I visit my children in their hostels without informing them. I stay in the hostels in disguise and monitor them. One of my daughters graduated from Olabisi Onabanjo University some years back. She lived in a private hostel. I wanted to be sure she was not misbehaving. I would drive all the way from Lagos to her school. I would park my car a few metres from her hostel. I would walk into the building and disguise. If she came to the balcony to rest there, I would watch her friends and what she said. I did that like three times before she graduated.

One day I told her on the telephone that a friend of mine would be sent to deliver something to her. I said that friend of mine would call her when he gets to the hostel. She was shocked to realise it was me when she came out. I then told her all she had been doing since morning because I had been there for a while. When I did it twice or thrice, I knew she would caution herself. She knew I was always monitoring her. I usually ask my children’s lecturers to help me monitor them in school. I know I am strict. I don’t give my children too much laxity or too much licence for liberty.

What are the things your children do that make you laugh?

When I got my doctoral degree from the University of Ilorin, I was teaching at the Lagos State University. When we got home after the convocation, my son, who was still very young then, made a funny statement. He said, “Daddy, thank God. We would no longer go to the hospital anymore. I said, “Why?” He said, “You are now a doctor.”  I then told him I only got a doctoral degree and not a medical degree. When my daughter graduated a few weeks ago from the medical college, we remembered that story. I then told him, “Now we have a doctor in the house who can give you an injection.” He laughed.

What are the major challenges you encountered in your fatherhood journey?

Finance is the major challenge. Sometimes, a particular child may be difficult to handle. You have to ensure he behaves well, particularly the boys.

Do you use cane to correct your children?

I don’t use cane. And I have never struck my wife. Only animals do that. My religion instructs us to be loving and caring to our wives and children. I correct my children through sermons and lessons. Every Sunday morning, we pray together and share experiences.  I used to tell them about my childhood friends who failed and those who could not make it.  I narrated how I suffered when I travelled to Germany from Cairo during my varsity days. I was washing plates in a hotel. I could not even afford to buy the food sold in the hotel. The food left by those who came to eat was what I put together and ate. I told them to be ready to work hard and engage in honest behaviour. I showed them pictures, stressing that success does not come easy.

What is the most important relationship advice you give your children?

I advise them not to rush into a relationship. I tell them never to engage in pre-marital sex. I don’t allow the boys to be visited by girlfriends. A man cannot come into my house and say he is looking for my daughter. He can only do that after my daughter has introduced him to me. Two of my daughters are married. We did the wedding inside my house. I don’t believe in throwing large parties. One reason is that I don’t have the money. Another reason is that I can’t rely on families to donate money because my daughter wants to get married. I always ask the mature ones among my daughters who they are going out with. I made them know that marriage is a necessity and they cannot run away from it. My daughter got married before she graduated from the university.

Why didn’t you encourage her to graduate first before marriage?

I encouraged it because of certain reasons. When my daughter was in her second year in the university, I said to her, “Who is your boyfriend?”  “She said, “Boyfriend? I don’t have one sir. You sent me to school to study. That’s what I have been doing sir.” I smiled. I said, “As you are studying, don’t you walk around?  Aren’t some boys eyeing you? Tell me which of them has been calling you for a relationship.” She said, “Nobody sir.” I took her to an eatery a week later. She had forgotten about our discussion. After wining and dining, we took pictures and she was happy. When I knew she was really happy, I asked her the question again.  It was there she told me the man’s name. When we got home, I pretended I had forgotten about it. It was during the holiday, so when she was going back to school, I asked her to tell the man to come and see me. When he came, I told him I hate pre-marital sex and that since the two of them are mature enough, they should get married.  I told him I would continue to pay my daughter’s school fees and her upkeep while she was still in school.

Within six months, we arranged a wedding for them.  It was a quiet one. Six people attended from the husband’s family and six people attended from my side. They wanted an elaborate wedding. I said no, that I am a poor teacher. Now the couple has four children. My daughter is not yet 32. I encouraged early marriage because I don’t want to be the one looking for a husband for my daughter. We have to allow them to be free and allow them to get married early enough. That was a wise decision.

Do you cook at home?

I don’t cook. I scored F9 in that (laughs). Even to prepare Eba, I never tried it. I make good teas anyway.

As an Islamic scholar, what are the things that annoy you about parenting and fatherhood in Nigeria today?

The way some parents bring up their children these days calls for concern. Some parents engage impersonators to write examinations for their children. Some parents even bribe invigilators. Some buy admission for their children. Some indulge their children when they misbehave. If your child commits a crime, let him be punished. Parents should not make their children feel they are above the law. I get annoyed when rich parents make their children feel like they are above the rest of the society. It is unacceptable.

The general belief is that Islamic clerics like you are not romantic.

Oh, on that, don’t try me (laughs). I am very romantic. My wife appreciates that a lot. The only place I may not be romantic is in the open. Once I am inside, particularly when the children are not looking or when they are not around, I show my wife a great deal of love.  Sometimes, I deliberately send my children on an errand or on a wild goose chase when I want to have an adult time with my wife. By the time they come back, the romance would have been over (laughs). At home, I kiss my wife a lot. I make her feel my presence. She is a very lovely and caring woman.  I do that because most of the time, I am working, reading and writing and hardly have time for other things. When she comes around to serve me tea, I would stand up and before she puts the food on the table, I would kiss her. After putting the tea down, I hold her again to show love.

What do your children tease you about?

I always say a certain statement when they ask for too much. I tell them, “Look, don’t forget your father is a poor teacher.” I say this a lot at home. These days, when my children are discussing among themselves and I am passing by, the younger brother would change the subject and tell his elder brother, “Look, don’t ask me that. You know I am the son of a poor teacher.” (Laughs)  I would ignore them and just walk away smiling.

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