19 November 2013

TO BE A MAN (For International Men's Day)

Guest Writer: Ikhide R. Ikheloa

(Image Credit: justhappyquotes)

For the Men in Our Lives...
We are living in fascinating times – on many levels. Relationships are being assessed in the light of civil and human rights and life as we know it in the 21st century. Labels abound; misogyny, misandry, feminism, patriarchy, matriarchy, etc. Depending on which side you are. Most of these labels are pejoratives used to describe crushing dysfunctions. Anyhow you look at it, man, as in the male, seems to be under pressure, if not under attack, to change his ways. The family structure with the man at the top or at the center is now seen as something designed by Early Man, something that should go the way of the dodo. There is good reason for these feelings. Patriarchy in its worst forms is a form of oppression and even in societies with robust laws, structures and processes, women and children often bear the brunt of patriarchy and its attendant misogyny. Change is coming, but it is not coming fast enough.

But then, much of the conversations I have been privy to lack nuance and context. As an African father, I have often listened as people have used alien yardsticks to measure my worth as a father, husband and man. The other day, an African said to me that his father had never uttered the words “I love you.” I felt sad for him, surely, there must be more to loving another human being than merely uttering syrupy words from a Hallmark card. My father never uttered those words to me, but man, was he a dad. He had strong maternal instincts. Yes, I use the word 'maternal' deliberately. My dad, the one I call Papalolo in my stories, was a protector, a provider, and educator and an entertainer all rolled into one. My dad was no angel. He walked everywhere with his demons, and they were busy, however, nothing could stop him from discharging what he saw as his duties as a father.
(Image Credit: wikipedia)
Growing up in Nigeria, I was surrounded by beautiful men who believed in community, and were proud to be men and loving fathers, not only to their children, but to all children that they set their eyes on. My father left an impression on every child he met, and in a good way. For me, what I most remember about my father was his love for stories, for literature. Here in America, I am surrounded by men who defy the stereotypes of absent fathers, and they are not all white folks, many are men like myself, who wake up every day determined to still their demons and do right by their families. My father taught me that men should be in the lives of every child. My father features in many of my stories, because he lived them and he told the rest to me. I remember writing Life In America: Cow Foot By Candlelight and laughing hard at memories of my father’s tales. My passion for fatherhood was drilled into me by my dad. I walk into my daughters’ rooms and I marvel at the gift of their being (Ominira’s room) and thank my dad for teaching me to be a guide by the side of my awesome children.  
(Image Credit: achebebooks)
As much as I love my dad, this is not about my father; this is about that special man, who lives in my heart every day of my life, the late great Professor Chinua Achebe.Yes, Professor Chinua Achebe is on my mind. It is appropriate that I am writing this in November, on his birthday (November 16, 2013). Achebe lives in the hearts and minds of millions of people who saw the world through his beautiful mind and books. My father Papalolo and I would not be where we are today without Achebe’s fearless and nurturing leadership. My favorite book of all times is Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It is easily my security blanket. Whenever I am stressed, I go to it like my bible and read a passage; it never fails to console me. Until Facebook came along, exile for me in the United States was hell. Achebe comforted me in the despair of exile. How? There is a passage in Achebe’s Things Fall Apart where Okonkwo was being consoled in the wintry depths of his exile by Uchendu, his maternal uncle. That passage (here) is my favorite; I used to go to it many times a year until Facebook came along. My father Papalolo is also an Achebe groupie. My dad did not have a formal secondary school education, but a scrappy soul, he educated himself. He got disillusioned about the experiment called Nigeria very early in his life and the dark humor in his reading choices reflected his disenchantment with Nigeria. A dashing warrior who spent a career prepared to die for Nigeria, he now relies on the generosity of his children to make it to the next day. The country that he fought for, the leaders that he fought for, have long forgotten about him and fellow retirees. Our leaders fight over loot, national resources, that if shared equally among all of us, would make each Nigerian as rich as Saudi Arabian oil sheikhs.

My father loved books and newspapers. He had a cupboard of books and as a young boy I thought it was a thing of magic; no matter how many times I visited that cupboard there was always a book I had never read. I traveled to many worlds on the wings of my father’s cupboard – India, England, America and faraway places that housed little impish boys that loved to dream. He loved detective stories and so he subscribed to magazines like True Detective. He was also a romantic and he made sure to subscribe to romance magazines. I was addicted to pictorial magazines like Sadness and Joy, Boom and the antics of the detective Lance Spearman and “bad man” RabonZollo. I remember once breaking down in tears when, as punishment, my dad would not buy me the latest copy of Boom. Boom featured a good looking warrior and his elephant who always managed to vanquish his enemies. Some of the enemies were man-eating plants! My father loved Agatha Christie’s stories. I also distinctly remember the Inspector West series by John Creasey. Inspector Roger West was a dashing young Scotland Yard detective and several volumes of his exploits were housed in my father’s cupboard of books.

Achebe’s books spoke to my father because Achebe was of his generation and he could identify with the issues that the books wrestled with. My dad would always tell me that the books A Man of the People and No Longer at Ease were fabrics torn from Nigeria. They featured the uncritical acceptance of Western culture, what Binyavanga Wainana the brilliant writer of Kenyan extraction, once contemptuously called mimicry on his Facebook status. In Achebe’s books, Nigerian intellectuals, newly arrived from England would acquire cars, fake accents and at dinner parties the favorite greeting was: “How is the car behaving?” My dad loved that phrase. On certain days, with a glass of Star Lager beer in his hand, the keys of his motor cycle twirling around his finger, and that twinkle in his impish eyes, he would ask the mirror in our parlor: “How is the car behaving?” and we would both break into long peals of laughter. Here is to you, Professor Achebe for bonding my father and me with the glue of your powerful words. You sir, were a man, and a man of the people.

Ikhide R. Ikheloa is a social and literary critic who writes non-stop on various online media. He was a columnist with Next Newspaper and the Daily Times, Nigeria, where he held forth and offered unsolicited opinions on any and everything to do with literature and the world. He has been published  in books, journals and online magazines and he predicts: 'The book and the library are dying. Ideas live.” Find him on twitter  @Lord of the Gourds


  1. I enjoyed every bit of this article. I hope to be the best I can be as a man. God help me as I live up to the billing of 'a real man'.

  2. An engaging read, this. Ikhide narrates brilliantly how the African father is often opposite of the absent stereotype; and more, how a work - or the worker - of art, can provide the glue that binds generations of blood.