While most Nigerian fathers do not consider their role in the upbringing of their adolescent girl-child to include constant communication and attention, a conversation between fathers and teenage girls have set the tone for reconsideration, writes Martins Ifijeh

While the three years intense war between North and South Korea of 1950 ended with a peaceful Korean armistice agreement in Panmunjom, a location within the Korean territory, the ‘war’ between Nigerian fathers and their daughters didn’t end with a signed agreement within the family territory. It, in fact, ended at a neutral location comfortable to both ‘armies’. It was at the United States Consulate in Lagos where a ceasefire agreement was signed with a commitment from both parties to maintain ceasefire.

Prior to the agreement, all sides had the opportunity to share their concerns and fears, an opportunity the daughters jumped at to throw the first salvo. They wondered why they were the most misunderstood in the family, especially by their fathers who oftentimes consider them not as good as the boys. They wondered why fathers would take the boys out for sports or for a long personal discussion, while they, on the other hand were confined to reading their books or asked to find a space in the kitchen or laundry room to exude their talents and boredom.

They wondered why they were being asked to do all the cookings when they can share the job with their brothers, as well as why they were asked to dress in a certain way when their friends dresses ‘cool’ and ‘sexy’. In fact, one unanimous judgement by the girls was that they were not friends with their fathers because fathers were masters at raising their voices at any provocation, plus fathers never create time for father-child conversation in the home.

For the fathers, who through genuine love and concern for their girls’ future, shared their own concerns, accepted that truly they are not as close to their daughters as they should, but they were quick to say they believed they were being strict with their girl-child in order to instill the right values in them such as knowing the place of a woman in a home and how best they should carry themselves.

They believed their girl-child was the ‘weakest’ in the house, hence they must stand as a protector for them, an approach they said could be misunderstood by the daughters, who because of their budding period (teenage years), would prefer absolute freedom to the ‘gagging’ they currently have.

With fathers and daughters explaining their sides of the story, it was time for the mediators to attempt at bridging the relationship gaps and mending the fences between fathers and their daughters, and then proffer sustainable coexistence plan between a typical Nigerian father and his daughters.

The chief mediator was the GirlsAid Initiative, a non-governmental organisation majoring on the girl-child development. Other mediators included a behavioural psychologist and a life coach, Mr. Lanre Olusola, popularly known as the catalyst, and the Publisher of Today’s Woman Magazine, Adesuwa Onyenokwe, who through their experience as youth advocates helped in amicably providing answers to pertinent questions.

Olusola, who started by apologising on behalf of fathers for not paying quality attention to their girl-child, said the best upbringing fathers can give to their children was the one that should come through friendship, adding that, it was only in such atmosphere that communication and father-daughter relationship can be strengthened.

He said before the wide gap between a father and the daughter can be closed, it was important fathers know the factors contributing to the issue, which he said if not checked could add to the nuisance value found in some today’s children because of the inability of the parents to communicate the right values to them as they should.

According to him, the issue with a typical Nigerian father was absenteeism, distraction, lack of communication, inability to recognise the changing times, among others, adding that, one or more of these attitudes play a major role in the gap experienced between fathers and their daughters, adding that this must be curbed so that fathers can optimally nurture their daughters to what they really want them to be.

“One major challenge with today’s parents, especially fathers, is absenteeism. Work, social and other life challenges make fathers not there for their children as much as they should. While they would have loved to be home all the times, the quest for meeting the family’s financial needs and other demands have made this more challenging, but for a father that recognises that family is priority, it is very much important that at least a quality one hour is set aside daily to interact with their children.

“As the girl-child begins to grow into a teenager, her social circle begins to change, same with the urge to get answers to salient questions, especially the ones that have to do with boys and emotional relationships. If the father is too busy to discuss, who then should she turn to? A father knows the tricks of these boys, because he was at one time a boy, and he knows all the tricks there is to catch a young girl. Without communication, the father will not be able to provide that basic guide needed for his daughter to manage situations like this when they present themselves. So fathers must not be too busy to attend to their daughters,” he said.

He frowned at parents living the upbringing of their children to house helps, adding that such children often end up picking the habits and values of their house helps, nannies and even drivers because they spend the most time with them rather than with their parents.

He also stated that no matter how busy parents were, the little time they had should be spent qualitatively with their children, as this would give them a sense of belonging and opportunity to know what has been happening in their lives, beyond the family circle.
“Understand that when you let go of your right as a parent, there are implications, and you have no choice than to deal with the implications that come with it. Note that like everything else, it is not only about how long you spend with your kids but the quality of time you spend. Many parents are physically with their children but are absent because they are on the phone or doing something else,” he added.

He said: “Prepare and plan what it is you want your child to emulate and learn. Whatever it is you do not want them to copy from you, eliminate it out of your life. With children, it is not about what you say but what you do. Use yourself as an example, motivate and inspire your children to be all that they were created to be. Let them see you excel and live right and aspire to do just like you and even greater.

“The greatest challenge facing the 21st Century father is the fear of what becomes of their daughters in a fast changing world. Many parents have regarded internet and social media as bad tools from which their children must be prevented. But, we must ask ourselves the right questions. What are the values that are relevant in this century?” The Catalyst said.

Western influence on African culture, he said, do not pose problems to the upbringing of a girl-child, noting that the Western culture came with some good influence that could help African fathers nurture children, adding that parents should drop impracticable old values in training children. “We will create a major disadvantage if we choose to bring children up with old values that cannot work in the 21st Century. What was relevant to us in the 19th Century may not be relevant in the 21st Century, which our children belongs. So understanding the times would go a long way in managing a 21st Century child,” he said.

Olusola noted that it was crucial for parents to maintain a balance between African culture and the western one. Adding that, parents should be bothered with the fact that some Western cultures were good, while there were some parts of the African culture that needs to be done with. “Filter the bad or old ones from these cultures, whether western or African, and then retain the relevant ones in this 21st Century for your child,” he explained.

On the internet being a tool for negative exposure for children, Olusola said parents should have internet security plans in place in order to filter the negative information away from the reach of their children’s phones, laptops, and other smart devices. He recommended K9 and Net Nanny applications, which he said when installed in the smart devices could help in reducing the negative contents these children were exposed to.

Advising the girls, Olusola said, “for the girls, we want you to trust us as your fathers, we may have been too overbearing in the past, but we will try henceforth not to raise our voices at you when talking, we will try and create an atmosphere for conversation. We also want you to trust our judgement because we will not infringe on your space or rights no matter what.”

He concluded by stressing that a father who is unable to communicate the right values to his girl-child would most likely not be a role model to the child. “What better crown does a father want other than his girl-child referring to him as her mentor or praying that her future husband behaves like her own father. Achieving this is a lot of work and sacrifice from the father, but it is realisable,” he stressed.

For Onyenokwe, who is also a mother of four daughters, said with her separate conversations with the over 30 young girls at the parley, who were between ages nine and 10, the girls have overtime, due to the tones and body languages of their fathers, concluded that not everything about them would be shared with their fathers.

She was, however, quick to explain to them that fathers deserved to know the tiniest of details in their lives as that was the best way to guide them through their reformative years and on the path of destiny.

“I asked the girls if they would be willing to discuss sanitary pad, emotional relationships and other things girls do with their fathers, and majority of them said no,” adding that this was a source of concern. “When young boys disturb our young girls for relationship, these girls, ideally should be able to run to your daddy because he was once a boy, and he knows all the tricks there is to woo a woman to bed. He can advise them on how best to tackle it,” she said.

She noted that fathers can get their girl-child’s attention back and they will become close if they show appreciation to their girls, take them shopping, create quality time for interaction, as well as stop raising voices at them. She also advises the girls to get their parent’s attention by being well behaved and focused in life.

On her part, the coordinator of GirlsAid Initiative, Dr. Abosede Lewu, who is a Mandela Washington Fellow, said adolescence was a challenging period, especially for the girl-child because that represents their period of rapid transformation mentally, psychologically and physically, adding that, how best their parents manage this period of their lives often goes a long way in determining the kind of mother or wife they would be in the future.

She said really, girls want to talk to their fathers, but the posture and tone of fathers have never helped in this regard. “The way we speak to them is important, don’t raise your voice at them. You can make them see things your way better if you are calmer about it. Don’t let them see you as a bully-figure. Our girls are smart and willing to stand up for a conversation, but parents, especially fathers must create the enabling environment and set the tone,” she said.

She called on parents to stop celebrating only the most intelligent in the house, adding that every child can’t all be at the same intelligent quotient, but could be celebrated as well. “In the past one month we have been seeing parents on social media celebrating their children that win awards or that came out first in school, but what bothers me is that what are we doing to the children who are not getting the first positions in class or are not winning awards. Do you celebrate them, do you sit them down to discuss it. Why celebrate only first, what of second, what of third?”

Lewu said where parents miss it sometimes was that often times they believed when they castigate their children who were not getting the firsts or awards. It would make them better. “What such children need is your encouragement. Have you ever sat them down to discuss why they took third and not second or first? When this is done, you will know the best way to aid them in future,” the Obstetrician and Gynaecologist stated.

Also lending his voice, the Deputy Press Officer, US Consulate in Lagos, Frank Selin, said the best way to empower women was to begin with girls, adding that fathers can raise decent girls by being more involved in their lives.