Valentine Letter to Our Daughters

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By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

Yesterday was a distraction. To millions all over the world, a pleasant distraction. To some, in a few months, a regrettable distraction. Valentine’s Day, for whatever it’s worth, is no longer a fad: many Nigerians, both young and those young at heart, have fallen totally for the sweet-nothings of enterprising Cupid-themed entrepreneurs whose business acumen and deliverables have fused the word, Love, with feasting, sexcapades, exploitation, carousel, gifts, revelries, and much more than I can imagine.

 Few days to the “Day”, I dug into my archives, for a letter written to my daughters while still budding as teenagers, and giggly, at the prospects of a so-called lover’s day. I wanted to impress on their young minds, using the circumstance of that period almost a decade ago, that there’s more to life than ceremonial, thin-skinned adulation of a love-streaked moment observed universally. I believe the focus and admonitions within those letters have so much ring and truth for this moment.

  Here we go: “I rarely write to you, forgive me. And do not fret; nothing bad is at the end of this letter. I have been worried lately…what does God purpose for the two of you? My worry arose after a series of discussion I had with your Mum about life, and a wife of one of our top leaders. If you don’t read carefully, you’ll think I’m talking about the gifts of the spirit. I am talking of this Madame, and her public outburst and dressing down of her home state chief executive. So, what has that got to do with you? I know you will start wondering and wrinkling, but be patient. We were not bothered much about the correctness of her statements, neither is her right to ‘fight for her people’ in dispute.

 The main issue here is the theatre she chose to display her impatient care-freeness and loose mouth, more often witnessed by local gathering of political mammies.

 Perhaps the Madame may get away with her less than admirable public drama, but my advice to you my daughters is based on the premise that a home with such “inflammable material” will surely combust, sooner or later. See, the little I know about this Madame’s family shows that the lady at least chose the right man. An impatient woman has a great chance of a successful matrimony if she is married to a humble, tentative, melancholic man; and if he has tons of good luck, then to God be the glory.

 So, my daughters open your eyes and pick husbands that will complement you effectively and emotionally.

  But as far as I can see, that is where the emulation should stop. From what I can pick up since she broke into international infamy with her unbridled tongue, I have become worried and contemplative at the unpleasant reaches of fame, prosperity and officialdom. I understand most of the information gleaned from the media and the new media (Internet) may be baseless, half-truths, outright fiction or hate-induced vituperation; however, through the chinks of the dross and the dregs, you can patch some sort of a fairly recognizable identikit. I have done that for our robust Lady of sham, and have come to a baleful conclusion: that you my daughters must not take after her.

 I strongly believe a wife like her can bring so much despair and disaster on her husband’s career or ambition if she doesn’t “hand-over’’ her tongue to a greater power. She can so easily talk her husband into ruin. Really, it is easy to conclude that if Madame can chastise a chief executive so comprehensively and contemptuously in public like that, her husband’s continuous exposure to such a tsunamic presence must be a psychological nightmare. Don’t laugh, and don’t raise your eyebrows, implying, “Daddy! You have come again with your exaggerations”.

  This is life and death issue to me; so stick it on your hearts the few things I suggest to you in this letter.

  If you find yourself in the home of a man of power or wealth, your roles, however much they have been stretched and polished in this fast-changing world, do not include creating enemies and detractors for your spouse.

  If you become a powerful woman, on the strength of God’s favour in your own life or on account of your husband’s position or grace, never look down on someone else’s husband – even if they occupy a less dignifying or prominent position to you or your husband.

 Please, my daughters, be true to your God and to people you come in contact with. Always… irrespective of how other people behave or conduct their affairs. You should never behave as if the world is not littered with ex-this and ex-that.

 My dear daughters, please bear with me, and do be attentive… Those who leave public offices with good names, warm the hearts of their fellow men. Even if it appears there is no immediate, clear profit for their meritorious, faithful and responsible service to humanity, the simple existence of pleasant imagination and good wishes in the hearts of your people will transmute into unqualified graces and purposeful living. On the other hand, my dears, a life devoted to giving hell to your subordinates; piling misery and recriminations on your workers; playing the tigress on your husband… such a woman will pollute everything and everyone she comes in contact with.

  And because she distributes anguish, distaste and condemnation in the hearts of her community, the atmospheric cloud of evil thoughts and silent witnesses will make her life, in the privacy of her room, a painful, stressful, unfulfilled stream of discontent. She will, by extension, lack good health and peaceful mind. Then, you wonder, why do people grapple and scheme and work hard to be successful and applauded, only to end up in disgrace and ignominy – bringing their loved ones down with them?

  That is what happens to a cannon built like an unfeeling tank whose mouth is loose. That and more will happen to our Madame if she does not seek counseling; if she does not submit to truthful but seemingly harsh advisers who will teach and guide her on how to bridle her tongue. It’s not for fun that the Bible describes our body’s littlest member (the tongue) as the pit of hell, a firestorm practically impossible to control.

  My prayer for you, my daughters, and by extension, to their most honorable and eminently adorable Madame, is simple and trite – no condition is permanent. So, if providence or good luck leads you to an exalted office, a high position or influential condition, please, do attempt to leave permanent, inspiring and good landmarks that will uplift and encourage the conditions of others around you.

  A wise man once said: “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies… she opens her mouth with wisdom and on her tongue is the law of kindness.” (Proverbs 31: 26). In your spare time, read the chapter fully, chew on the words, and adopt them as the credo for your daily living. Even if this letter displeases you, and you wonder aloud, “But Daddy, you know we are not like that?” Take it from me my dears, power, money (I mean a mountain of it) and pageantry have a way of combining wickedly to choke out good upbringing, fine education and simple graces of decorum and humility.

  We all need to constantly submit ourselves to a vigorous “check-up” on our lifestyle and comportment – are we still in tune with our good old self? Do we still remember the litany of guides to good conduct we were exposed to while growing up?

  Sometimes, you don’t remember that it is not only your physical body that grows and changes with time: your character can change; your belief can change; your world-view can change…all these and worse can change significantly – simply because your circumstances have changed, rather suddenly or unimaginably. Don’t ever say: “Never! Not me!!”

  When such “good luck” happens, my daughters, remember… it is the grace of God which commands all the resources and the good luck you have, and you will ever have.

  So, at such heady, dizzying moments, when the suffocating aroma of power, wealth and fame threaten to choke goodness out of you, take out this letter; re-read and re-ingest and re-understand that money has wings, fame does fade and power can vanish. But the lingering aroma of a good woman (or man) is the sweet-smelling memory of a truly ennobling human being whose heart pursues after the good of others.”