A Nigerian Father: ‘Chidi Odinkalu’ Speaks On His Parenting Skills

Chidi Odinkalu currently Chairs the Governing Council of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and is senior legal officer for the Africa Program of the Open Society Justice Initiative. Chidi Odinkalu  who is also an Abuja based lawyer human rights lawyer had an interview column a on the Punch website and we absolutely had to share! In the interview with Punch newspaper, he talks about being a father, and the structures he has in place – in his house.

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He makes a number of interesting points in the interview, here are a few spinets from it.

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How he disciplines his kids

I had a dad who wasn’t averse to sometimes enthusiastic laying of hands for disciplinary purposes. So I grew up with an instinctive aversion for that. I believe children are very perceptive. I am very much against beating or spanking. My children get when I am unhappy or need something addressed with urgency. I don’t need to scream or shout about it. It’s in a bond and skill of communication. Sometimes it is unspoken indeed; at other times it’s humour. Sometimes their privileges are tampered with; at other times the tone of communication does it. Discipline also can happen in knowing when not to say anything.

What hardest punishment have you meted out to any of them?

Believe it or not, it’s keeping quiet; ignoring them. They will usually trigger a discussion. Parenting in my view is about enabling children to trust themselves, their values and their judgement. It means encouraging them to have and find voice. They can’t do that if I beat or scream it out of them.

On what his kids call non-biological ‘aunts and uncles’
“For instance, my children don’t call anyone “auntie” or “uncle.” In our house, everyone has a name and when they meet you, they will find out your name and you will be called by Mr. or Mrs. or Dr. or Chief your name but not “uncle” or “auntie” etc. There is a good reason for that. A lot of child abuse is done by “uncles” and “aunties”; by people who are insinuated into the lives of the children through titles that import authority and familiarity but who should not be in those positions. In my own life also, I have come to the conclusion you can’t hold anyone accountable whom you cannot call by their name. “Uncle” is not a name, it is an institution. The burden of holding an institution accountable for abusing you is too much for a child to bear.”

On sending children on errands
“I remember when my daughter was seven, my perfectly healthy sister-in-law came to the house, finished eating, sat down and asked her to go take down the plates. My daughter quietly told her to please take her dishes down to the kitchen and wash up and that her dad had warned her against child abuse. I sat quietly through it. My sister-in-law knew better than ask me. The following morning, my sister-in-law left the house. Children deserve respect and a voice. We can’t reduce them to fetching and carrying merely to satisfy the vanities of adults.”

On speaking to his children about sex education
“Daddying up a daughter is a fascinating experience. In my house, it was my place to explain to my daughter what a period was and to prepare her for it. Her mum was like: no one prepared me for it but my view was, well, that was then. So she said: ‘okay then you go do it.’ We worked out a way to do it. With our son, his mother taught him how to use a condom. For us, sex education is central to living a healthy life and also to being truthful with your children. ”

Feminine roles  you assume in the house as your children were born?

I don’t know what female roles are. Obviously, I don’t have mammary glands. Terry nappies were no longer fashionable by when I became a dad, so I didn’t have to wash nappies all over again (I did that for my younger siblings). But it absolutely takes two (or more) to do this thing. The sleeplessness of early parenting can’t be borne by one person alone. It’d drive you potty!

How have you been able to teach them the essentials of good upbringing?

I don’t know whether I have been able to teach any “essentials of good upbringing.” A lot of our people in Nigeria have peculiar ideas about what is good or acceptable. For instance, my children don’t call anyone “auntie” or “uncle.” In our house, everyone has a name and when they meet you, they will find out your name and you will be called by Mr. or Mrs. or Dr. or Chief your name but not “uncle” or “auntie” etc. There is a good reason for that. A lot of child abuse is done by “uncles” and “aunties”; by people who are insinuated into the lives of the children through titles that import authority and familiarity but who should not be in those positions. In my own life also, I have come to the conclusion you can’t hold anyone accountable whom you cannot call by their name. “Uncle” is not a name, it is an institution. The burden of holding an institution accountable for abusing you is too much for a child to bear.

The problem is, many Nigerians will think the children like mine are rude because they have not been weaned on a diet of gratuitous “auntie” and “uncle.” I get very impatient with people who want to dismantle our house rules and think they are entitled to be called “auntie” or “uncle” by my kids. But those are the rules we have agreed to bring them up with and they have worked well so far. Our kids know to look after themselves and be respectful but not to suffer slavery or enslavement. I remember when my daughter was seven, my perfectly healthy sister-in-law came to the house, finished eating, sat down and asked her to go take down the plates. My daughter quietly told her to please take her dishes down to the kitchen and wash up and that her dad had warned her against child abuse. I sat quietly through it. My sister-in-law knew better than ask me. The following morning, my sister-in-law left the house. Children deserve respect and a voice. We can’t reduce them to fetching and carrying merely to satisfy the vanities of adults.

Were there things you would have loved to do differently as a father?

Well, I would have wished to have worked fewer hours sometimes or travelled less. But on the whole, I’ve been grateful for the challenges of fatherhood.

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What do you think about this style of parenting? How do you run things in your own household? What would you do differently, seeing this perspective

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