Okonkwor Emmanuel (08166844916)
Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu.
I am presently in Benin, my second home, enjoying the last segment of my first semester holidays. Yes, examinations are over and so there is more or less nothing to worry so much about. I am relieved a bit from the strenuous and stereotyped school lifestyle. So, it is all about relaxing, partying, catching fun and hanging out with lot of old friends and neighbours. Yes! I call them old friends because the last time I met them was four years ago when I visited my family in Benin. Even in the midst of all these relaxations and merriments, I still had to carve out time to place my fingers on my laptop so as to come out with this piece. And that is what it should be because a serious-minded student doesn't have to hang his school bag because he is on vacation. But I am not trying to sound like one.
Amongst those with whom I have had a swell time together with, in these last days was Mr. Andrew Ekemezie and his family. Mr. Ekemezie is my father's business associate. His companionship with my father could be traced back to their days in school down through their childhood days. Little wonder both of them jointly entered into the business world after their education. His straightforwardness in business matters, among other things is the nut that tied his relationship with my father. And so, we came to know each other's family more closely. He was the man who procured for me, the Good News bible with which I started my secondary school education. I won't forget his words of admonition to me the very day he gave me the bible. He said, “My son, as you go out into the world, let God be your reference point in everything you do.” And so each time I open the bible, these words keep ringing in my ears.
Mr. Ekemezie got married to his wife in the year 1999. To say that he and his wife are an ideal couple could be an understatement. They loved each other so dearly. According to human estimation, they had everything that could make a happy home but one thing. Just one thing stood to thwart their joy within the first six years of their marriage; there was no cry of a baby. However, the dark clouds of their lives were brightened up in the year 2005 when God decided to dry up their tears with twin babies a boy and a girl. Their joy knew no bounds. And to underscore the omnipotent and never-failing attributes of God, these babies were named Ifeanyichukwu and Ogechukwu. This was how the couple's flickering hope was boosted again. As God may have it, the children are still surviving, quite hearty and healthy; they are equally doing well in their schools.
My meeting with Ekemezie's family was indeed a very big reunion and an opportunity for me to voice out what I consider societal misconception about single male child in a family. We discussed so many things but there is a very pressing issue I discussed with them, and that is the rationale for this write-up; to share my stance on the issue with a wider audience. Of course, I got the consent of Mr. Ekemezie before writing this. Like I made him to understand, I'm writing this not to use him as a case study. Instead, to expose an erroneous conception that is wrecking our society today mostly in African traditional milieu.
Mr. Ekemezie in the course of our discussions shared with me what according to him, was his greatest fear in life. It was about his only son, Ifeanyichukwu. According to him, Ifeanyichukwu came back from school one day and told him that he wants to be a Catholic priest. This he received with the greatest shock, as he trembled at the implication. That is, Ifeanyichukwu is not going to marry. He will beget no children and as such, his lineage ends with his demise. The dad asked him why he wanted to become a priest and the little boy said that they had career day in school; and that of all the professionals that came from different walks of life to address them, he loved most the priest that was with them and would like to be like him in future. The father ended the topic by assuring him of his total support. Perhaps, he might grow up to have a change of mind; after all he was still in primary school as at then. This was what the father assumed. But deep down inside him he was perplexed about losing his only son and consequently his lineage. You can imagine what the father's feelings were like. Think about what it entails for an African man to have no male child to take after him in the family circle. Remember we are talking about his only son. “Otu anya ji isi ugwo.”
After about two years, the talk about becoming a priest which seemed to have died off was triggered again. Ifeanyichukwu returned home from church one Sunday with his usual story about becoming a priest. This time around his reason was beyond just loving being a priest. It was about having a deep yearning, an indescribable penchant and feelings for Catholic priesthood.
The father recounted to me, the several moves he had made to dissuade him from going to the seminary. He laid bare to him the responsibilities and societal expectations that awaited an only son in African setting particularly in Igbo land. He enticed him with the fact that he was the only one to inherit all his landed property and other inheritance. As if that was not enough, he assured him of his unflinching willingness to finance his education to any level even if it entailed sending him abroad. But none of these offers and promises could make Ifeanyichukwu to change his mind. The father later met some priests on individual basis over the issue but they all spoke the same language. It was then that it began to dawn on him that his struggle was the type he could never win if God actually wanted Ifeanyichukwu to serve him as a priest.
I don't know your take on this issue. What are you going to do if you happen to find yourself in this scenario? Robbing Peter to pay Paul. Is that the justifiable solution? Telling the child to repress his deep yearning. Is that the way out? Personally, if I happen to get married and it pleases to God to bless my marriage with only a male child, who am I to stand in my son's way if he is called to serve God in the sacerdotal life?
I just remembered a Nigerian movie entitled “Avenge Me Iwene My Son” which I watched some years ago. What happened in that movie was a replica of what I am talking about. The renowned actor Pete Edochie had a boy Iwene who lived with him from his childhood. Pet. was like a father to this little boy. He cared for him, sent him to school and did virtually everything that a father would do for his son. But it became a great war when the boy announced to Pete, his desire to go to the seminary.
Pete staunchly resisted. He did everything within the ambience of his power to stop the boy from going to the seminary but all his plans failed. The last stroke that manifested the divine power was the day he brought out a gun to shoot the boy when he was about leaving home for seminary. Something mysterious happened. Immediately he pulled the trigger, instead of the bullet going to the direction of the boy whom was the target, it reverted to Pete and nearly hurt him. It was at this point that Pete surrendered. When God says YES, what mortal can say NO?
Although this is a movie story, it gives a picture of what happens in some families today. Sometimes a child's desire to serve God in the religious life is met with vehement oppositions coming from the family mostly from the parents. The pressure is even much stronger if it happens to be the only son nursing the intention of going to seminary. The fathers are often the ones in the forefront of this opposition because of what they are out to protect-“AMECHINA” But what about those who have no children at all; have they died? In most cases, the child is deprived of some rights and privileges. Several inhuman treatments are meted out against him ranging from starvation, beatings, restriction of the child's movement, deliberate refusal to sponsor the child's education and in extreme cases the child is ostracized. This is not wise at all. Sacrificing his desired priestly vocation at the altar of sustaining the family lineage is akin to putting a gradual end to one's life. What is life without fulfillment? To live a life devoid of fulfillment is to live in perpetual misery and sorrow.
Sometimes when I reflect on the life journeys of some biblical personalities like Abraham, Sarah and Hannah, I cannot but see them as people that surrendered themselves to God in all entirety. They were “tested” with the gift of only a male child after long years of childlessness; but that never deterred them from letting the will of God to take its course. You, as a parent have lived your own life by giving birth to that child. So, he also deserves to live his life the way he wants. Possibly, you may push him into marriage yet he will be unable to beget children. So, why engaging in a battle you're not sure of the victory? Remember King Henry VIII! Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain (Ps.127) Allow God to handle the situation because only in Him is our peace. But if you wish to have it the way you want, I wish you best of the luck. But get it clearly; it is a struggle you can never win. If God ever wills your ward to serve him in the religious life, there is absolutely nothing you can do to obstruct His divine plan from materializing. When God's will is involved, other things are put on hold. Chideraa, O dego.