I fondly recall the words of James David wolfensohn. James Wolfensohn is the 9th president of the World Bank group. He served meritoriously for two terms of ten years. He is credited among other things with being the first World Bank president to bring attention to the problem of corruption in the area of developmental financing.
Wolfensohn is 80, a husband of one wife of close to 60 years, father of three children and grandfather of seven. On Sunday July 18, 2010 in a guest appearance and engaging interview on One on One with Riz Kahn of Aljazeera,
he was asked by the famous anchor, “How would you like to be remembered?” Looking straight and confidently into the camera, Wolfensohn replied with enthusiastic conviction, “As a decent father.”
This response speaks volume and gives us a perspective of his most cherished legacy. For all his accomplishments in business and the World Bank, his response showed that he prized his role as a father above his outstandingly successful career. It is obvious that fatherhood occupied a prime place in the estimation of his legacy. His response is indeed food for thought and worthy of emulation.
I believe the father is a source of life, values and inspiration to a child. He teaches vision and keeps inspiration alive by positive examples. Sadly today, fathers are failing grossly in these responsibilities. This fact is corroborated by a saying that fathers give to their children what they make but they never give to their children what makes them. It has
been estimated that fatherhood failings will cost the United States over a trillion dollars this decade.
When a father is misguided, there is every tendency to produce a dysfunctional family. It is therefore apparent that Fatherhood is the cornerstone of the family and the family is the cornerstone of civilization.
Despite the inherent challenges, I love being a father and husband. I have recognized that having a great family life is one of the greatest blessings a man can know. I also have realized that Wisdom, time and energy are necessary to create a fatherhood legacy. A man must have the energy to invest in his children and create the time to invest that energy in the proper development and moulding of his family.
I say this because most fathers in our nation have signed up for the rat race of social and economic empowerment. I sincerely empathize because being a father in our third world nation and considering our political and socio-economic peculiarities, makes it a difficult responsibility. Society is unforgiving, regardless of a man’s moral values, if he is not
economically correct and so men are buffeted by varied pressures and demands.
We can’t blame the men because some of our antecedents didn’t lead any better. We are just hapless victims of own upbringing. Despite this ugly scenario, I still believe today’s fathers can turn the tides around and take responsibility for becoming a positive precedent in responsible fatherhood. They can become the heroes whose memories our children, family and society at large can be eternally grateful for.
In 2014, we must ask this pertinent question as fathers – what legacy do we want to leave with this world in desperate need of true heroes? A Ghanaian proverb is instructive here, “The ruin of a nation is in the homes of its people”. The life of a man is incomplete if he accepts the responsibility to be a father and discount the responsibility to be a decent, loving and available one.
I will conclude today with Mandela’s admonition, “To be the father of a nation is a great honour but to be the father of a family is a greater joy but it was a joy I had far little of.” For the much celebrated Mandela to call absentee fatherhood a regret is very instructive and a priceless lesson to prevent today’s fathers from making the same mistakes.
Amidst all the eulogies that have poured forth on Nelson Mandela, I’m not quick to forget that the best lessons in a man’s life are not usually in his strengths and triumphs but in his weaknesses and failures. For this reason, I’m studying his regrets as a deliberate attempt to manage my times better and drawing crucial life lessons from those who have gone ahead of me.
Mandela chose a noble path to follow but nonetheless it came at the expense of one of the greatest joys of human experience – the joy of a rich family life. In his book ‘A long Walk to Freedom’, He described how his first marriage to his first wife which was blessed with four children disintegrated and led to a total break up. He described further that the breakup of a marriage is traumatic especially for the children. “Our marriage was no exception and all of our children were wounded by the separation”, wrote Mandela. He described how Makato, gentle child, a natural peace maker tried to bring about some sort of reconciliation between him and his wife, the emotional reaction of his last child and how Thembi stop studying and became withdrawn and would frequently wear his clothes in reminiscence and longing for his father’s presence.
Mandela described a painful break up with his long term wife Winnie Mandela who stood by him in his years of incarceration, who at age 55 got involved in a relationship with a young lawyer, who already had a child with another woman. On April 13, 1992 announced in a press conference his separation from Winnie. In the book, he mentioned that he and his comrade Monzamo had contracted their marriage at a critical time in the struggle for the liberation of their people. He said “owing to the pressure of our shared commitment to the ANC struggle to end apartheid we were unable to enjoy a normal family life”.
He lamented how his role blinded him to fulfilling his responsibilities to his wife and children. He mentioned at his daughter Zindi’s wedding “It seems to be the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives. When your life is in the struggle like mine was, there is little room left for family. This has always been my greatest regret and the most painful aspect of the choice I made. We watched our children grow without our guidance.”
He also mentioned his children saying after his release from prison, “We thought we had a father and one day he will come back. But to our dismay, our father came back and he left us alone because he has now become the father of the nation. To be the father of nation is a great honour but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far little of.”
Mandela is a noble man in admitting his failures despite a saintly accord by the world. He communicated the truth that above all things, family is king. He refused to celebrate a lie, bringing home a lesson that no height of human achievement can make up for failure in the family. He knew this clear in his conscience and if he could live his life over again, he would do things differently.
To repeat his own words, “To be the father of nation is a great honour but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far little of.”
Young people have some lessons to learn about youth and responsibility especially in an age that considers immorality, frivolity and recklessness as hip or trendy. Young people of today are synonymous with light hearted frenzy and a gross incapacity to rise up to the demands and responsibility of their generation. We seek not to promote the exceptions but to recommend a rule for all.
This brings us to the question of how Nelson Mandela engaged his youth. Mandela was just 26 years of age when he became a member of the executive council of the ANC youth league. He and other like-minded young men rose up to confront the critical situation of segregation and marginalization of black people in South Africa. And in doing this, they upheld one of the virtues of youth – a capacity to take responsibility beyond self, to engage society, to look at the problem surrounding you and resist the temptation to think someone else will solve them.
However, the society of today is raising late starters, slow to take responsibility for their own lives let alone for others. Especially in this part of the world, youth are engulfed in the fanfare of sports, fashion, and entertainment and the fame, wealth and glamour that attend them. They are still struggling to get a hold of what life is really about and are barely prepared to play larger roles within society.
I’m afraid young people here are being raised to be victims in light of the nature of challenges confronting them. They are endangered species. What I find appalling is that young people have mastered an incredible but strange art of watching everything go against them and talking against it without doing something constructive about it.
Unlike today’s youth, Mandela would not allow his background or age define the limits of his responsibility or circumstances. He applied for a job as a night watchman while he pursued a degree in law at the University of Withwatersrand. He took study loans to make this possible. Yet, against the backdrop of a system that discouraged the education of young black people, Mandela emerged determined to be educated, not allowing himself be daunted by the apartheid regime nor borrowing the weakness of governance to excuse the creation of a great future. He maintained the belief that the creation of his future was in his own labour and not in circumstances.
A culture of entitlement and dependency on government has robbed many young people off a primary sense of responsibility for the success of their lives. They must take responsibility like Mandela for a thorough education. He persisted through unsuccessful attempts until he got his law degree. This sense of perseverance would come to serve him in pursuit of the worthy cause for which he is now known.
As a younger generation replaces another, we must ask the question of what kind of men or women will they be? The answer lies in the commitments they embrace today. We can’t expect them to give what they don’t have if they make wrong or superficial choices. Young people must maintain a religious and life-long dedication to self improvement and cultivation of virtue like those found in Mandela if they ever hope to come near the corridors of greatness. There are no shortcuts and the price of rigour and perseverance must be paid.
They must labour to improve themselves within and embrace without a commitment to a common good even at the expense of themselves. By the way, they won’t be needing grand Mandela-like platforms. They must begin at their homes, schools, workplace, businesses, friendships and relationships. GO!
The HUMAN LIFE has an INCREDIBLE CAPACITY to CREATE his OWN MEDIA, BELIEVING ONLY what he WANTS and SELLING it to his WORLD. DECEPTION is the INSTRUMENT that ALLOWS the HUMAN MIND to WRITE his OWN LIES as his STORY, to be his OWN MEDIA and his OWN AUDIENCE, together with a FEW WEAK MINDS who wear the GARMENT of HONOR but KNOW NOT its STANDARDS; and so CELEBRATES a LIE as FACT, and MEDIOCRITY as EXCELLENCE. You had better CLEAN UP and to YOURSELF be TRUE, because SOON, the same WORLD that puts its ORNAMENTS on your NECK, is the same WORLD that will REMOVE it with your SHAME in their HANDS. The KING of ALL IDEAS is to KNOW that the LIFE of the HUMAN MORTAL is NEVER about the IMPRESSIONS he can make in the MINDS of OBSERVERS…but in his DEDICATION to the CAUSE of SELF-IMPROVEMENT and DEVOTION to his MAKER. ANY ACT outside of these will have ONLY a TEMPORARY EFFECT that is INCAPABLE of SUSTAINING the kind of MEANING and BALANCE required for a UNIQUE JOURNEY of LIFE. NELSON MANDELA understands this MORE than I DO! It is a CRITICAL PART of his LEGACY. Olakunle Soriyan