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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #41 of 52: Stress Management | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #43 of 52: Morality Matters »

April 04, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #42 of 52: Developmental Psychology

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- I was going to write a straight essay that summarized developmental psychology, raising children, the stages of child development etc but decided to not do that. Instead, I decided to engage in a bit of moralization.

The way Nigerian men abandon their children have been on my mind for a long time; it has been eating me up with annoyance, so, I am just going to have to say it like I see it.

Briefly, let me say that developmental psychology studies children: from the time they are born to the time they are eighteen years old; that is, until they become adults. Psychologists have carefully delineated the stages children go through, what they need at each stage and what parents can do to enhance their proper development. Alfred Adler wrote extensively on child development. Alfred Driekurs did, Piaget did, Dr Spock did, Erik Erickson did (you should read his Childhood and Society), Burton White did, Jerome Kagan did. The literature on child development is rather extensive. I recommend that every parent take, at least, one course on developmental psychology and one course on parenting skills. In the USA, most community colleges offer such courses.

What I would like to do here is ask my fellow Nigerians, Africans why they are so stupid when it comes to raising their children. What exactly disposed them to ignore their children? I am talking about men, not women. What exactly led our men to take a “hands off” attitude to the raising of their children?

(I am generalizing, of course. I know that a few Nigerian men are the exception, but where most people behave in a certain manner, one is allowed the literary right to generalize.)

In traditional African societies folks were mostly farmers. Again, I will not be hypothetical; I will draw from a real African Society. I am from Alaigbo.

Until the white man came to our world in the early 20th century, our people were farmers. Both men and women farmed. A child is born and the mother carried him or her on her back to wherever she went to. She carried him on her back as she did her work on the farms and where that was not feasible she brought him to the farm, any way, and had the older children look after him, right there at the farm, as she worked. She had her eyes on him at all times.

When a boy child is old enough, say, eight years old, he begins to work with the men and essentially worked with his father, as they worked on their farm. In effect, he was with the father and was receiving attention from him.

Generally, the boy worked with the father until he is old enough to have his own farm, probably when he is married, around age eighteen.

For our present purposes, the salient point is that the boy child was with his father and the girl child was with her mother, most of the time. The children were not abandoned and, in a way, can be said to be nurtured by their parents.

Now, let us look at what happens in contemporary Nigeria. The family of interest lives in the slums of our emergent cities. The father has a job in the better part of the city, miles away from his slum residence. The mother may also have a job?

Children are born. The mother takes care of the children until they begin schooling at age six. Thereafter, the child goes to school, may be in the company of other kid but is seldom taken to school by his parents, comes home and plays with other kids and eats dinner and goes to bed. His father goes to work in the morning, comes home in the evening, eats, talks to other men, goes to bed, wakes up and goes to work. This child generally has nothing to do with his father, with his mother, sometimes, but the father, seldom.

(Please note that I am not writing an academic treatise here; I am writing from direct experience; I was born in the slums of Lagos and grew up there and know a thing or two about how we, children, were raised. When Nigerians write, they often make stories up, perhaps, to make the white man, their presumed reader, like them. They paint glowing images of their society. I do not tell lies; I say it, as it is, and if you cannot handle the truth, ugly as it may be, you are free to live in your beautiful made up fiction land.)

Any way, before we get into an argument, let me ask you if you engaged in activities with your father. If you did, you are one of the lucky ones. The majority of our children are essentially abandoned by the fathers. No wonder they grow up not guided and confused. Above all, no wonder they do poorly at school.

African men are essentially like black American men; they abandon their children. In the USA, over seventy percent of the children are born and raised in single parent homes. That is, in homes where there is only a mother. The men come around, have sex with the women, get them pregnant and disappear.

The African American boy children mostly grow up without their fathers in the house. If a boy is lucky, some uncle or grandfather gets involved in his live, but that is occasional involvement. On a day to day basis, he is essentially growing up only with his mother (and the series of boy friends that troop through the house).

I tell you, it is a mess, the state of the black family, in America and in Africa.

African American girl children, generally, do well for they can identify with their mothers and essentially learn from them how to be women and grow up somewhat normal.

Generally, boy children do not identify with women and since there are no men in the house to identify with and learn from, they grow up essentially confused. You see them act tough; you see them try to seem like macho-men, but, in fact, they are “women” psychologically.

Some of these fathers-less man-children (In Igbo we say Nwatawoko, translated into English, child-man or man-child) fall into the company of street gangs and the gang becomes their surrogate parents. They would do anything to please their gang members, particularly the leaders of these vicious gangs. They would steal, sell drugs, even kill to please gang leaders, so as to be accepted and feel like they belong to the gang family. They have to belong to something, you know, and if there is no family to belong to, they might as well belong to street gangs.

So, I ask myself: why are black men so stupid, why are they doing these damages to their children by abandoning them.

I have read a million sociological studies on how the black family was destroyed by slavery, racism, discrimination, unemployment and poverty.

Do you know what? I do not want to read one more freaking sociological study. I do not want one more white sociologist telling us why our people are dumb. I do not want us to be understood by freaking white social scientists; I just want us to do the right thing, which is all.

And if sociological studies explain the mess that is the black American family, what explains the equal mess that is the African family?

Let us see. These people are in a rapidly modernizing society. They have to scrap for a living. The men leave their houses before six in the morning and seldom come home before six in the evening. They perform back breaking jobs in the incipient factories in industrializing Africa. So, when they get home from their arduous work they are tired and just want to relax and go to sleep. So, they eat, shoot breezes with their friends, for a while, catch some sleep, and the grind starts all over, the next t day. They do not have the time to do anything with their children.

Have I understood you, idiotic African, or do we need a formal sociological study by a white master boy to explain your stupidity some more? What would it take to make you understand that your children need your attention?

Those of us who were lucky and our parents paid attention to us do well, not because we are rich but because some one cared. A child needs the adults in his life to care for him.

Sigmund Freud told us that all children are narcissistic and feel like the center of the world, are kings and queens and want to be treated as such, and that they ought to be treated as such, until they gradually learn that they have to share attention with other folks. But if a child’s narcissistic needs for attention and admiration are not met, he lives the rest of his life seeking neurotic attention from other people.

See, Nigerian men grow up without receiving good attention from their fathers and devote the rest of their lives seeking attention from other people; they often do so in a warped manner, such as calling themselves: Professor, Doctor, Chief, Alhaji, Engineer Do-nothing. Being called by the phony titles they give themselves, apparently, makes them seem important in their infantile minds. Apparently, this is because, as children, nobody made them seem important.

Those of us who, as children, were made to feel important could care less whether we seem important or not in other peoples eyes; we just do what we feel is right and leave it at that.

Let me review my background. Everybody in our household got up at 5:30AM. We took shower and by six thirty the adults were out of the door. Father went to work. Mother went to work. They did not come home before six in the evening. This is typical of the households on our street at Lagos.

But when father came home from work, he insisted on helping us do our home work. When there was no home work to do, he talked to us about his people’s traditions. He told us so many stories about his people and about the politics of Nigeria that even though we were not living in the village we probably know more about it than those in the village. Father had only elementary school education and came to Lagos during the Second World War. After that war, he stayed at Lagos and pretty much spent the rest of his life at Lagos. He had all his children at Lagos. Lagos was our real home (with occasional visits to see our grandparents in the village, especially during Christmas periods).

On Sundays, we went to Church. At the end of the service (usually at Holy Cross Cathedral, Mariner, Lagos) father and the two boys, I and my junior brother, would walk. Sometimes, we walked to Victoria Island, to Bar Beach, some times to Ikoyi Park. Some times we just walked around the island of Lagos. We must have walked to every piece of that territory. As we walked, he talked to us about all sorts of things.

I had a special relationship with father, since I am like him, both physically and mentally. We enjoyed the same type of topics. Father would suddenly ask me: Tom, do you think that God exists? There we go, and for the next several hours we would examine the pros and cons for the existence of God. On different occasions, he would say to me: Tom, look at the stars, how many do you think are there, how far do you think they are from us? We would then spend hours talking about the stars. On Saturday afternoons, father would take me and my brother to the Central library and we spent the afternoon there reading books. At age fifteen (1970) for my birth day, father gave me Will Durant’s History of Philosophy and insisted that I read all of it. I did and we had unending conversations based on that book. My God, I had so much conversation with my father that when I came to the university I found undergraduate education a waste of my time. And I mean this literally.

For our present purpose, the point is that despite being a working class stiff, father had the time for his children. Mother literally adored us; she lived for us.

If my father had the time to do things with his boys, how is it that his fellow African men did not?

My friends seldom had anything to do with their fathers. Did you go sit in the library all day with your father?

When I was an undergraduate, father kept involved in my schooling and certainly wanted to see my quarterly report cards…they were sent to him, all the way from America. In fact, he used to correct my letters; he would mark up my poor grammar, and send them back to me. That is correct: a man with minimum education was editing his university son’s writing. So, why was father involved with his children and his peers were not involved?

I do relate to so-called educated Africans in the USA. The men seldom get involved with their children’s education. I sometimes go to some friends’ houses, pick up their children and take them to the library or zoo or museum or anything else. I take these children to the parks and play with them. I mean play with them. I get to their levels and play with them as if I am a little boy. And their parents? They are too busy acting big man, pretending importance to get down to the level of children and gambol around with the kids, romp with them.

These children tell me that their parents are too busy to take them to the places I go with them. Indeed, they tell me that other than their mothers that their fathers seldom help them do their home works.

(My God, I love doing homework with kids; I learn a lot from doing so. I am very bad in mathematics and helping kids do their Algebra or Geometry helps me understand them better.)

Here then is my question. Are black men lunatic or what? In Igbo language: Isi omebiri ndi-ojie?

Is it difficult to understand that men should be involved in their children’s lives? Common sense ought to tell all men that if they are involved in their sons lives that the sons would identify with them and feel at home in this world and go on to face the world in a courageous manner.

Why do our men essentially abandon their children? Nigerian big men practically have no time for their sons. The truly rich in Nigeria have their drivers take their children to school, bring them back etc. They seldom have any thing to-do with their children. I attended a rather good secondary school and many of the boys were from rich families. On the first day of the quarter, when we came back from holidays, some of these boys were brought to school by chauffeurs, in expensive imported cars, but seldom by their parents. Me? Mother took me to school and made sure that I settled in before she left.

So, my class mates are from rich families, eh? But they had absent fathers. So they had all sorts of material things, but they did not have emotional nurturing, what they needed most. Many of those boys grew up confused.

When I left secondary school, another boy from my school and I wound up at the same university in the USA. It was strictly accidental, for we were not particularly friendly while in secondary school. His father is a millionaire and my parents are working class. So, at secondary school he carried himself like he was better than me, and I ignored him. So here we were in the good old USA, a couple of months after leaving secondary school. Two boys, lost in strange white man’s land.

This boy’s father (I call him boy, for we were both 19 years old) did not get involved in his life and that compounded his issues. I talked to my parents every week. So who is better served by his parents, the rich boy or poor boy?

I still do not get it, I mean why Africans abandon their children. It really does not take a rocket scientist to realize the need to be involved in ones children’s lives.

Just look at the state of black America. What do you think is the cause of the mess you see? Been to the ghetto, lately? Young men hanging around street corners in the evening talking nonsense. My God, I had to be home and do my work. I do not believe that I was given permission to be outside after a certain hour. I accounted for every minute of my time. But here we see teenagers hanging around street corners, smoking cigarette; (when some one saw me smoke, in secondary school, and told my father, I was punished and that was the end of that nonsense), drinking and getting into trouble.

So why do black men abandon their children and when the children turn out messed up they blame it on the economy or on the white man. These people are pathetic; they are what human beings ought not to be.

I usually speak what is in my mind. I am not subtle at all. In that light I would say shame on black men. In fact, I say, shame on the black race, I mean the male portion of it. If our women were as unconcerned as our men, we would really be worse than we currently are.

You know what? I do not want to hear of a study explaining why our men do not get involved in the upbringing of their children. I have had such studies up to my ears and do not want any more.

I don’t want any more excuses for a man not doing what he should be doing. What I want to see happen is for black men to be with their children, for black men to provide for their children, for black men not to abandon their children, for black men to help their children do their home works, for black men to take their children to libraries, bookstores, zoos, museums etc; for black men to play with their children, go to parks and do all sorts of fun things with their children.

Please do not tell me that you do not have time. You have the time and can make time if you like. I work at least ten hours a day and still find time to do all sorts of fun things with my kids. My son and I go jogging three times a week. We go to the gym. We study together etc. You can do it and I do not want to hear excuses why you do not do it.

I have heard so many excuses from black men that I do not want to hear one more.

Finally, all black parents should go take courses on developmental psychology, so that they know what children need and do it.

Be a father and perform your god damned parental function. If you brought a child into this world you ought to do your best to make life as interesting as is possible for him. This world is a place of pain. You do not have a right to bring a child into a pain house. You brought a child into this world of pain and suffering; the least that you could do is help him learn how to reduce his pain and suffering by being there for him. Please become involved in your children’s life.

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at April 4, 2006 01:40 AM

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