My daughter wished me ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ after my wife died — Ali

Yusuf Ali

One of Nigeria’s foremost lawyers, Yusuf Ali, SAN, tells MOTUNRAYO JOEL some of his experiences as a father

What is your concept of fatherhood?

A father to me is somebody who is responsible for his children and knows that children are a gift from God and they must be treated as such. A father should know that children are entitled to good education, welfare and proper behaviour. A father must be a role model to his children. As a father, you must also be kind to your wife.

What has been your most memorable experience as a father?

It is a mixture of good and bad. When I lost my wife in 2004, the full weight of parenting fell on me. But I was lucky because I was close to my children. The transition was difficult, but it wasn’t an impossible task for me.  I didn’t find it hard relating with them. In my little way, I tried to fill the gap left by their mother. While my wife was alive, she was virtually the only one who visited them in school. But when she passed on, I had to fill that gap. With the little time I had, I had to create time for that. I had to do the things she used to do.  Other memorable experiences were my children’s graduation and weddings – they were all memorable and happy occasions for me. My grandchildren’s birthdays are also memorable.

How many children and grandchildren do you have?

I have four children and two grandchildren.

You must have encountered challenges after your wife passed on…

God has been kind to me since it happened. It was easy for me to understand that her death was an irreversible occurrence, which made it easy for me to move on. I summoned courage and forged ahead. And because of my faith, it was easy for me to understand that God gives and takes. It was God’s doing; He can never be wrong. I had a duty to be there for my children despite her death. Family and friends were also very supportive.

Some fathers would have found it hard relating with their female children. Was that your case?

We were quite close before their mother passed on, and they all reaslied that I was now their mother. Once, one of my daughters called me on phone from England to wish me happy mother’s day. She said I doubled as their mother and father. Whenever they had any challenge, they confided me. That strengthened our bond.

What did you learn from all that happened?

It made me realise that life doesn’t always turn out the way we expect it to be. One should not also rely on anyone but God. I still recall gathering my children together and telling them that. I also told them that the only way they can have a peaceful life is for them not to depend on anyone. After their mother’s death, I told them not to expect people to rally round them; they should not even expect their mother’s friends to come around. I think that helped them and made them stronger.

Before your wife’s death, while your children were still in their infant stages, did you take on responsibilities one would consider a mother’s roles?

Yes I did, I assisted my wife in caring for our children. In fact, I think I ‘backed’ all of them while they were babies. I would do this whenever they were crying or needed to sleep. Though there were things I didn’t do, but I played with them and fed them. Once, I travelled with one of my daughters to Ibadan, Oyo State. It was just me and her; she was about a year old. Most men would feel scared travelling such a distance with a year old, but that was not my case.

What are your memorable experiences with her?

Every day of our 20 years of marriage was memorable. For 20 years, no third party got involved in our marriage. We lived a happy life. Each day we spent together was blissful.

How did you discipline your children?

I was tough on them, but I’m glad my tough nature paid off. Whenever they misbehaved, mere looking at them sent shivers down their spine. I was a bit hard on my first two children. I had this anxiety of not wanting them to be spoilt. I think every father passes through that phase. My last two children didn’t receive as much hardness. They learnt from their siblings.

How has fatherhood changed you?

It has made me more responsible and to also appreciate life more.  No doubt, it has brought me joy. Watching my children grow up and give birth to children of their own is a thing of joy. Seeing them excel in their professions brings me joy. I have learnt that the role a father plays in the lives of his children is extremely important.

Are there things you would have loved to do differently?

I don’t think so; I think I have lived a consistent, one-way life. I am happy with the way my life has turned out to be and I am happy with all I have instilled in the lives of my children.

Some fathers have preference for a particular gender, especially as a first child. Do you also have such inclination?

I think it is silly to think that way. When one tells that they have given birth, I don’t ask them for the sex of their child. There are millions of women who may never bear children, why then should one be bothered about the sex of a child? One should be grateful one has a child. The only thing I pray for is to have a healthy child.

Are any of your children lawyers?

My second child is a lawyer; she was called to bar in 2007.

Did you influence the career choices of your children?

No, I never did. All I advised my children to do was to follow their passions. I advise parents not to influence their children’s career choices. I am happy all my children are in different professions.

Tell us about their professions.

My first child is a chartered accountant; the second is a lawyer; the third is a medical doctor and the last is an engineer.

Would you have preferred all your children to be lawyers?

Not all; in fact I never wished for that. I know families of all lawyers that have become problematic. I am happy all my children are not lawyers. Variety is the spice of life; I am lucky to have my children in different professions.

 What is your view on parents giving their children pocket money?

I have a child who is rounding off his PhD, whenever I give him pocket money, he must give an account on how he spent the money. It is my money, so I should know how he spends it. For me, children must be taught how to be accountable. I don’t believe that children should be spoilt with money. Whatever money I give them, I request an account on how it is spent.

What inspiring advice do you regularly give them?

I advise them to pray hard, but work harder. They should do to others what they would want others do to them. I tell them to be fair and just in their dealings with people.  They should not cheat or build a life of fraud. They must be able to justify all they have achieved in life.

How do you protect them from the spotlight?

They live a private life. Apart from family occasions, you would not know they are my children. They live a quiet life and are well behaved.

What was your father’s profession?

He was a civil servant. One of the greatest things I learnt from my father is uprightness and integrity. He was a strict disciplinarian. We used to call him a ‘hard’ man; he never spared the rod.  When my siblings and I were younger, we used to think he was our enemy. It was when we became adults that we realised he did all he did out of love. He was a loving father in spite of his strictness. Surprisingly, he wanted me to study agriculture. He worked at an agricultural research institute and had young guys ‘boss’ him around because they studied agriculture. He didn’t like the way he was treated, so he said if I studied agriculture, I would be able to ‘boss’ people around too.

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