Afrobeat icon, Femi Kuti, takes ALEXANDER OKERE though his journey to fatherhood and the challenges that came with it
What does fatherhood mean to you?
Fatherhood means taking care of your children.
At what point did you think it was right for you to become a dad?
That was when I thought I was financially able to take care of a child. There is no point having children when you can’t take care of them. I was already 33 when I had my first child. I wasn’t exactly financially ready but I cut my coat according to my cloth.
At 33, did fatherhood come early or late for you?
I would say it was a bit late because at the time my son grew up, I couldn’t play football with him. Maybe 30 is a good age but it all depends on a lot of factors for every individual.
How did you feel when you saw your first child for the first time?
I was very happy, not just because he was a boy but because there were a lot of things happening in my life and people were ready to laugh at me if it was a girl because of the heritage. I knew that if it was a boy, those who were against me would have their mouths shut.
Are you saying it was really very important to you for your first child to be a male?
Yes. My legacy was very important, being the first son. Our culture and tradition emphasises a male child. I am indifferent to that but because of how the world views it. At that time, having a male child was important. Things were against me at that time; my father and I parted ways; I had just released a song, ‘Wonder Wonder,’ and people said it was Fela that wrote it for me. My wife’s mother didn’t like me. Too many things were against me and a male child was very important to me. I would say it (having my first son) was a godly intervention in my life.
Were you with your wife on the day your son was born?
I went to the hospital.
Were you anxious?
I was just very happy; I mean nine months was a long time. My wife had already told me it was a boy and I had a great feeling it would be a boy.
Fatherhood changes a lot about men. What did it change about you?
If you want to be a good parent, you can’t do all the things you used to do. You have to wake up in the morning and bathe them (the baby), teach them and play with them. They become your priority in life. So, if you are not ready for that change, don’t even bother. This change, for me, is a very beautiful one. For me, children are too precious and delicate to toy with. So, I’m not one that takes chances with my children.
Are you also bothered about the security of your children?
Yes, that is what comes with fatherhood. You have to protect your child, know what the child eats, where the child goes and who your child’s friends are. You must be careful your children don’t get influenced by bad friends. You have to be there until a child is totally independent to take care of himself or herself. Importantly, all the mistakes you have made in your life, you have to tell your child, so they don’t fall victim to those vices or situations.
If you really love your child, it is not by sending him or her to the best school because you want to show off. Even if you send your child to a school, the education really comes from the home. You have to remember that there are probably 20 children in a class with a teacher. So, you don’t leave everything to the teacher or the school. My children didn’t go to the most expensive school but I know the teachers, the principal, what I want for my children and they call me when there is an emergency. So, it’s a complete turnaround in your life.
How many children do you have now?
I have seven biological children. Right now, I have four children that I adopted. The girl got married and left a long time ago. Two of the boys are also married and have left. There is one with me. But I took care of them since they were like six. They all came out of university and are doing well. They still come and give their daddy a hug at home. One of my children was taken to America by her mother, so I don’t get to see her but the rest are with me.
Did you play any role in the career choices they made?
No. I can only support. I didn’t tell Made, my son, to be a musician. He showed interest. That is why they go to school; the child might find another interest that he loves. The more he showed interest, the more I provided the tools for him to become a good musician. Damilola, who is one of the children I took care of, showed more interest in filming and taking pictures. So, I sent him to school to learn. He is a great photographer. He did Made’s film. He did my video that will soon be out. Kwame likes to do a lot of business. He is into land surveying. He sells land. He graduated from the University of Lagos. The last boy, Mohammed, is still at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, Osun State.
How different is the type of parenting you are providing for your children from the one you got from your dad?
My father, for instance, wasn’t the conventional father. He didn’t want me to have western education; so my life was very difficult. Now, because of the way I grew up, I know what to do for my children. I let them have western education but let them see that there is another education in this life. I tell them to be masters of their own destinies. I tell them to read other stories, to read about Malcolm X. They all have their different interests. I’m only there to support (them). They may need my advice for other things, like the business they are doing, or they might have difficulties in a relationship, I will tell them my view.
I don’t impose my philosophy or ideas on them. I give them free rein. Life is an experience. If you don’t experience certain things in life, you have not lived. If you don’t experience love, you have not lived. It is not like love is bad; it is good to fall in love. Maybe sometimes it is good to have a heartbreak, so you can understand it’s no love, no heartbreak. So, life is full of lessons. A father will just be there to help.
You spoke about having a difficult childhood. Did people think it would be the same experience for your children?
I think a lot of people thought my life would be a failure, so they didn’t expect much for my own children. When my wife left, they thought I would be a bad parent. A lot of people still have that impression from the 80s and 90s of me because there was no social media to fight back what anybody read. Unfortunately, I became better known in Europe than in Nigeria. I made my name and money there, not here. Nobody wanted to listen to me here. And by the time they wanted to listen to me, it was always one excuse or the other. They tried to bring the shrine down. Luckily again, I have a sister that loves and understands me. I think people didn’t give me a chance to bring up children.
So, when people see me now, they are shocked. They probably expected me to give my children the kind of life I had; even with that, I didn’t turn out that bad. When you take a look at many of the people that are bringing me down, they have not done better with their own children than I have done and did not do better than Fela. So, who is to judge whom? I understand all these factors and use them in being a good parent. The bottom line is, if you are not ready to totally love your children, don’t have children.
What is your opinion about instilling discipline in a child?
I don’t beat my children but I beat one recently because he was being naughty in school. There is a big law: don’t beat my children. But he had been moving with bad boys in school and his siblings had been reporting him. Because they know who he is, some boys told him it was better to be a bad boy than a good boy. He was one of the top boys in the class but, suddenly, his marks started to fall badly. But we are best of friends right now. I am totally against beating a child because when you beat a child, after a while, the child would not mind the beating. So, it’s not about beating. If something good happens, we all share in it and if something bad happens, we all share the blame. That is what is called a family. Also, I am not the type that will tell my children I took the first position in school. I let them know all my bad sides. That is why they have to do better than me. I tell them I repeated a class, not that I am a perfect parent. I tell them I still make mistakes.
Do you agree that a man and his wife should share the responsibility of taking care of the kids?
I don’t think there is a golden law that says that. If the wife cannot be there, she needs a break. You don’t expect her to do everything. Bringing money doesn’t make you a father. All that I have told you had nothing to do with money. Showing your children love and helping them to do their homework is not money. Children don’t even care about money until they get to a certain age. I think both parents are responsible for taking care of the children. And when one parent is not there, it becomes more difficult for the other parent. Having said that, there are several instances where the wife leaves or the husband leaves. A lot of people like to blame the men but there are many situations where women too are wrong. I know a lot of good fathers and mothers. In my situation, I have had to be the one looking after my children, even the adopted ones, without their mother. But it is something I love to do. I love children being around me. But some people don’t like it. My father didn’t like children crying around him but it doesn’t mean he was bad. We just have to go the extra mile as parents.
How do you relax with them?
They taught me how to play FIFA (a video game). So, I am a good player because they taught me how to play. They even wanted to teach me how to play war games but I don’t like it. They have tried for over two years to teach me but I can’t stand it. I even restricted them because the games are taking them away from their work.