Home Blog Diaspora Diary: To Be A Man…

Diaspora Diary: To Be A Man…

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Family is not an important thing. It’s everything. ~ Michael J. Fox

As a growing kid, my dad always gave me pep talks on how to become a responsible and successful man. More than once he ended the talks with one line; “Ayichaa ka ara fhulu ulo, ayia ka ara fhulu ogalanya”. It means that friendship will be according to age as you grow but it will later be determined by success.

The lucidity of this statement wasn’t exactly grasped by my juvenile mind then but it is a line that nevertheless remained engraved in my subconscious.

As a young adult thrust into the hectic terrain of the Nigerian oil business when I lost my dad at 21, I mostly related with older men who had years of business experience. The wisdom I gained is invaluable.

In Lagos, I had a boss who wasn’t much older even though he was almost at the peak of his career then. I would visit him in the office and we’d chat about business, life and politics.

On this particular day, I was going home from work and decided to pop in. He was staring out of the window overlooking the sprawling and ever-busy Victoria Island Lagos.

After the usual pleasantries, we got talking and at one point he said, “I wish I could fly over this traffic to the welcoming embrace of my loving family”.
I could feel him. Lagos traffic can be debilitating. With a wry smile, I told him to be calm since he just left them in the morning.

He said “Well, my wife just left here a few hours ago”…and continued about how much he would have loved to have his family around him at work, at home and everywhere. I can’t be too sure now but I think I said he can imagine my situation. He’s aware that my family lives in Ireland. As we talked about family and the joy they bring he asked a question that triggered what I now consider a life-changing introspection.

“ When last did you see your family Cmoni?”

I replied that I couldn’t be exact but that it’s been at least 3 months.
Then he asked another question I would remember for the rest of my life.

“How do you cope?”

Initially, the question didn’t sound too weighty because I smiled and said I speak with my family daily. Moreover, I visit regularly too. Sometimes twice, thrice a year and when I can’t bring them home for Christmas I rarely spend it without them. With a resigned look he told me he couldn’t possibly cope in my shoes.

As I drove home that night I thought about our chat.
Here is a man who is at the very top who could have anything, nice clothes, fancy cars and so on.
He goes on vacation to the best spots yet his top priority isn’t money.
It is his family.
I remembered my father’s pep talks.
Can I possibly claim to be responsible and successful if I don’t actively and fully play my role as a father?

Yet living abroad was not my immediate or future consideration.
I could move my family back home of course.
After all, the initial plan was to give our child a second citizenship.
My wife only stayed back because she was offered a path to naturalisation.
On second thought the benefits of having European citizenship surpassed those of living in Nigeria.

When a friend asked me what would put food on the table after I informed him about my plans. I replied that I would be visiting every quarter to oversee my businesses.
He said, “Cmoni it is time to build”.

Again, I thought about this statement hard and long.
Relocation could trigger a mid-life crisis for me.
I mean who would effectively run my businesses?
What would I be doing abroad?
9–5 wasn’t an option because I needed some flexibility to travel often.
However, I was relieved after some research.
I realised that significant changes and accomplishments made early in life can prevent a mid-life crisis.

In Igboland, your foremost responsibility as a man is to your family.
The resources you should deploy to provide for them go beyond money.
To provide counsel, affection and protection you must devote your TIME.

Following all the musings I concluded that for now, ‘building my family’ was more important than ‘building my business empire’.
The reason for this is simple. You can always build an empire at any time but if you miss parenting and the bonding that a single roof provides especially during your kids’ teenage years, you can never recover it.

Hard decisions are often the best.
So, on the 15th of January 2015, I relocated.
For a man who, barring a few years in the UK, had lived his entire adult life doing business in Nigeria, it was indeed life-changing.
All the same, my family was already well settled in Ireland.
And with my versatility, I could easily adapt anywhere.
I had things planned, or so I thought…

Yet, it is one of my best decisions.

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