A forth night ago, I went into a chapel of Divine Presence in Awka, Anambra State to commune with my God. The time was 9.30a.m. Immediately I knelt down to pray, I started hearing a shrill cry from a baby of about one year old in a daycare classroom very close to the chapel. I tried my best to concentrate in my prayer, but all to no avail. The baby continued to cry aloud with tears, chorusing, “Mummy m-oo! Mummy m-oo!! Mummy m-oo!!! The baby's cry was hitting hard on my ear drum and thereby attacking my prayer seriously like a missile. I knelt down for thirty minutes without concentration. After a while, I excused myself from God and rushed angrily out of the chapel. I went with cane towards that daycare classroom to calm the situation. The child was still crying, “Mummy m-oo! Mummy m-oo!! Mummy m-oo!!” I responded with “Daddy m-oo! Daddy m-oo!! Daddy m-oo!!!” The teachers rushed out to see who had the hoarse voice. They started laughing when they saw me. I frowned at them and told them it was not a laughing matter.
Without invitation, I entered the daycare classroom. Can you guess what I saw? I saw an eye-saw. The child was tumbling all over the classroom crying the “Mummy m-oo!” It refused neither to be consoled nor drink from prepared baby milk in a feeding-bottle. It was a fine baby boy. Pitifully, I dropped the cane. Not minding my white cassock, I grasped the little child tenderly and carried him at my chest. He looked pitifully into my eyes and stopped crying. The child started to suck my cassock at the exact location of the breast. I needed no prophet to tell me that the little child still needed breastfeeding. As a man of God, I saw 'parental irresponsibility' written on the child's forehead. I sighed and shouted, “No wonder!” The child slept comfortable at my arms. Calm returned in the daycare classroom.
Accidentally I became a baby-sitter which I did last over 40 years ago. I became entangled. What should I do? A nice idea came into my medulla oblongata. I requested the female teacher of those daycare children to kindly give me the number of either the father or the mother of the sleeping child. She obliged me. By then I was sitting down on a chair with the child still sleeping in my lovely arms. I perceived that the sleeping child was trying to make an accidental discharge from behind because my arm was soaked. I asked the teacher for a polythene bag. She gave one to me and I placed it behind the child's buttocks in case of any eventuality.
Next, I called both parents of the child on phone to see me immediately for an urgent message. They appeared in a twinkling of an eye. They saw me with their sleeping child. It surprised me that both parents are doing business at Eke Awka. I scolded them for abandoning a child of one year for the sake of business. I accused them of acute parental irresponsibility. Since they have no time to bring up their child, I made it clear to them that I would give out the child for legal adoption. Also I swore to hand them over to the police for child abuse. They knelt down and broke into tears, pleading for clemency. The mother while crying, asked me to temper justice with mercy. She said, “Please father, help us. This is our first child.” What annoyed me most was that she stopped breastfeeding the child after six months of birth. That was why the child was crying like a cow due to consumption of cow milk. Before I gave the child back to them for proper care, the parents signed an undertaking for me. Like this couple, many parents have no time to train their children. Instead they leave them at the mercy of maids and teachers. How can a-year old child lack parental care? It would have been better that the child was motherless so that it can be taken to motherless babies home for proper care.
This reminds me of the four purposes of marriage: Companionship, Procreation, Upbringing and Training of children. The Igbo people say, “Kama amuta azughi azu, si amuna,” which means that if you are not willing to train your child, please do not procreate. Before an intending couple joins hands in marriage at the altar, the officiating priest asks them this fundamental question: “Are you willing to accept children from God and train them according to the Law of Christ and the Law of the Church?” Both the bridegroom and bride answer individually, “I will.” After many years in the ministry, I have not experienced where the answer was in the negative. In fact, promising is one thing and doing is another thing. The dog pleads with the one it gave money to buy a stool for sitting to bring back the money because those who have buttocks are unable to sit well. Couples blessed with children lack time to look after them while childless couples are crying for the fruit of the womb. What an irony!
Sometimes animals take care of their offspring better than human beings created in the image and likeness of God. I have a good example to give here. There is a hen presently in my compound in my town, Aguluezechukwu, that hatched seven bouncing chicken not long ago. The hen is very caring. Let me say she (it) is an exemplary mother. Despite the menace of kites in this dry season, it has not lost any of the chicken. Whenever it observes the kite roaming around, it gives her chicken sign to hide. They stay like inanimate objects till their mother hen gives them a sign to move. It feeds them properly. Most often it goes hungry that its offspring may feed. From morning to night, it keeps vigilance over them. I told my mother that the hen will be taken to Women's August meeting this year for award as an exemplary mother. If animals can be canonized, I hereby recommend that this hen should be chosen. What a motherly care! If an animal can be so caring, rational human parents should be better.
Today, many of our children are growing wild due to lack of good parental care. Many parents pursue wealth at the expense of their children. They take the aged and under-aged children to school and daycare early in the morning and bring them back late in the evening. The parents have time to procreate children but they lack time to bring them up properly. Even when those kids return home from school late in the evenings and on weekends, they are left at the mercy of house-helps or maids. The kids come in contact by chance with their biological parents. A certain kid calls the maid 'Mummy' and calls her biological mother 'Anti.' It refers to its biological father as 'Uncle' while it calls the housedog 'daddy' because it (the dog) performs the function of a father, which is protection. Until the rotten tooth is pulled out, the mouth must chew with caution. Parents must go back to the drawing board and play their God-given roles as active and caring parents.
Some time ago, I hammered intensively on the harmful effects of school lesson which is the order of the day today in various villages, towns and cities in Nigeria. A child who receives proper academic teaching from 8.00a.m to 1.00p.m has got enough for the day. A child's brain gets saturated very easily. An overdose causes mental imbalance. If you visit psychiatric hospitals these days, you see so many mentally deranged children. After the day's class works, those pupils are directed by their teachers to eat the food in their flasks and get ready for lesson, which lasts from 1.30p.m to 5.00p.m. They go home by that time and return to school early tomorrow without proper rest. These children suffer from acute mental confusion. That is why we have confused society today. Numerous stubborn children are found here and there due to lack of parental care at infancy.
During my primary and post primary time, we did not undertake such extra curriculum lessons. Yet we performed very excellent. If I have the authority, I would stop pre-nursery, nursery and primary school pupils from having extra academic work after 1.00p.m. The children should go home and relax their brains for tomorrow. I do not see any positive results of those academic lessons. Look at our society today, many of our children end up as kidnappers, armed robbers, prostitutes, hemp smokers, street urchins, thugs, idiots, etc. There is little or no time to balance their academic endeavour with sound moral and religious lessons. Lessons can be partly done during holidays. Overdose kills. A stitch in time saves nine. I am certain that many parents and teachers will not find this article palatable, but I am not deterred. The parents do not want the children to disturb them at business while teachers accumulate more money from the lesson business. You can see now that the lesson is not done for the interest of the children but just for material gains by both parents and teachers. I am not afraid of the verbal missiles that will be fired at me by parents and teachers. After all, Martyrs die for their faith. Indeed I died the day I prostrated before the altar during my priestly ordination as the names of the dead (Saints) were called upon me.
The Church and Government should look into this lesson palaver and curb the water now it has risen above the neck. Once the children get drowned, our society is gone. Parents on their own part must read in between lines and make a-u turn. Children are good assets for the greater tomorrow. Sound moral and parental upbringing should not be jettisoned at the expense of wealth and convenience. The 'mummy m-oo' cry shows that there is a destructive vacuum between the child and its parents. There is time for everything: Time for family training and upbringing; time to go school and time to return home. If brutes can devote enough time to care for their kids, human parents should do better. As a Catholic priest, I have bachelor's degree in Philosophy and Theology. I remain a bachelor for life. In other words, I am unmarried and childless, but I am concerned. Pastorally I am a father of a multitude of congregants in the church. Hence I am childless biologically but “childful” spiritually.
The English adage says, “That the child is the father of the man.” This means that children are the future hope of tomorrow. They become so if they are well trained, otherwise they become nuisances in the society. The former Governor of Anambra State, Chief Sir Peter Obi, maintains that the children we abuse today will take revenge on us tomorrow. The revenge has already begun. Few weeks ago somewhere, a boy of 12 cut of his mother's head while she was sleeping because he accused her of witchcraft. A 16-year old girl, alias Mad Girl, slapped her father mercilessly for insulting her boyfriend who passed a night with her (the girl) in her father's compound in the presence of the parents. Worse things are happening here and there. God, have mercy!