My step grandmother passed on recently. We suspect she must have been at least a hundred years old. She had no biological child. I feel a bit guilty calling her step grandmother because I didn’t know her well. However as my father unquestionably takes on the responsibility of giving her a befitting funeral, I am reminded of how fondly he always spoke of her and that is perhaps the only glimpse I have of this woman whom my father loved like his own mother. It is surreal just thinking about it all because it has exposed what used to be a nagging thought in the crevices of my mind. I’ll get to the thought shortly.
From the hilarious to the downright immoral, I can think of a dozen or so reasons why children are born. The breeding farms of the American slave era or the women who get pregnant just to pin down an elusive man are just a few of such. However what interests me most is the innate desire in man to leave someone or something behind, as the case may be.
Whether legacies or children, it is said that we have a need to leave our mark or something of ourselves. And the greatest regret I’m told that men often have when faced with mortality, is the fact that they wish they had done better in their filial relationships.
I’ve never been one to begrudge people who decide not to have children believing that if they have the privilege of that choice then they are free to exercise it no matter how selfish we may term the reasons behind it. But here comes the nagging thought: who will take care of them when they get old? I almost always think this not only about people who choose not to have children, but those who want to but can’t. And the more I think about it the more these words, “it takes a village to raise a child” come to mind and here’s why. Pre-colonial African communalism has often been juxtaposed in a dichotomy with western individualism partly because it is the one thing wholly ours that is not a derivative of our contact with the West. In an attempt to reaffirm and reclaim the fractured African identity from colonial invasion and erosion and develop a political ideology suitable to Africa, the likes of Senghor, Nkrumah and Nyerere; African thinkers and leaders of note, have reminded us that there is a thread that runs through all African cultures and that is our communal spirit, where we all in a sense live for one another.
So a childless couple would indeed have had nothing to fear because they were a subset of a larger whole intertwined symbiotically. Not only would they have parented other children not theirs biologically, the organism of community and communality where everyone was a brother or sister would have ensured that no childless couple lacked the presence, joy and impact a child brought except of course in the matter of needing someone to carry on the family name.
To be clear though, this seemingly idyllic scenario obviously wasn’t always the case going by the age-old witch hunt of childless women. So if it takes a village to raise a child, it must take a village to bury the aged who left no child behind to bury them.
But in the context of our urbanized, democratic, capitalist and postcolonial African societies, who cares? Where is the covering for the childless couple? I have often thought that one way for an unmarried woman to quickly rid herself of over-romanticizing marriage and motherhood is to take on some responsibility for others. Babysit for friends and siblings especially when it’s inconvenient. Open your heart and doors to other people’s children and let them mess up your clean floor with food and liquid. Let them crayon all over your pristine walls and roll all over your clean sheets in their dirty clothes. Invest in the life of a street kid who hawks when he or she should be in school. Convince the parents that an education will secure their lives and the life of their child and then put your money where your mouth is by offering to pay school fees regularly. Follow up on that girl who is in danger of getting knocked up by some riff raff in the area because nobody cares. You want a child or someone to love? Well here’s an opportunity to practice some of that tough love you will no doubt show yours when they come and who knows the good we unconsciously bring to ourselves by these actions? We say “blood is thicker than water.” The Bible says that ‘there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother’ and the Yoruba say “ajumobi ko kan tanu, eni Oluwa ba ran sini lo n seni lore” which means, “same parentage does not compel compassion, only those sent by God show compassion.” But this thing called life always proves one or more of these truths in our lives as we journey. Which is why I say that in the end family is what or who you call it to be.
Read more from Olubunmi
Wait, tell me, why do women bleach? – Olubunmi Ajiboye