‘Dear daughter, Morenikeji mi,
It was when I held you in my arms the moment the nurse handed you over to me, that I knew there was a big difference between being a father to a boy and being a father to a girl.
I remember you squirming and wriggling in the pink and white cotton blanket they had wrapped around you.
Your hat covered your eyebrows and you squealed with all your strength.
That was your announcement to the world that you were nothing like your brother.
Your mother doesn’t take me seriously when I say that I saw the flash of defiance and a stubborn nature from the very first day.
When I held you and you quieted down and peered at me, probably with unseeing eyes, I was overcome with a feeling that was new to me.
You, Atoke, my baby, my daughter, my girl, the life ahead of you flashed before me and I vowed to myself that I would protect you from every single thing girls are vulnerable to.
I made a vow to myself that I would break my back hustling to make sure you never had to ask any man anywhere for help.
I told myself I would love your mother so perfectly that you would never settle for anything less than our demonstrated standard of love.
When I looked at your brother when he was born, I had felt pride and a sense of lineage stretching out in the road ahead.
I felt certain I would have no difficulty moulding him into the man he had to be.
But with you, in the heart of all the emotions that I was overwhelmed with, was a fear I could not describe.
For the first time in my life, the vulnerability of a female baby hit me straight in the face.
I remembered all those times I had carelessly dismissed females in my life or preyed on their vulnerability, and I was afraid.
I was afraid that the world was not waiting to tiptoe around you with consideration and sensitivity.
I thought hard about it all. How men would break your heart, lecturers who would hound you for sex and even bosses that would victimize you and pressurize you to give in to their lecherous suggestions.
I also felt afraid that I would not be able to always be there for you and I shivered at the contemplation of the possibility of leaving this world when you needed me the most.
When I told your mother what I had thought about, she smiled and looked at me and said in that her matter-of-fact voice;
“How did I grow into adulthood? She will learn to look out for herself and thrive in the weeds of patriarchy. I will teach her what I have learned.”
Her words held no comfort, however.
But you, my baby, had different plans. You came to this world feisty and zesty and ready to tackle everything your way.
I will never forget the day you took your first steps.
You had been cruising around the house depending on the furniture.
We thought that since you were 3 months away from your first birthday, you still had time.
But one day, you let go of the couch and took one step before you came crashing down.
I ran to pick you up because you were crying, but with tears on your face, you wriggled down my body to stand on your own.
I did not want you to get hurt, so I stood in your way.
Your mother told me to back away and even though I was not certain, I did.
You took another step and came crashing down again.
Your mother held me back from picking you up.
“She can do this. Let her do this,” she advised.
It was your third try and to our delight, you took four tentative steps before falling down again.
But this time, you did not cry. You raised your arms towards me to be carried, a clear sign of your triumph.
From that day, you never crawled again.
I can tell you easily why I remember this incident.
It has been the most defining moment of your personality.
Your determination and resilience; your individuality and persistence remind me of that day.
How determined you always are to figure things out for yourself and also how, despite my resolve to help you, you have never relied on me to get things done.
You would do it all by yourself and make me a proud bystander.
I laugh at myself when I remember all the vows I had made to protect you and care for you.
You have never allowed me to do this.
Sometimes I think that there was some switch when you were born.
As though you came in a female body with the spirit of a man.
Do not scrunch up your nose. Yes, I said it; you have the spirit of a man.
I know it is sexist to say this but nothing describes you better in my head.
Permit your ‘old man’ to be slightly sexist. And trust me, it is not a bad thing to have the spirit of man.
By now, you are wondering why I am writing you a letter instead of calling you on the phone like I usually do.
But I want you to read this letter several times and to think about everything that I have to say.
I am hoping that you will calm down from what I project will be an initial reaction of indignation.
I want you to see reasons with me for taking this route.
Atoke, I would like you to consider getting married.
I can see you bristling at the mention of marriage.
“Daddy, I don’t need a man. I am strong and independent and I can take care of myself.”
Now read the first part of my letter again.
You have been strong and independent since you were 9 months. That is not news to me. I am very proud of who you are.
”Daddy, I don’t need a man to be happy. Marriage matters less and less in our generation.
Besides, most men are intimidated by successful women or want to use them.
I really don’t have the patience to baby sit any man,” I can hear you say.
But hold on, my love. The happiness of an individual is double when the person finds a soul mate.
If you are happy, you could be happier. Marriage is still important.
I know you are into feminism and women empowerment and I applaud you.
One day, being single will not stand as a weakness for a woman. That day is still far from us here.
The respect you will get in this society we are in increases when you are married.
Respect is a basic human need. When you are single, you will always have to demand for respect that married women get easily.
Men can be intimidated by strong women but there are many men who admire such women.
For men who are looking for rich women, that is very easy to tell.
If he has nothing meaningful that he is doing, avoid him.
Listen to me, Atoke mi.
The journey of life is a very lonely and long walk to go alone. You need someone to share the ups and downs with.
You need someone to cheer you; someone to eat with; someone to worry about; someone that worries about you.
Your mother and I will be gone someday. Most children think that parents want to marry them off for grandchildren.
Grandkids aside, we do not want our children handling life all alone.
We want to know that there is someone that you can rely on.
Someone to hold when the storms are raging. Someone to lighten the load. To share laughter with.
Someone that can rush you to the hospital in the middle of the night in an emergency.
I have long accepted that you do not need the protection a man offers.
But I am convinced that you will be a better person if you accept the love only a man can offer.
Some days, it scares me to think that maybe you are a modern girl that prefers a woman’s love. But in my heart, I know you are not a lesbian. Your mother and I did not give birth to a lesbian in Jesus name.
Take this letter in a good way.
It is time to find someone to marry.
I love you dearly and sincerely.