Who Really Takes Care of Whom?
By Adaure Achumba
Just the other day, I was chatting online with my younger sister who is twenty going on thirty-five. I had had a conversation with her the day before when she made some revelations that got me seeing red. Like the typical drama queen that I am, I was absolutely stunned and discombobulated and as a big sister, quite concerned. I began to think to myself; perhaps I’ve been away from home too long. At that moment, I felt like a parent who’d abandoned her children: a father who wasn’t there to be a role model for his sons and a mother unable to guide her daughters properly into dignified womanhood. The ‘kids’ have gone through kindergarten, basketball games and school plays and I missed it all. They’ve gone through high school and puberty, through break ups and major slip-ups and I wasn’t there to display wisdom and integrity. Now, in college the girls change boyfriends with every hairstyle, the boys, girlfriends with every shirt, or worse yet, every bottle of deodorant. They are all grown up and where the hell I was when all this happened, definitely not at home.
Further into the conversation, my sister confesses to me that she has a major crush on one of our neighbors. Apparently she’d been fantasizing about him and creating these stories in her head that she uses to humor herself. This would have been easy to swallow had the guy been two or three years older than her. But that would make this story irrelevant and uninteresting. Here’s the real kicker, this guy is like forty years older than her and is my friend. Ok, may be that’s a bit exaggerated, he’s just ten years older than her and we talk every now and then, but indulge me here for a second and stay focused as I try to drive my point. Anyways, in a mother-to-daughter moment, I assume, she reveals her interest to our mother. Typically, when a Nigerian mother hears from her teenage daughter that she likes a man, one would expect the initial reaction would be a slap or a knock, a few loving words of abuses and extra daily assigned chores to make sure the daughter doesn’t have time to perambulate the neighborhood scooping out the object of her desire. But not in my sweet mother’s case, not only did the cane, which she used to design my back when I was young, take a vacation, she said, “He comes from a good family and if he can take care of you, go ahead.” Ok, hello? Is it just me or have the aliens landed. What have they done with my mother or is it the water, can somebody tell me what is going on? Like snap out of it woman, something is wrong with that picture. I do agree our neighbor, Mr. X is from a good family and would make a great boyfriend or husband, but why is the criteria for my sister to pursue a man dependent on if he can take care of her. As much as I love my mother to death, her attempt to straddle between ultra conservatism and neo-liberalism, unbeknownst to her, makes her the perfect subject for my commentaries.
Who and what really determines who can take care of whom? Many Nigerians are quick to attribute that to the male gender and his bread winning status, which in this case is exactly what my mother was referring to. In a perfect world, we would all be carefree millionaires lazing around on the sunny white sandy beaches of islands off the coast of Africa sipping on coconut juice. We’ll leave all the chores to maids and housekeepers, let the managers worry about the number of zeros in bank account, while the accountant figures out the expense bills, donations to charity and how to evade taxes. Unfortunately we live in an imperfect world where not all fingers and toes are equal, therefore people have to strategize, analyze and compromise when it comes to the quest for matrimonial bliss. Financial security, it seems, trumps all other qualifiers, including happiness. There is a mind set that money can solve all problems and even bring happiness; that if we can acquire material things; the latest traditional grabs, quality custom jewelry, matching alligator skin shoes and purses, the newest, dare I say biggest cars, everything else will follow. To some extent and certainly for some people this holds true. I mean more money and good fortune can literally change some ones life. It is the difference between living in an urban cesspool and sub-urban tranquility. In some cases it may be a temporary fix, a charade, but at that very moment in life it brings some level of satisfaction and self-gratification; being able to live at will the glitzy, glamorous, socialite life without much ado, except about what to wear and where to go. This is ideally what we all assume is the actual picture; if only one could be a fly on the wall to know what really goes on behind the pretty glossed up image people portray. But when it comes to the bottom line, the nitty-gritty, the pith and the crux of the matter, happiness cannot be bought or acquired through strategies. If you don't believe me, grab a few of those Nigerian movies; they're based on true-life stories.
My mother's comments would ordinarily have had my flaming liberal feminist radar going haywire, only because such statements appear to foster complacency and 'de-prioritizing' priorities. But one would have to ask, if our male counterparts, their mothers and fathers, talk the same way to them. The answer is, and undoubtedly, an unequivocal YES. I was at a forum organized by singles in my church and amazingly the requirements many of the gentlemen presented where not surprising but they raised my primary question, 'Who really takes care of whom?' Based on their desires, you would have thought they wanted to marry their mothers. From cooking deliciously tantalizing meals, being non-argumentative and agreeable (what I consider not having an opinion) to picking up after them, catering to all their needs and those of their family members and all the children they desire to have. In a worse case scenario, add senior wives and their children. What in the world, last time I checked the better half was called 'wife' not 'house-maid'. My deduction from the conversation is that men are really the ones who 'do' want and perhaps need to be taken care of. But if that is the case, which it seems, why is the statement, 'if he can take care of you', instead of 'if you can take care of him' or better yet 'can you take care of each other'.
Author Anthony Robbins once wrote, "Some of the biggest challenges in relationships come from the fact that most people enter a relationship in order to get something: they're trying to find someone who's going to make them feel good. In reality, the only way a relationship will last is if you see your relationship as a place that you go to give, and not a place that you go to take." Robbins hits it right on the money. Why do we base or relationships on what we can get, in this case 'care’. I am not saying the original statement my mother posed is wrong, absolutely not. It is important for a woman to know if her partner can and will take care of her, both emotionally and materially. Notice how I place emotional satisfaction ahead of material satisfaction. My issue is that we tend to and have been trained to think about the material aspect of happiness before we consider the emotional side. Our men ponder about beauty, whether she can cook, clean and do cartwheels in the bedroom, before they inquire or think about character while some of our women focus on how deep the pockets are or will get etcetera. Both seeming to forget about love, attraction, ambition, compatibility and eventual happiness. The latter which can only be achieved through choices we make in all aspects of our lives, what and how much we give 'of' ourselves, rather than what we take and keep 'for' ourselves. But His Highness the Dalai Lama writes, "We humans are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others' actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others' activities. For this reason it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others." So is it wrong then to strategize, considering that by default our lives depend on other people. To ensure that the relationships you build right now, could lead to bliss, regardless of what the ulterior motives are. Should the shrewd Machiavellian doctrine, where 'the end justifies the means' becomes the dictum. Could it be possible then that perhaps, mother, in her wisdom, that's based on experience, is right in her view?