Celebrated Nollywood actor, Hafiz Oyetoro, popularly called Saka, shares his fatherhood experience with Punch Newspaper.
What does fatherhood mean to you?
Fatherhood means the ability to perform all responsibilities of taking care of one’s family and being able to meet the needs of the family. It also entails the ability to be emotionally stable and intelligent enough to accommodate physical, psychological and spiritual needs of the individuals who constitute the family. It is also the ability to acquire what it takes to be a father. It goes beyond giving a woman ‘belle.’
What age did you become a father and how did you feel holding your first child?
I became a father when I was close to 41 (laughs). It was not too late. But it was late. However, I felt so fulfilled. I am also grateful to God that I was able to join the league of fathers. In the same week that my child was born, a friend of mine was giving away her daughter in marriage. You can imagine the gap.
Where were you when your wife gave birth?
When I heard the news that my wife had been delivered of a baby boy, I was elated. I was not around when my wife gave birth. I was on a movie location. I saw my first child the third day he was born. I called my mother-in-law to visit my wife at the hospital.
What did you do when you heard the news?
I called my wife to congratulate her. I told her to place the phone by the ear of the baby. Whether he could hear me or not, I insisted I wanted to talk to him. I said to my child on the phone, “Hello my son, welcome to Nigeria. I am your father. I am not around now but as soon as I come back, I am going to see you. You are welcome to my family.”
I think he heard me well because when I got home, he didn’t cry. He smiled when he saw me. God made everything easy for us. All our three children were born without complications. Within five minutes in the labour room, my wife gave birth. My wife didn’t go through much labour pains. In fact, my last child was born at the reception of the hospital. I thank God for His mercies. I have two boys and a girl.
What accounted for your lateness in being a father?
I can’t specifically say why. For a very long time, I was more committed to my career. I was carried away by the demands of my profession. Another factor that could have led to that was poverty. I never wanted to rely on people to take care of my children. I decided to get married at a point that I was able to take care of myself and my family.
But many people assumed that you are a rich man.
You don’t just grow up one day; it is a process. I am not a millionaire, so to say. But I am very grateful to God that I can afford bread and butter on my table. When I said poverty delayed me, I meant that I hustled for a long time. A few years back, the entertainment industry was not recognised. It was our passion that kept us going. It was about five or 10 years back that entertainment started getting lucrative. I was only popular back then but poor. The idea of self-dignity, not wanting to rely on people for support, accounted for my delay.
How did struggling prepare you for fatherhood?
It made me to be properly ready. I learnt about fatherhood from friends who were already married. I had elder brothers who had gone through various family challenges. So, when I got married, all those challenges were not new to me because I had prepared well for them. I was mature to resolve all those challenges. I wish I married early.
What fascinates you about fatherhood?
The major challenge with marrying late is that my children are still in secondary and primary schools. It means I have a lot to do for my children. Children of my friends have finished their education. I used to attend the weddings and convocation organised for such children. But at my age, I am still paying school fees. While my colleagues can afford to buy cars and mansions worth millions of naira, because they are no longer paying school fees, I am doing more of investment in my children. I cannot afford to copy their lifestyle or afford such luxuries. I believe that I still have a long way to go. My children are my investments. When some people say, ‘Upon all the money wey Saka get, e no do this, e no get plenty cars’, I laugh. I am investing my money in my children because I don’t want them to pass through what I went through in life. I put more into their training so that they can be successful. I am giving them the best of education. When it comes to investing in other things and enjoyment, it is affecting me. While other fathers are getting gifts from their children, I am still paying school fees at my old age. I am not too old anyway (laughs). I am just 54.
What specifically are you doing to prepare your children for a better future?
First and foremost, I don’t joke with home training and education. I also ensure that they are close to God. Those are my priorities. I let them understand the realities of life; that one needs to work hard to be successful. I want to thank God that I know one or two people. But I don’t want my children to rely on people. I am giving them the best education that I can afford now. Knowledge is power. If they have the knowledge, they will know how to manage their lives. Once you equip your children with knowledge, you have done everything for them. I started school at nine. My children started school at age three or four. They would finish their education on time. I want to train them to be self-employed or employable so they won’t start afresh like me. I started from the scratch. I started from point zero. I want my children to start from point 10.
What kind of father are you at home?
My wife, children and I watch Saka together on TV. Saka is a different person from Hafiz Oyetoro, the husband and father. My children know their father, Hafiz Oyetoro. They know Hafiz Oyetoro, who acts Saka. It’s a professional grace for me. I want to thank God that I passed through good lecturers who trained me to differentiate my personality from the role I play in movies.
What do your children say when they watch you on TV?
My children are my first critics. Sometimes, they ask me, “Daddy, why is Saka doing like this?” “Is this how to wear the uniform?” Sometimes when I do something, I let them see it first and listen to them. My wife and children understand me most. When I am away for a long time and come back home, I loosen up. I organise dance competition and crack jokes. I do perform for them to cover up for the lost time. I really want to be close to my children. I try as much as possible to do so. My children are free with me and their mother. They are free to express their feelings. We give them disciplined freedom of expression.
How do you discipline your children?
I don’t cane my children. I feel that I don’t have to use the cane to get things done. I was brought up by my uncle who caned me. I didn’t like that. I lived with my father until age nine when I started primary school. From age nine, I was under the care of my uncle. It was really interesting because he was strict. I didn’t have freedom of expression. I didn’t want my children to experience that. I play with them and tell them stories. Once they misbehave, I could say, “You, because you have done this, don’t talk to me in your life again.” When I change my attitude, that child will feel odd and apologise. I used to tell them to kneel down and raise up their hands.
Is any of them interested in acting?
One of my children seems interested in being an actor like me. I don’t want to force them into any career. I give them the freedom to choose what they want to do. Whatever they want to become, my own is to support them.
Is there anything they tease you about?
For instance, when I come home and tired, I could sleep in the living room. They would be dramatising, mimicking how I slept off. Sometimes, they tease me with some of the lines of Saka. They use the lines where I abused somebody to get back at me. I don’t tell them lies. I told them I was not a fantastic, excellent student way back in school. Most fathers would tell their children they used to take the first position even though it’s not true. When I was in primary school, I took first position for some time. But when some other smart guys came, they took over. Whenever we are in light mood, all those things I said when I was angry, they would rehearse it in my presence to tease me.
If there’s a lesson you want your kids to take from you as they move through life, what would it be?
Discipline, humility and believing in the Almighty God. I want them to learn these from me. I want them to know that there is no shortcut to success. When you don’t work for success, what is gained soon fritters away. If you work for success, you will be able to maintain it. When you are hard-working and believe in God, success will be with you forever. When you are disciplined, you won’t be jealous of other people’s success. If you are humble, people will respect you. I want them to be simple like me. Life is simple.
How do you manage to be a successful actor, teacher and father?
God has helped me to manage my time well. As a father, I don’t do more than I can. I live a simple life. I am very honest and faithful to my wife. I want to thank God and the producers. They know that I am a civil servant; so, they don’t give me jobs to do during the week. I don’t drink alcohol. I don’t run after women. I don’t smoke. I want to thank the Nigerian press. Up until today, I have not recorded any scandal. Scandals can be cooked up.
Female fans come but I have been able to overcome temptations.
You know that I am not that particularly handsome. But to my wife, I am a very handsome man. That is the reason she married me. But you cannot compare the character of Saka with that of Ramsey Noah and other handsome actors. The traffic of temptation and pressure from women to me is low.
Because I am a teacher, I live the life of a teacher. I don’t go to clubs. I am very simple, reserved and shy person. I am a complete “paki” (local man) man. This makes everything easy for me. I am thanking God for making me a simple person. Artistes are human beings with weaknesses.
What is one of the most important gifts your wife or children have given you in appreciation of your fatherly role?
The greatest blessing a man can get from God is to marry a woman who shares his vision. The greatest gift my wife has given me is her ability to share and support my vision. She understands me from A-Z. She is a graduate of mathematics. I don’t even know how the chemistry works. She is caring but quiet. When I am not around, they pray for me. They even fast for me.
In the African setting, some believe that fathers are to play the role of providing for the home while the mothers take care of the home. Do you agree with this?
I disagree. Even in those days, our fathers took their wives to the farm. I am from a village. My mother used to accompany my father to the farm. My wife also takes care of certain responsibility of her volition. She had to resign from government job when we got married. She was a mathematics teacher somewhere. When we got married, she had to resign to take care of the children. Both of us cannot be working because the home front would suffer. She has her shops where she sells children things. Sometimes, she takes care of certain things without telling me. I only get to know later. My children used to call me to say mummy had taken care of something they were asked to bring in school. We work together as partners. But as the father, it is automatic that I carry the larger percentage of the family’s upkeep.
Have you cooked at home before?
I am a great cook. Don’t forget that I was a bachelor for 40 years (laughs). I cook once in a while now. It’s been long I did that. As time went on, I became very busy. In the last five years, I have not been able to do those domestic duties due to my busy schedules.
What is the most important relationship advice you give to people?
I will advise would-be couples to have jobs before getting married. It took me time to get married because I wanted to be able to withstand the financial cost. When the man is jobless and the wife is jobless, how do they maintain the home? Self-maintenance is a continuous responsibility. The marriage will not last if both would-be couples are jobless. Even if it’s the wife that is employed, they can still manage. They don’t need to have government jobs. But they must have a means of sustenance. If there is no butter on their bread, let there be water, at least, after taking the bread. I do not support a marriage where both couples are jobless. There will be tension. When there is tension, there will be misunderstanding. When there is constant misunderstanding, the marriage will collapse.