Elias and their ilk: Proving Sigmund Freud wrong?

By Kiflu Hussain

Let alone in the strictly patriarchal society like Africa where the father as the head of the family wields a great deal of power that make or mar the psychology of his children, even in the Western society that prides itself of liberty and emancipation of women, the presence or absence of fathers be it in a domineering or accommodating fashion plays a pivotal role in shaping the personality of children into manhood or womanhood. Although, I may touch upon the general parent-children relationship irrespective of gender, since this missive is inspired by Elias Kifle’s nominating his father as the Ethiopian Review 2010 person of the year, I would mostly concentrate on father-son relationship. As Africa is still in its rudimentary stage, relationships in the social scheme of things are crude and rude. Therefore, husbands can “discipline” their wives by beating them up. Also the spouses do the same towards “disciplining” their children.However,we should bear in mind that despite the dominant patriarchal culture, there are some communities in Africa that never impose iron discipline on their children, especially on boys. Pastoral communities are known for raising their boys in an absolutely free and fiercely independent ways. That’s the general picture of a society in rural Africa including the multitude of uneducated and poverty stricken urban dwellers.

Come to the so-called few educated and middle class family. You find nothing much changed in disciplining wives and kids. The only difference here is the subtlety of the method applied. When disciplining goes out of hand and serious abuses take place, it would still remain a hush-hush story for the most part to protect the honor and privacy/GEMENA/of the family from any scandal.Thankfully, this has nothing to do with being backward or having a black skin color. Westerners themselves have many skeletons in their respective closets to this effect. But there is another kind of imposition on children, particularly on boys. If the father is successful, renowned or someone who is seen as a role model in the community, the son is also expected to grow up like him which can be taxing on his personality. Daughters don’t have this sort of burden so long as they succeed to land a husband with good social standing and confine themselves to the three Ks August Bebel described in German as “Kuche, Kirche, Kinder” meaning kitchen, church and children. Probably that is the reason that we still don’t see many women leaders in the Western world despite the much vaunted liberty and emancipation.Ironically, societies considered to be too conservative, backward, extremist or even barbaric produced female leaders long before the Western world. Remember Indira Ghandi of India, Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh, Corazon Aquino of Philippines and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia? At any rate, it’s not only the father who attains prominence due to his record in public service or valour as a military man or entrepreneurial skill or academic prowess that expects his son to be like him. The society itself expects nothing less of him. Whenever the son falls short of expectation, he will be reminded not to be a weakling and a disgrace to his family, particularly to his father. In short, he would find it difficult to be himself wherefore one remembers Sigmund Freud’s “A son can’t be a man until his father dies.” Without going into the nitty-gritty of what led Freud to arrive at such a drastic conclusion, it’s easy to observe how successful fathers can be overbearing and intimidating more than ordinary fathers thereby overshadowing the healthy growth of their sons. The late Irving Wallace, an American novelist, testified to this fact in his book ‘The Almighty’ by saying “It’s hard for big self-made men who have everything to consider their puny sons as their equals and to trust them.” To emphasize this point, I would cite one example closest to home. According to Mulugeta Lule in one of his articles on the defunct monthly Tobia or Lisaane Hizeb, the renowned Ethiopian, Tekle Hawariat Tekle Mariam deflated his son’s ego, Girmatchew Tekle Hawariat on his appointment as minister by sarcastically remarking “Your appointment will not solve Ethiopia’s problem.” Thankfully, Girmatchew was not daunted. On the contrary, he earned a name and fame for himself. Negadras Tessema Eshete too saw the rise of his own son, Yidenekatchew to renown before he died. Can we say the same about Tadele? Well, almost. On top of being a successful businessman, he is also gifted on public speaking, a trait he inherited from his forefathers. Despite their unsung patriotism and hard-work in their respective endeavor, there are/were/other fathers too who begat sons and successfully raised them to noble causes. To mention a few, Dr. Berhanu, son of Nega Bonger whose father is a leading Hotelier who rose to success from a humble means through hard work. Ato Andargatchew son of Ato Tsige whose father not only taught academics but conducted himself as an exemplary upright citizen to his students. Ato Neamin son of the late Commander Zelleke whose father is particularly remembered for transforming Assab, the then portal town of Ethiopia from a scorching desert to a romantic town most sought by visitors. What is remarkable about these fathers apart from their own achievements is that they have never been like ordinary, content and self-centered fathers who advise their children to concentrate on mediocrity by avoiding risks and sacrifices. Either they encouraged their sons or at least didn’t get in their way. Before I say kudos to all of them including Elias’s dad, Kifle Seifu, I would like to add about those famous and less famous fathers who succeeded on top of their own success to raise their daughters to prominence.

The first one is Professor Getatchew Haile who also had a shootout with the henchmen of a dictatorship. Unlike Ato Kifle, Prof. Getatchew had a showdown with Woyanne’s predecessor, Derg whereby he got wounded and confined to a wheelchair for a life. This, however, had never dampened his spirit. In addition to his own contribution both to the Ethiopian cause and academia, his daughter, Rebecca, whom I believe owe her success to him, published a book titled “Held at a distance; my rediscovery of Ethiopia.” Another one is an Ethiopian I used to know from a distance before I went into exile.Though, he is not widely known on a national scale, he had a good record in the agricultural sector where he served quietly most of his life. On top of his deceptive villager demeanor underneath an astute mind crowned with a PhD, he was known not to buckle for something he didn’t believe in. His name was Dr.Gualu Endegnanew. Recently, I learned happily that his daughter who is the spitting image of him succeeded by achieving the highest position in a field that is heavily dominated by men even in the Western world. She is the first Ethiopian to fly a big commercial airliner as pilot-in-command. Her name is Captain Amsale Gualu. These Ethiopians taught their kids by being there for them and by their own money earned by the sweat of their brow unlike our current rulers who steal from the public coffers to send their spoiled kids to fancy schools in a limousine accompanied by bodyguards. My point, therefore, is Elias’s choice of person of the year for 2010 unlike his rash and highly controversial choice in 2008-09, has a salutary effect on almost all of us. Personally, it made me refer to a very good article I read on BBC Focus on Africa magazine by a Ugandan-born Canadian journalist and freelance writer named Nam Kiwanuka. She began her piece which she titled “My fragile father figure” with how ‘like many African children, grew up in fear of her father hence one of his looks can be enough to send her running.’ Yet, despite her fear, she admired him greatly wherefore she bragged about him “My Dad can do push-ups with one hand; He’s better at Kung fu than Bruce Lee.”

As parting company with a good dose of humour is good to preserve our sanity, I would also like to share my own or rather my last brother’s bragging on account of our father. All of us used to brag, but my brother’s as he revealed it to us much later after we grew up is really funny. He was showing off our father’s travel experience to all the ‘important’ countries to his childhood friend. Since our father was sent twice to U.S in his Air Force years, obviously America came first. Trouble is his friend’s father had also been to the U.S as a civilian employee of Ethiopian Airlines. So my brother began calling all the countries my father visited including the ones he didn’t visit. His friend claimed that his father too had been in all those places. Finally, my brother recalled my father’s conversation while reminiscing about his training days in the Air Force. He just remembered the phrase that my father used to employ “when I was cadet” in Amharic. The direct translation into English sounds like ‘when I was in cadet’ which made my brother assume in his childhood brain that cadet was a country. So he said to his friend “My father had also visited cadet!” whereby his friend admitted that he never heard a country called ‘cadet’ let alone to know about his father traveling to one.

(The writer can be reached at [email protected])