Yoruba actor and Nollywood star, Olaniyi Afonja, popularly known as ‘Sanyeri’ shares his fatherhood experience with EMMANUEL OJO
What does fatherhood mean to you?
Fatherhood means being the head of the home, a husband to a wife, a father to children and fulfilling the obligations and responsibilities that are due to a man to his wife and children.
How old were you when you became a father?
I got married when I was 31 years old and I have been married since 2007.
Were you particular about the sex of your first child?
There’s no gender that’s not a child but I had a male child as my first child.
Did you have family or social pressure to become a father?
All parents want their children to settle down on time. The parents’ intention might not be seen in a good light by the child but they (parents) believe that children come with good fortunes and all that’s required to take care of them (the children) come with it from heaven. Parents usually want something good for their children but if a man considers that if he takes that step to start a family, he won’t be able to meet up with the responsibilities, it’s best for him to apply wisdom in managing the pressure coming from the parents till he feels he’s capable of starting a family.
I’m not saying that it’s compulsory for one to be rich before he gets married but one should have a job and God will bless the works of his hands but for someone who doesn’t have a job or handiwork and expects that God will make things work out for him, it’s not that God cannot make it work out, but the person hasn’t done it the right way.
If one wants to build a house, at least, he will have to buy land first. The first thing for a man is to have a job at hand. It’s after having a job, when the man has attained financial independence, that he can consider taking a wife and children will follow. As the responsibilities keep increasing, God can through that also increase his finance and source of income and make him more stable and he will live a comfortable life. That’s my opinion.
How did you feel when your first child arrived?
There’s nothing so special about one having a first child. For someone who needs a child and has a wife, when God gives them the gift of the first child, they will be happy and full of Joy and the person will see himself as one blessed and it will be the beginning of goodness. Children are gifts and those that receive them should be grateful.
Did you give your wife some form of assistance while she was pregnant?
Fatherhood does not translate to the fact that one should stop doing things he does. If one decides to stop behaving the way he used to because he now has children, what gives one the assurance that the nemesis won’t catch up with the children in the future for the things he has done in the past. As I said before, it depends on one’s priority. If your children are your priority, you will do everything within your power to ensure that they are successful. Before I got married and had children, I didn’t have the habit of drinking alcohol and doing shady deals. So, there’s nothing I did in the past that fatherhood prevents me from doing now.
Are there values from your dad that you would like to pass to your children?
We have different experiences based on our various backgrounds. In the family where I was born, divorce is not encouraged. My mother and father were always together. We have ‘Iya Niyi’ and ‘Baba Niyi’. The example they have set for me is that I can’t decide to tell my wife that I’m done with the marriage because my father never set such an example for me.
The Bible said we should raise our children in the way that they will give us peace. If they act wrongly, I call them to order. In Nigeria, one can afford to beat a child but it is not allowed abroad. To call a child to order abroad, one must have a way of talking to them and all that. Sometimes words hurt more than beating the child. There are many ways one can correct a child especially abroad. The culture there holds that you cannot beat a child but at least, we can talk to them and there’s no way the words will hurt them to the extent that there will be physical marks on their body that the authorities there will accuse you of child abuse. But sometimes, it’s the parents that offend the children and sometimes, we have to be the ones to apologise to them when we inconvenience them.
Do you also assist with chores at home?
I pray that God won’t let anyone suffer from any sickness. I am meant to carry out my roles at home and my wife is expected to also carry out her roles at home as well but at times when she is down and she is not able to do all that is expected of her and I know that it is quite unusual of her, I am obliged to cover up for her and vice versa. In a case where she is sick and children have to eat, I have to take up the responsibility of cooking. The only thing is that she will just guide me through it. For instance, if I have to cook rice, she might have to give me the cooking guide, like telling me how long the water will boil, when to add the rice and all that. Somehow, I have to help her cover up in her role because we are both in love.
Your job requires that you move from location to location. How do you spend time with your family?
I am a very busy person due to my kind of job. I am not a tailor or a housekeeper. My job requires moving from one place to another because the location can be anywhere. When I am at home, we don’t need phones to talk to each other but when I go to a location, I call my wife at least three times daily to know what the situation is at home because if they are not fine at home, I can’t be fine where I am. This is because my family is my priority. There’s a place for work and there’s also a place for family. The job must not affect the family and vice versa.
Do you think any of your children are as funny as you are?
Well, you know that one can be talented without knowing that they haven’t discovered it. So, what they are likely going to be good at can be observed through what catches their interest because it’s something that I have also gone through before. One cannot buy a talent for a child. It’s God’s gift. If it’s in him, there are ways that God reveals it that this is the path that the child will go through. It can be discovered through what they like. Some want their children to be doctors, lawyers and engineers but the children might grow up not liking those fields. I might say that I want my children to be this and that but if God says that it is through their talents that they will become great, then that’s it.
When I was young, I never saw myself as a comedian but I noticed that when we watched stage dramas at school, I enjoyed it specially. I enjoyed watching stage plays but I never knew that I had the talent. Later, I started making little comedies and people told my mum that I should be an actor. They only laughed about it but my mum never knew that it was a talent that could give me a breakthrough and they never knew that I would eventually become an actor. When I was in secondary school, on my way home, instead of greeting the adults I met on the way, I usually challenged them by asking, “Can’t you greet Alhaji?” It was something very funny to them and they reported to my mum and advised that I join a theatre group. One day, one of my friends that was into performing arts advised me to take up acting and took me to a theatre group and that was how it all started for me.
Are any of your children aspiring to have a career like yours?
My children don’t have interest at the moment but I don’t know about tomorrow, whether the story will change.
Do they watch the movies you star in?
Yes, they do, sometimes.
What’s usually their reaction?
Sometime in the past, when my first son watched some roles I played alongside Odunlade Adekola, he said to me, “Daddy, I hate this man (Odunlade).” When I asked him why, he said, “It’s because he (Odunlade) beats you.” I told him never to mind but just watch. Sometimes, I let him know that that’s what brings food to the table. That was actually the extent to which he understood it then. He thought we were actually having a real fight. He didn’t understand that we were just acting.
How old is your first son?
He is 15 years old now.
Do they also call you Sanyeri or other nicknames at home?
They can’t call me Sanyeri because I’m their dad. They know that it’s the name of the character in the movie.
How do you correct them when they go wrong?
I correct them but I’m usually not harsh on them and that’s because I’m usually not always at home with them. I can’t get too harsh on them for the little time I spend at home. Even if their mum shouts at them, I shouldn’t do the same so that the both of us won’t be harsh on them. I have to play the role of reconciling them back and letting them know that what they did was wrong.
If I was the one they offended, and I beat them, their mum also tries to reconcile them back and try to restrict me from letting it get too far. It’s also preferred that the mother should be the one disciplining them than the father because women are usually more compassionate than men, especially when they remember what they went through before having the child.
Are you bothered about raising your kids in the western culture?
God created everyone and every race in the world but anywhere one finds himself, he has to blend with the way of life. In the western culture, children are not disciplined that much when they go wrong but in Yoruba land where I was born and raised, we discipline children when they go wrong. Apart from the discipline, the culture and lifestyle is also important. When my children see me in the morning, they prostrate to greet me. It’s the culture of our land that when a father and child meet in the morning, the child prostrates for the father.
Do you also uphold that culture when you are abroad with them?
Yes. That’s what we have been taught and have taught them, so, they are used to it. It’s a different thing when we are on a video call but physically, they have to (prostrate). I did the same to my parents and the Bible says that one should train up his child so that the child will give him peace.
There was a video on social media that showed your children speaking with foreign accents. How do you feel when you hear them with that accent?
Well, we can’t blame them because we took them there (abroad). For the fact that they live abroad, they will have that accent but if they say something that I don’t understand, I tell them to say it in Yoruba.
Do they also understand Yoruba very well?
Yes, they understand Yoruba well but they are not very fluent.
What can you say has been your biggest challenge as a father?
There has really not been any big challenge. The things we go through as parents are normal and life is such that no matter what we are going through, either good or bad, we have to stay strong and go through it. There is nothing that has happened to one person that hasn’t happened to another before. Life has its ups and downs.
What are the legacies you want to leave behind for your children?
There’s no legacy one wants to leave behind that’s better than a good upbringing for the children. The things one teaches the children when he is alive are the values they will hold for life and those are the values they will remember one for in the future and also pass on to their children. If one builds houses and buys cars, such things degenerate with time. Even if I build houses in Nigeria and they decide that they won’t come to Nigeria to live in those houses, there’s nothing I can do about that. If one buys a new car or builds a new house, for instance, in 20 years, it would have gone out of fashion and style. The most important legacy is a good upbringing.