A test of character and accountability

From out of the blue, I got a call from a proprietress, asking that I be a guest-speaker at a retreat for teenagers. She told me, that she got my number from my past Youth Speak Column, in The Guardian. Even though she praised me for writing well, I countered it by telling her that I was still a rookie.

When I invite guests for TV shows, I prefer those who ask me about topics to be discussed in advance so they can prepare but not questions I intend to ask them on set. Asking for questions before the interview makes the chat mechanical during taping of shows. Some guests, even after asking to see questions, besiege me with requests not to deviate from the questions line-by-line. Such chats become dull and boring without the latitude to weave a tapestry into the discussion as I deem fit when inspired.

So thereto I went with the topic in mind. My two fellow discussants (a lady and a gentleman) were highly religious. I didn’t expect them to talk less about the topic which was on ‘childhood sexual abuse and its effect on the future of children.’ They must have been highly recommended. They told the teenagers that they would go to Hell if they engaged in the tricks of the flesh before marriage. How they must flee from members of the opposite gender. They had very good intentions but the delivery wasn’t apt. The children couldn’t relate to them. I saw it reflected in their body language. All they ended up achieving was pontificating. Not one student asked either speaker questions in the end.

I was the last speaker. I decided not to tow that line. Children relate to you when you are willing to divulge your own past weaknesses. To be human. Something you are comfortable to share to teach lessons without acting like you are ‘Mr Perfect’. After all “Everyone has a sermon within him or her, a secret scripture, the story of own life as he alone knows it. It doesn’t have to be published to be important.”‬

An elder must live in a way that directs the lives of children appropriately.‬ I told the children that they were lucky to have a retreat organised in their honour and that I did not have that privilege at their age. I informed them that in our day, no-one counselled us on the career paths to take in life. We were only sent to the counsellor when we did something bad in school. I knew the counsellor’s office I confessed, but I was neither sent there nor did I ever seek counsel on my own accord.‬ That we became what we are today occurred by happenstance. I mentioned that but for a sudden job loss, where an official vehicle was withdrawn from me with guile, a day before the company went under, leading me to look inward – that I never knew I could wield a pen until close to two scores of my life.

If only I knew when I was in my teens. Their time for discovery is now. Unlike in our day I said, when we hardly saw sensual scenes on terrestrial television. Television channels today don’t have content anymore but for religious programmes would have been out of business. The reason they show cartoons where people neck unlike the unadulterated action-packed cartoons, such as Voltron, Thunderbird and Thundersub vitrined in my era.

This is why TV houses show movies with once-in-a-while steamy scenes at dawn, noon and dusk when children can happen onto them instead of at midnight because of the lack of standard occasioned by the absence of a monitoring agency to call TV owners to order.‬ I told these children that it was more dangerous to be a child today than in my day. That society sexualizes our children at parties, where children must dance touching their Holy Temple to be egged on by adults. That the name of God is used with profanity at comedy shows and musicians singing debauched songs with no meaning save for rhythm are called legends and are on Wikipedia but not intellectuals.

I informed them that in our societies, women must dress in a loose manner, and that it is called fashion. That most first-born girl-children breed for different men while remaining in their girl-hood homes and it is called culture despite the scourge of veneral diseases including HIV/AIDS. That in religious homes now, what matters is the heart, they say, and not what you wear even when such dress goes against spiritual order. I informed them that our society has made it fashionable in their time to have relationships with members of the opposite gender and paying the requisite rent. And that it was abnormal for them not to be a member of the sexual gang. Introspection, solitude, reading on the hill, and moving alone in sobriety which are important for character-building in their time aren’t novelties to be indulged.

In our day, we weren’t quick with our hands encircling ladies, but it is okay in their time. In our time, ladies visited us with someone in tow, and they wore impossibly tight jeans; not now. That ladies never visited us at night the way they do now. When they visited, doors were opened not closed. And we never hung around in the dark. I told them, that they may have made mistakes and that I wasn’t there to judge them but they must accept responsibility for their lives and change their ways without passing the buck.

When I stopped to catch my breath, almost everyone wanted to ask me questions. Some were gutsy enough to ask me if I engaged in the tricks of the flesh in my teens and my major regrets. I evaded telling them when but told them I regretted doing it when I did because I didn’t marry the said lady and what we did was not only demeaning but was a fraud.

I told them that my major regret included being overly-conscious of myself in senior high school when I whetted my eyes unnecessarily and my performance in internal examinations dropped.

The reason they must not allow any wayward person cross the Rubicon from morality to immorality. I told them to respect their parents no matter the circumstance they find themselves in. That I am aware most parents are losing the moral vision to lead especially in homes where men are out of jobs and women have become pater familias. And they must never take advantage of that to be loose sexual canons to fill the gap. I informed them to take family seriously, never to do anything outside family, not to compare other families to theirs because those families equally have their own hidden baggage. And that there is nothing like a ‘perfect family’ anywhere in the world.
• Abah, wrote Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

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