The Book of Proverbs, chapter 31 and verse 10 began with a fundamental question: “who can find a virtuous woman?” and after asking this fundamental sociological question, the scripture immediately takes the search out of the realm of materialism: “for her price is far above rubies.” And in the rest of the twenty-one verses, the Bible then delivers a heuristic treatise to accommodate any and all cultural peculiarities of the type of woman that will fit this scriptural designation. I can say, with the clarity delivered by experience and hindsight, that I found that virtuous woman, and I found her in this lady and my wife of about thirty-four years, Olufunlola Modupe Olaopa (nee Ogunmoyela). So, in celebrating her and our marriage, I am equally adding a specific cultural and experiential configuration of a unique woman who essentially embodies the very values that defines the virtuosity of the woman in Proverbs, chapter 31. In this woman, who is not without her own peculiar weaknesses, as with all humans, I mean to celebrate Christian womanhood.
And I seem to have a very drab way of giving vent to my loving feelings. For instance, a number of friends, including her, have tried to inculcate in me, their considered sense of the romantic means by which one ought to pay loving compliments to one’s wife. Indeed, many consider my attempt at intellectual narratives of issues of the heart like this as “unromantic.” Unfortunately, I do not think I have the capacity to affect loving in the ways that my friends have attempted to tutor me at different times. I suspect my wife has accepted me as I am. I am therefore free to pursue my sense of the romantic or, if you will, the intellectual need for understanding.
It is however important that I state my bias on marriage given my upbringing, values and Christian orientation upfront. For me, every testimony and gratitude on marital success or seeming bliss, is concession to the grace of God; to significant commitment of both parties that the union is of value and deserve their sacrifice and investment thereto; to luck that the unthinkable don’t feature in the union; and to positive mental attitude to whatever ingrained ‘imperfections’ in the marriage. In other words, every marriage contends with some ‘demons’ or what apostle Paul calls the thorn in the flesh. So, marriages that succeed have some thorns in what many perceive to be beds of roses. I would therefore not recommend my marriage as the model to anyone nor brag that it’s succeeded. As it’s said, the road to perfection is always under construction. But I have a grateful heart, that recognizes what it all would have been like for us, but for grace, mercy and the force of the never shaking foundation of upbringing, character, molding and of the shower of grace from He that is able to keep from falling.
When two individuals therefore commence the marital journey, it is often, as what Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, regarded as a leap of faith. This simply means that both do not have the epistemic idea of where they would land when the journey commenced. I can only thank Providence that, in retrospect, my marriage has turned out the way it is, molded by the furnace of fiery experience, existential agonies and the joy of the Lord that passeth all understanding. As my wife has now turned out, I see in her the very essence of womanhood and of virtue. She is my own representation of the good women from the bible and all through history; from Sarah to Mother Theresa.
A son is supposed to be the sociocultural reflection of what he has learnt from his father. In spite irreducible virtues my father impacted in me, I had been extremely determined, from my formative years, not to replicate his being a polygamist, which indeed was a defining tradition of his time. He of course did his best to manage all the unsavory experiences that often characterize a polygamous family. Nonetheless, there were so many missing links that not only made polygamy culturally approved but psychologically unpalatable, but also led to my resolve early in life to forge a different path. I consider myself an African, but I concede that my cultural leanings have been qualitatively affected by my Christian and western affectations.
I had very grand theories and imaginations about marriage before I met Funlola. I have read of great marriages in the bible and in history. I have read biographies and autobiographies of successful and failed marriages. I have also been experientially involved in the marriage examples of those very close to me. Thus, I gave serious considerations to the idea of who I want my wife to be, and how I want her trajectory to unravel. However, when we eventually met and the marriage became a reality, I had to revise a lot of my future aspiration for her. I have a very good example handy. When we met, my wife was about earning a bachelor degree in education. Such a degree resonates with my very high regard for the wife of my late uncle, Chief Alfred Olaopa, who was a renowned teacher at St. Anne’s, Ibadan. I shared my deep fascination with Funlola, and how I certainly desired that her career path will replicate the great successes of my uncle’s wife, especially as I saw in her a professional teacher in the making. My wife’s retort carried the rationalization of existing reality, and especially the reality of a teacher’s wage and reputation at that point in Nigerian history. That led to our joint resolve to let God determine how that future will turn out.
And that was a wise resolve because the structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s not only undermined the institutional and structural resilience of the Nigerian state, but also equally recalibrated individuals’ future prospects. My wife and I, as well as million others, were left to yield to the existential imperative of making ends meet. Both of us finally found ourselves in the federal civil service, which we thought would be only a stopgap while we await our true career calling. But by some providential dynamic, the civil service was to become our lifelong career and professional vocation. Funlola ended up as an educational administrator, rather than a teacher, with the allowance to also monitor the growth and development of the children at the home front.
Marriage for us was the collision and collusion of similar background and cultural knowledge that instigated some measure of chemistry. This was what further enabled the functional success of the relationship even in the face of daunting challenges that confront most homes too. Our parents infused in us the omolúwàbí values that was founded on the strength of the good name and reputation on which our training and education was grounded—“remember the child of whom you are.” Our marriage, and the upbringing of our children, was therefore (and still is) circumscribed by the values of tolerance and forbearance, even of each other’s excesses and weaknesses. So, our relationship from the beginning was marked by our readiness to make critical sacrifices and to eschew the Christian virtue of longsuffering in order to keep our good names and to inculcate some significant values in our children while earning their respect.
Our relationship constitutes, as far as I am concerned, a strong framework of how iron can sharpen iron, in scriptural terms. For instance, I rate my wife to be a better Christian, in its religiosity, than I am. In other words, I am more of an intellectually-minded Christian whose faith is rooted more in the knowledge and experience of the faithfulness of God. Her strong disciplinarian character, matching her fastidious orderliness eventually came to complement my own relatively disorganized nature. The children therefore were given the opportunity of learning from the utility of two complementary forces.
Would I in any sense consider my wife a feminist? Now, this is an interesting question that enables me to draw deep into the essence of the woman that my wife has turned out to be. The feminist ideals seem to now define the fundamental nature of the contemporary woman. Social discourses ring with the outspoken voices of women who speak out against patriarchal oppression and the urgency of achieving gender equality. I doubt that my wife fits into this feminist mold. James Faust once said, and I suspect my wife will agree, that “Femininity is part of the God-given divinity within each of you. It is your incomparable power and influence to do good. You can, through your supernal gifts, bless the lives of children, women, and men.” My wife’s femininity has blossom in ways—emotional, intellectual, biological, spiritual, relational and professional—that yield a rounded womanhood which I and my children, as well as others, have benefitted from. Within the privileges and challenges she was confronted with, that womanhood has unraveled to define her as a unique woman molded by existential suffering but girded by Christian faith and cultural knowledge. I even surmise that all patriarchal arrogance will tremble before the sturdy oak of womanhood that Funlola represents.
Olufunlola Modupe Olaopa—my wonderful wife of more than thirty-four years of marriage—is a wonder of a woman. She is a woman of uncompromising integrity founded on the fear of God and unstinting respect for others. She is a woman who will undergo the meanest of sacrifices, indeed someone who will give up everything, to gain her home. She has over and again shunned the compromises and the lures of status and of her professional office in order that the name of Christ, and those of her family, be not denigrated. You can only regard Funlola as being foolish only in her unquestioning devotion to the Christian faith, her home and the need to stay focused on the only achievement that matters, after all earthly successes have been accounted for: a place in eternity with the Almighty.
That is the woman I celebrate and project as model of a woman to emulate. I am very proud to be the husband of a woman whose very resilience I can count as a foundational element in the making of my life and our children.
Prof. Tunji Olaopa
Retired Federal Permanent Secretary
& Directing Staff, National Institute
For Policy and Strategic Studies
(NIPSS), Kuru, Jos