Sustainable Fatherhood with Oji JajaSunday, June 20, 2021
“The heart of a father is the masterpiece of nature.” – Antoine Francois Prevost
Oji Jaja, a father and primary parent of two boys, encapsulates the essence and responsibility of fatherhood thus: “Fatherhood means that I have an opportunity to be a part of the formative years of life. I have the opportunity to be an example or model which in turn makes me a better person. Akili is 11 and Mahari is 7. It's interesting how different, yet alike, they are.”
A skill every man should teach his child
American chef, restaurateur, food activist and farm-to-table pioneer Alice Waters firmly advocated for the education of children through the creation of gardens. Her Edible Schoolyard Project is a garden at the Martin Luther King Jr Middle School which, as per its “Mission & Goals”, aims “to create and sustain an organic garden landscape…[it] involves students in all aspects of farming in the garden and preparing, serving and eating food as a means of awakening their senses and encouraging awareness and appreciation of the transformative values of nourishment, community and stewardship of the land”. As Chef Waters aptly puts it, “Teaching kids how to feed themselves and how to live in a community responsibly is the centre of an education.” It is in this spirit that Oji took up the mantle to teach his boys to not only be gardeners but also to live sustainable lives as well-rounded, fully educated human beings, global citizens and nurturers of nature.
Chef Jaja has cultivated two outdoor classrooms wherein he imparts critical transformative values: His backyard in Kingston and the Jaja family farm in rural Jamaica. Oji shares, “We have been teaching the boys about gardening and farming for quite some time now. They have accompanied me to the farm on several occasions and we even do some backyard gardening which they are a part of. They understand where their food comes from and the importance of cultivating enough not just for themselves but for others.”
It's written in The Talmud: “When you teach your son, you teach your son's son.” This of course applies to daughters as well. The Jajas are living testimony that the imparting of generational wisdom is critical to familial success. The family's farm was bequeathed from father to daughter and now shared and managed by mother and son. Chef Jaja explains, “Our farm is managed by my mother and me. It was given to her by her father and was sitting idle for a while after he died. Every so often, I would go and visit and check on it until we decided to rehabilitate it. My grandfather was a farmer and so are many other members of my family. I love the idea of harvesting and converting what has been harvested into interesting meals. For example, we got quite a bit of green banana from the farm and were contemplating what to do with it, so we made banana gnocchi which turned out to be amazing! It's a magical feeling to pick a fruit and eat it directly from a tree. So many children do not know where their food comes from or how it is grown. I feel privileged to be able to share these experiences with my children.”
There's a quote attributed to “Light of Mine” that reads, “Sustainable development is the masterful balance of meeting our own needs without jeopardising future generations' ability to do the same.” This piece of wisdom reinforces the need for fathers to join Oji in teaching their children about Nature's very own nature and the role that we all must play in its preservation.
Oji says, “Everything comes from the earth and goes back to the earth. It is important that our children understand the cycle of life and the role we all play in maintaining the balance. I know that sounds like Lion King, but it is true. Children need to know the soil and what it can do; they need to understand plants and the nutritional value of them. The best way to do that is have them grow things that they like and care for so that they can reap the rewards…I strongly believe that Jamaica's success is going to be heavily dependent on our ability to farm in a sustainable way…My vision for the next generation is that we take the many resources we have as a country and capitalise on them…I see us developing highly efficient farms that are organised and sustainable so as a country we can feed not only ourselves but our neighbours.”
Motivational speaker Fela Durotoye said, “Real fathers make a positive impact on their generation and so give the next generation the advantage of a better nation to live in.” The Bible, as reflected in our own national anthem says “where there is no vision the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he”. Accordingly, one can comfortably say that the law of fatherhood states that men have a duty to not only be present but also to consciously parent their children by equipping them with the rudiments of life, a positive vision of the future and the skills to appropriately navigate.
As posited by former American President Barack Obama, a phenomenal father himself, “it's the courage to raise a child that makes you a father”. As written by Robert Backman, “Father is the noblest title a man can be given. It is more than a biological role. It signifies a patriarch, a leader, a confidant, a teacher, a hero, a friend.”
To all of the Rock's courageous fathers, to our male exemplars, confidants, teachers and heroes, we salute you! Happy Father's Day!
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