Sleeping really deep is one of my attributes, but only a man who was stone dead would have failed to wake up to the screams that pierced through my dreams that hot afternoon. I reluctantly but inquisitively dragged myself out of the house to find out what was going on, and my curiosity was only satisfied when I got to the source of the sleep-disrupting sounds. It was the home of the Ajabors, devout members of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, whose abode was less than a four-minute walk away from mine. (The proximity did not stop me from panting when I got there; weeks of binge eating had begun to take their toll). Mrs Ajabor was deeply engrossed in meting out discipline on Daniel her 12-year-old son with a thick long garden branch, with her husband looking on in a manner that suggested unreserved approval.
“Who has been teaching you all this rubbish, you this boy? I will take that demon out of you today”, said Mrs Ajabor as she let her instrument of correction descend on Daniel’s back and buttocks, the strokes rhyming with each syllable of her statement.
With all the politeness I could muster, I inquired from Mr. Ajabor what Daniel did to irk his mother, and the response left his lips in a tone that reeked of fury. According to him, Daniel had been spotted in class the previous day composing a love note to his Music teacher, who was simply known as Miss Joy. Joy, who had been temporarily assigned to the school for her service year, had then ordered Daniel to read out the one-page-long note to the hearing of the entire class, after which his parents were summoned by the Principal and urged to watch their son. That admonition had not gone down well with them, Mr. Ajabor said, and they had chosen this afternoon to bring their son back to the way he should go.
Having listened to them, I realized that there was no way I could really fault them for their decision, never mind the method. It was by no means an easy task to raise a child in this increasingly corrupt world of ours, and this conservative couple were only trying to train their son in the manner they knew best, an approach which worked for previous generations. However, I couldn’t help but pause to wonder whether these disciplinarians had never heard of the words “infatuation”, “crush”, or what I like to call “puppy passions”.
Whether we want to admit it or not, the “puppy passions” phase is one stage which many young males go through in the process of growing up. It is that phase where a young male who is yet to reach the age of voting, or criminal liability for murder, happens to develop feelings for a much older female, particularly one whom he is fairly acquainted with. Whether it’s that beautiful friend of his mum who somehow hasn’t managed to get married, that attractive woman at his uncle’s office, that senior member of his church choir, or that lady who’s currently on teaching practice in his school, he harbours feelings for this person, and thanks to what today’s media has exposed him to, he begins to mistake these feelings for love. I choose to coin this phrase for these said feelings because the growing adolescent in this case can be compared to a puppy, who is usually in search of affection, and who could be really adorable but whose antics shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
The “Puppy Passions” situation often begins with some sort of overwhelming admiration for this seemingly flawless female. It could be a case of “worshipping” her for her looks, charisma, warmth or her effortless efficiency at what she does, which isn’t wrong in itself. (I remember the butterflies I often felt in my secondary school days whenever that French teacher stepped into the classroom). It all becomes complicated when admiration grows into infatuation, and ultimately into obsession.
Puppy Passions could arise as a result of various reasons. It could be the absence or loss of an active female figure in the boy’s life (like a mother or elder sister), which causes him to channel his emotions to any woman who seems “available”. It could also be due to lack of attention from his parents who are probably too busy to monitor his emotional development as well as media influence on his psychology. Shyness and difficulty in mixing up with girls his age also play a part, as he tends to open up to the lady who gives him the slightest attention and bit of room for expression, never mind the gap between their respective dates of birth. Boredom and inactivity on the part of the little man get to be contributory factors as well; an idle mind serves as perfect accommodation for all kinds of thoughts.
What comes with this phase of emotional growth is that the little man so overwhelmed by “love” gets to do things and entertain thoughts he ordinarily wouldn’t have. He begins to call the object of his affection almost all the time, never minding whether he has to steal his father’s airtime to do so, and often has nothing exactly reasonable to say when he gets to be with her on the phone. His young mind devises all kinds of strategies to get within viewing distance of her, and if she happens to be married, he makes a silent enemy of her husband whom he would probably never meet. Serenading tracks play in his head, and he gets to dwell on all sorts of fantasies, wishing he were older, and latching unto erroneous interpretations of Hollywood movies like “American Pie” or “The Graduate”.
Deeply immersed in this state of delusion, he begins to mentally cite examples of celebrity hookups which involved wide age gaps, like the relationship between John Mayer and Jennifer Aniston (a 7-year age difference), the short-lived marriage between Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore (a 15-year age difference), and the brief romance between Ryan Gosling and Sandra Bullock (14-year age difference). While his wild imagination entertains a possibility of ending up with his crush, he is afraid to voice out his feelings for fear of sounding stupid, letting his immature actions do the talking. The interesting part about the situation is that the “crushee” gets to know of his feelings, as well as the fact that he is scared to let it out verbally. More often than not, the lad ends up hurting himself because he never gets to fulfil his fantasies, and he usually never gets to know if she even remotely felt the same way he did. It could all turn out differently though; some ladies get to really enjoy the attention, ride along, and if they are naughty enough, get to play cougar. There was this interesting case sometime last decade of an American schoolteacher who “positively responded” to her 14-year-old student’s crush on her, and enjoyed numerous trysts with him, until she got pregnant by him. (She was eventually charged with sexually assaulting a minor, sentenced to three years’ probation, and denied custody of her baby.)
The good aspect of this phase of a young man’s life is that the feelings ultimately fade away with time, logic overtakes emotion, and when the years roll by, he would sit back, reminisce and ask himself that question to which he would get no answer: “What was I thinking?” Things don’t always turn out that way however, sometimes this phase leaves unpleasant life-reaching effects on the little man. Depending on how the female responds to his infatuation with her, his emotions may be damaged from her refusal to return his “love”, and he may find it hard to sustain a romantic relationship (or even a platonic one) with the opposite sex in the future. This sometimes comes with an inability to get over the crush. (That pretty woman who worked at my uncle’s law firm still sails into my dreams from time to time.) Then again, there may be the tendency to prefer dating older ladies when he attains maturity. I don’t see age as much of a big deal when it comes to love, but it’s easier for such a young man to be dominated in relationships, to be clingy because he’s practically searching for a big sister in the girls he dates, and worse still, to become a gigolo if circumstances fling him in that direction.
It is easy for parents to panic and call for pastors or exorcists when a boy gets caught up in Puppy Passions, but it is not a spiritual attack, it’s all part of the growth process, and it is not difficult to deal with. Parents could help him shake off such thoughts by creating more time to bond with him, while paying attention to his emotional dispositions. They could also do well to let him mix and interact with girls of his age group, subject to the usual restrictions of course. It would also be helpful to get the child busy and keep him on his toes, probably by enrolling him into beneficial youth clubs and engaging him in activities that involve mental exertion. Another “repair strategy” is for the female in question to call his attention once she notices his disposition towards her, discuss gently with him so as not to hurt his feelings, and figure out how best to relate with him for as long as the feelings persist.
I wished I could explain all of this to the Ajabors as they set out to correct their “errant“ son. I also wanted to meet with Miss Joy; she must have been light in complexion, with warm giggles and graceful steps, the type that often got me drooling in my teenage years. I wanted to accost her and ask if she didn’t know of Daniel’s feelings all along, or if she didn’t actually enjoy the attention. There was however nothing I could summon courage to do at that point. All I could say was, “please take it easy, he’s still a small boy”, and from the screams that invaded my ears less than ten minutes after I returned to my abode, I could tell how well they received my plea.