Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Sexual Education and Parental Naivety

Unforgiveable parental naivety
This would naturally be a taboo topic, but thinking this afternoon, my mind wandered off to a distant past of my childhood where I concluded that by the age of 10, I knew a good deal about sex without having received any sex education, at least from a formal perspective.
This issue of parental naivety is still rife, the feeling that good sexual mores is acquired by some osmotic transference from a nondescript place. The way parents play with childhood innocence with the view of keeping their wards ignorant of the basics about sex can at best be criminal.
You have to wonder
For instance, the only time my sexual organs were examined by any parent was when I think I was 8, my father was checking if my balls had descended, I was however clueless about what he intended, it might well have been concerns about my development having been a pre-term baby.
Yet, unknown to either parent, I had already had my first sexual experience at 7 and was growing in the knowledge of it through those years. I remember going through a dictionary and looking up every word that began with sex-, which included sexagenarian, sextant, sexual and sexy. A form of titillation of the mind for my age.
Has any parent even wondered, what does my child at their age know about sex?
Enlightenment is protection
The truth is, my parents never discussed sex with me, the first time that subject came up was after our house-girl had been raped by our driver, the enquiry of who might have been responsible for her pregnancy asking if I was responsible. I was mortified, the thought just never crossed my mind, but the sad narrative here is that many parents get to talk about sex with their children the first time, usually after the consequences of bad, risky or unsafe sex have become impossible to ignore.
Just imagine if by the age of 5 I had been told, if anyone touched me in a funny place, I should scream and run to a responsible adult to report my ordeal. I doubt many parents broach that subject out of fear, ignorance, foreboding or hope that everything is fine, when things are not.
Teach or they’ll be taught
The truth is if you do not take on the onerous responsibility to teach your child about sex, sex abuse and the way paedophiles gain sexual favours of unwittingly innocent children, your child would get their lessons from people, places and circumstances you have no control of and you not hear a pip about it for years because the abuser would have put in threats and dares that would prevent your child from running straight over to you.
In the end, you as a parent would ultimately responsible for the ignorance is bliss approach to the sexual education of your child, whilst the poor child is already recruited as a pleasure unit of the abuser, terrified into silence and damaged for life.
You have to decide how you manage this subject, what you cannot do is pretend it is not important, moralise about bad influences and then down the line threaten hell, hell and brimstone on the child has not done what should have been done long before you found yourself caring for a mental illness, treating an incurable sexually transmitted disease or holding an unexpected grandchild.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Thought Picnic: On growing into being at ease with everything

Understanding me
With time I have grown to understand that I am a child of privilege, the privilege of my place of birth, the privilege of my early education, the privilege of having parents who exuded professional confidence in the choice of career and the progression it took in their professional lives, the privilege of not needing to belong when there was the pressure to belong, the privilege of knowing, understanding and accepting who I am, the privilege of having horizons only limited by my ability to dream or imagine.
In having this privilege, it does not mean I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth, we were not a moneyed or rich class, but we had sufficiency and contentment, I saw in my parents a steady ambition without greed, a healthy bearing of self-respect, a commanding confidence in leadership, the ability to adapt to many situations and relate to people in different walks of life.
Fixing on the positive
It did not make my parents perfect, they had their numerous flaws, part of the privilege of my upbringing included appreciating value and discarding the dispensible; as a preacher once said, to have the sense of an old cow by eating the hay and leaving the baling wire.
Altogether, these examples have helped me adopt an outlook and mindset that allows me to thrive in many settings in which I have found myself. To accept the many privileges, I have without repudiation and guilt, recognising there are many not as fortunate as I have been and seeking ways to help others rise above the limitations imposed by the absence of privilege or opportunity to realise any of their potential.
Glad to help
Where I can, I provide means, hopefully, I can show some example, in some cases, I offer guidance and to some, I have been honoured with the opportunity to mentor. If I seek any reward, it is to see whoever I have engaged thrive and succeed, whether they better my achievements is usually up to their innate abilities and good fortune, I will celebrate and herald them, for it redounds to my joy.
In view of this, I am thinking of ways in which I have help people be first at ease with themselves and who they are without shame or self-deprecation, then be at ease with any place or situation they might find themselves to be able to express themselves clearly, with confidence, polish and assuredness.
Working on the foundations
Know that they can fit in, by merit, by ability and by achievement with every means to find opportunity, gain favour, have others see potential in them that can take them to new ground. Maybe there is a way to teach presence whilst understated, bearing, class and sophistication without putting on airs or having delusions of grandeur.
To find ways of being the best representative of yourself with simple adjustments and accoutrements, by so presenting the version of yourself without having to struggle to maintain the standards you have created for yourself in having principles, integrity and poise.
An identity crisis
In watching 'How to Break Into the Elite' on BBC Two last week, I realised how many having much academic achievement still found it difficult to access elite professional opportunities because whilst their qualifications might have taken to interviews, they rarely clinched the jobs due to other subjective elements of their person, personality, expression or conduct.
Their backgrounds, identity, schooling or absence of example of how to access these places then thrive in those environments appeared to dog their efforts and probably there is no finishing school that can properly inculcate the necessary mien and mores to give them a fighting chance. [BBC iPlayer]
Starting somewhere
The little touches matter, like the effortless knowledge of the basic social codes of appearance, language and comportment, these things appear to carry much significance in getting access, getting ahead and getting noticed. For some, it comes naturally, for others, they need to have a place where they observe, appreciate, learn and exercise how it opens doors of interest, engagement, recognition and help.
This is an area where I hope I can begin to give back in gratitude for the good fortune and privileges I have had.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

My keynote address to FEGO Class of 98

I was invited to give a keynote address to the Federal Government College Odogbolu, Class of 98 on the general topics of Alumni, Networking, Life and Purpose. After a few light jokes on how I was surreptitiously co-opted into this activity, I began my address.
This cohort of successful people are entering middle-age, in mid-career, raising families and would face challenges ahead, I suppose there was a view that I could share some of my life experiences to help them avoid mid-life crises and attend to healthy life choices.
It was an honour to meet the Class of 98 and I wish them Godspeed.
My lead-in
FEGO Class of 98, you graduated in the Silver Jubilee of the founding of your school, quite auspicious.
My history with Odogbolu is somewhat long and interesting. In January 1976, we were living in Kaduna when my parents had this crazy idea of sending me to a secondary school to be imbibed in Yoruba culture, close to where they were born, Ijesha-Ijebu.
Baptist Academy, Mayflower School, Odogbolu Grammar School, Remo Secondary School (RSS), I can’t remember the school I attended the common entrance examination for in Ibadan, but did I have a life of privilege? I flew in from Kaduna, there was someone to pick me up and take care of me for the duration of my visit.
I don’t know why I was not put forward to any of the unity schools even though I realise there were opportunities for those. I guess my primary school environment in Jos and Kaduna was a disadvantage to my getting integrated into Nigeria. The schools were international with a high percentage of Europeans, Chinese and Japanese, I wasn’t really growing into a Nigerian per se.
Odogbolu Grammar School and Remo Secondary School offered me admission, I took the latter because the former’s campus bordered on a graveyard, I had the strangest things happen to me at 10 and that was my decision.
Two years ago, my nephew was admitted at the Federal Government College Odogbolu (FEGO) at the age of 9, a year after, his brother with whom he shares the same birthday, but two years apart joined him. They are probably the youngest of their year group in the school; just as I was in primary school and then in secondary school.
I find it strange that I am giving an address to an alumni association because, whilst I made a few friends at RSS, my memories of the 5 years I spent there are not ones I cherish that much. We had to be street smart even as we were different because of our accents, we were bedwetters; then it was thought a weakness than something psychological, there was the occasional bully and the use of collective punishment was rife. Thankfully, the core of individuality, inquisitiveness and lack of fear for the person could not be beaten out of me.
Apart from on Facebook, I have no enduring friends from RSS Class of 81, I met up with old school mates from my primary school after 41 years in 2016, I still have friends from Lacostech, YabaTech where no one believed I was 16 when I was admitted and the Federal Polytechnic Ilaro, where on my first day there I met up with a junior from secondary who was in his final year, whilst I was starting afresh.
Have your purpose
Considering the good fortune and opportunities I had from birth through secondary school, the 4 years after secondary school I was in two polytechnics and ended up with nothing, my third trial as something in travail and raw experience had widened my perspective to what I could achieve, I was no more haunted by my past or the fear for the future, I just determined that by 35, I would be able to stand with my peers unashamed of what I had done in my life. I began seeing good results already at 24.
Do something radical
In 2000, just after the Millennium bug issue, I was having problems getting a new job, I was attending interviews, getting good reviews but not getting any offers. A mentor advised me to chat to an occupational psychotherapist. He concluded I was suffering a mid-life crisis 10 years early. His advice, consider a career change, maybe go back to school, or even emigrate to another country.
I took the hint, started looking for opportunities in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. Meanwhile, I got a job in the UK and, on a day, off, I flew out to the Netherlands for an interview, got that job and 13 years of life in Holland.
Have a plan, do things in the interim, but don’t lose your focus and don’t be distracted.
Embrace youthful aspirations
When I was about to buy an apartment in Amsterdam, the first thing I did was ask the estate agent to feel my hands, she said, they are soft. Indeed, I retorted, I don’t do DIY, I want a place I don’t need to do anything to and please complete the deal in 6 weeks. She did.
The couple I bought my home from was in their mid-70s, they had lived in Eindhoven for 25 years, they could easily have lived out the rest of their days there, but they bought an apartment in Amsterdam off the plan and came to live in Amsterdam for almost 4 years. During which time, she became the chairman of the homeowners association.
Then they considered, because of their age, they needed a place where they could have better care, they sold up in Amsterdam for a healthy profit and bought a riverside residential care apartment in Arnhem. I still always wish I can make decisions like that whatever age I am.
Then, I have an uncle, he was and still is the playful adult in my life, someone I can chat to about anything. I can be utterly irreverent, but always respectful. He was one of the foremost insurers in Nigeria, a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Insurers and an examiner for the council.
In the space of a few years, he lost his car a couple of times to armed robbers, so he decided to move to the UK and is settled here. He called me one day and said he wanted to go back to school to study Petroleum Engineering. I asked if he was going for a master’s programme, he said he was applying for a bachelor’s degree.
Obviously, I thought he was too distinguished for that somewhat lowly pursuit, but he expressed such humility in his decision to pursue that endeavour.
He was already 60, he tells me, the course was one of the hardest he ever attended. He had failed many examinations in adolescent into adulthood that my father on returning from the UK, promised him £10 if he passed. That £10 debt is still a running debt in our conversations.
He stood out throughout the course, the older man, wise from a world of experience in C-suite jobs, students and faculty were always seeking his viewpoint on many things. At graduation, he had been gravely ill and was recuperating. The university arranged to pick him up from the hospital to attend his graduation. When his name was called along with citations, he got a standing ovation.
Such can never happen, if you are not ready to embrace your youth and youthful aspirations; do something new, assess yourself against your aspirations rather than against others, believe in yourself even if no other believes in you and never let your failures in life define you today or in your future.
Recently, on the radio I heard Isabelle Allende who was asked, “How do you fall in love at 76?” She answered, “Like 26, only with a little more urgency.”
Identity is a construct
I have a keen sense of my identity, I am an Englishman of Nigerian heritage. How I came to that idea of who I am was when I lived in the Netherlands. I had to answer the question of where I am originally from.
I was born in England, I grew up in England and Nigeria, then lived in the Netherlands for almost 13 years. Why am I not Nigerian? I was like everyone else until my accent betrayed me. To so many, I was the child born abroad, I wasn’t entirely accepted in Nigeria.
My mother tongue is English, but my mother’s tongue is Yoruba – I am proud to say even as an Aje-butter, I speak Yoruba to a very good standard, my Hausa, however, needs some work, I was in the North only until 1977.
Identity is a construct of influences, many good, some bad and a few you need to discard of completely. Accept who you are, don’t let anyone question the legitimate version of you.
On an Uber ride last week, the driver was telling me about his extraordinarily brilliant nephew who had excellent results for A-levels but could not make it through Oxbridge interviews to gain admission. I knew what the problem was, much had gone into academic achievement but very little into identity and personality development, the poor chap was cowed by the environment.
Community is good, but you also need to interact with the wider society, have a sense of confidence; completely different from arrogance, a healthy self-esteem; completely different from being an impostor, the ability to express yourself clearly; completely different from being loud and vulgar.
When I returned to the UK from Nigeria in 1990, I already had a good sense of who I was, my blackness was always part of me, anyone who had an issue with it, it was their problem, not mine. I also had a good sense of history. So, when someone trying to offensively racist said to me, 100 years ago I would have shot you, I was immediately able to respond, 200 years ago, I would have eaten you.
Be a sleeping dog, but be ready to bite when kicked, probably take the leg off, if you must.
Let the best influences of culture, of beliefs, of location, of friendships, of communication, of reading, and of learning define who you are in personality, in expression, in empathy, in humanity and in the pursuit of happiness.
Your health is wealth
10 years ago, what appeared to be athletes’ foot had become painful and was beginning to weep. At the back of my mind, I thought it was serious but was willing it away. A residual element of my religious upbringing was interfering with my sense of reasoning. Things about faith, miracles and so on.
Then, I decided to visit my GP, she had one look at the sole of my foot and said, ‘this looks serious, I need to refer you.’ The first reference 2 days later led to another 4 days later because of the intervening weekend.
The professor came to examine me and said, you can’t go home, we have a bed for you upstairs. That is how my treatment for cancer started. I did not realise how serious it was until the 8th day in the hospital when the professor came around to tell me. “We can treat this, but it depends on how your body can take the treatment; if you can, you’ll be fine, else you probably have 5 weeks.” 5 weeks!
I was 18 days in hospital and then 5 months of gruelling chemotherapy, sometimes, I couldn’t keep my food down for days.
Because of cancer, I lost everything, status, wealth, my home of 10 and a half years, prospects, but I did not lose hope and definitely not the will to live.
Part of my life education had been the ability to let go of things, not let things have a hold on me and because of that, I have been able to go on to new things, do new things, think new things, achieve new things and prosper in life, despite old things of the past, because they pass and in the process, you are given a better story. In the process of letting go, I realised that an open hand is one that is ready to receive.
Consider your health, go for scheduled and regular check-ups, I have a better idea of my health situation than my medical notes can provide. I have been fortunate to be treated as an intelligent patient even though with hindsight I have been foolish.
One identity construct that has helped me get the best outcomes for my health and treatment was my telling two professors of medicine, “It is my body first before it is your guinea-pig.”
They listened and backed down on the intrusive course of discomfort they had planned to take.
These are some key points from my address.
·         Don’t be afraid of failure, be afraid of never trying.
o    I have failed at many things; the lessons have become part of my world of experience.
o    I say, do it, rather than regret not doing it at all.
·         An opportunity once lost can be regained after a temporary setback.
o    I have had many setbacks, but never entirely lost opportunities.
·         Accept your vulnerabilities, they are part of your humanity.
o    I needed therapy and when I went for therapy, it helped me and enriched the therapist too.
·         Embrace change and be prepared for it in every area of your life, because if you hate change, you’ll hate irrelevance even more.
o    I have not survived 31 years in IT being stagnant, I have had to continually adapt and improve. I have been a self-employed contractor since 1995.
·         Learn to rest, learn to play, find time for yourself and do new things.
o    And suddenly, I found this liking for classical music, travel calms me down. I love quirky things.
·         The greatest thing you can pass down is example; an example of contentment which isn’t the lack of ambition, an example of resilience that you never fold in adversity, an example of empathy - walking a long hard mile in the shoes of another before you dare assume you know better.
o    I would probably not inherit much from my parents, but these are things that have stood the test of time.
·         Everyone has a story, you can tell yours too.
o    In the ordinariness of our lives, when you begin to count your blessings, you realise how extraordinary your life has been.
In closing
In speaking to this alumni association gathering, it is 21 years since you left FEGO. I hope it is more than the fact that you attended school together that has brought you here. I hope there is a friendliness that goes beyond acquaintance, a love that is deeper than mere concern, an engagement that ensures that no one of you falls to the ground, a brotherliness/sisterliness that means each one of you has another to whom you can go to for advice, direction and even admonition.
Yes, you can gather to laugh and play, but there must be times when you would have spoken the truth so frankly and without equivocation, we all need some tough talk along with the support to see it through. We cannot afford to be ashamed amongst true friends.
FEGO Class of 1998 – I commend you, live well, live strong, live long and live happily.
Thank you.

Wednesday, 24 July 2019

Boris Johnson: I do not believe this Moses can part the #Brexit Red Sea

The man – Boris Johnson
By the force of sheer ambition and ingrained public-school entitlement, Boris Johnson is on the cusp of becoming the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He must be congratulated for this achievement, but it is at an inauspicious time.
Boris Johnson has both a record and form, his history is littered with gaffes and buffoonery, the tack of playing the court jester whilst executing the dastardly, he does not have the best references from many of those he worked for, but we are where we are now.
I was distressed but not full of despair when it was announced that he had been elected the leader of the Tory Party, the position was his to lose, for he does offer some sort of star power and to those easily distracted, you could be fooled for how Machiavellian he could be.
We need more than hope
Listening to his victory speech yesterday, I could notice no hint of sincerity in what he said apart from fulfilling the righteousness of seemingly saying the right things. We are as a country and conglomerate of nations facing crossroads of what future is ahead of us, we all, knowing how this country has stagnated since the Brexit vote of June 2016.
We all need a dose of optimism, but it cannot be realised by ignoring the stark realities this all portends. I would be the first to tell you that when I finally accepted I had cancer, just under 10 years ago, I knew I would survive it, but I still had to face the reality ahead of me, I didn’t even know that treatment I would get would work.
It was 5 gruelling months of chemotherapy, 4 types of pain medication, enough to quieten the pain, yet with that little bit of pain that proved I was still alive. Optimism and hope alone was not enough, as my consultant said to me if I did not respond well to the treatment, I had just 5 weeks to live.
What kind of Moses is he?
For all the optimism and hope that Boris Johnson suggests we need to get Brexit realised, there are some tough obstacles ahead about negotiating deals and assuring a future for this country and its people. We cannot just proceed on jingoism, bluster, rhetoric and gallons of intoxicating hope towards the sunlit uplands that are figments of an inebriated and overactive vivid imagination, there are jobs at risk, lives in the balance, futures in turmoil and other unintended consequences.
Leadership in the case of Brexit would be like us being brought like the Israelites of old to The Red Sea, the question is if indeed, the one who has brought thus far is the Moses with the rod to part the Red Sea or a charlatan about to drown the nation having convinced us we can swim like dolphins to the other side.
The UK is at its most combustible. And now it’s led by a man who plays with matches.” Aditya Chakrabortty in the Guardian today. [Guardian]
We will continue to oppose Brexit
I earnestly believe Brexit is not the right path for the UK at this time. Nations use the heft of bloc, trading, political, military and economic to exact deals and this has been the case for decades already. A good example is us calling on Europe to help police the Gulf shipping when the US apparently refused to help us out. Ireland has the heft of the EU-27 behind it and so commands much more clout in the EU negotiations than the UK can alone.
I will put my support behind parties that support revoking Article 50, we would not be a silent minority in terms of where our nation is going. We belong here and we patriotic, and if patriotism needs to be redefined, it is the love of the fatherland, it does not automatically include the love of the government, their agenda or policies, we all need to be persuaded and convinced and if we are not, we are no less citizens and have no less a say in how we are governed.
In the end, I can only wish Boris Johnson a successful premiership, he will be opposed for as long as we can muster the support to do so if we believe he is taking us for a ride. There is a time to know when a course leads to perdition and someone should take that decision to turn back from ruin.

Friday, 12 July 2019

Just for the asking

We have been put to the test,
At the drawbridges of Fortress West,
Where a gatekeeper says lest,
The invited returns not to their nest,
They cannot, for now, be a guest,
For reasons that we must contest,
And quite vehemently protest,
Though our means are modest,
Our aims are completely honest,
Once more we find we must wrest,
To show our very best,
Against policies that do suggest,
We can’t be better than the rest,
On this, we are really pressed,
As it must well be stressed,
That what was then professed,
And would like to be redressed
At the point that it’s again addressed,
Is the leave granted to the quest,
To enter freely unsuppressed,
To be trusted wholly as possessed,
Of good character duly manifest,
To act as agreed and expressed,
And depart without arrest,
When due as one did truly attest,
We stand the readiest,
To leave you all impressed,
It is just a simple request,
A visit as if you haven’t guessed.