Wednesday 23 June 2004

A father and son

In some ways, I have always had a strained if not difficult relationship with my father. Where we have tried to make up, it was always been marred by circumstantial issues that introduce new strains rather than reinforce newly established communications.
Last week, I read with some poignancy the stories of growth-up men who wrote about how they would have liked to have a better relationship with their fathers whilst they could when their fathers were alive.
Immediately, I though about what things I would like to say, share and chat to my father about my experiences, my decisions, my life and obviously share of those things that have happened in his over the last 14 or so years. I still have the advantage of him being around and should make good use of it.
Similarities that belie differences
Many years ago, I thought my father and I were radically different and opposite people, whilst that may be true of some instances, fundamentally we are peas of the same pod.
Being born of African parentage, we have more of a patriarchal society where age plays significance in earning respect, proffering wisdom and complete deference no matter who have been wronged.
In terms of similarities, we are both the first born of our families, we could be quite obstinate, stubborn and resolute, all of which yields to a sense of pragmatism when dealing with tough issues, that at times is a fault, when more of a sleight of tongue is required other than frankness.
In areas where I thought I was more humane, I suppose that is because he is fundamentally African, strict and probably too straight-laced and principled compared to my more liberal European outlook with a bit of the English gentleman affectation.
Being the patriarch of the family, he has a force of personality that could be domineering, his charitable work is legendary, he has helped lots of elders, peers, siblings, extended families and he principally has been a village chief in all but name, long before he was honoured as a chief.
I am in those areas no match, my absence from that African societal structure means I do not have the angst and agony of living under his shadow or the aspirations to embark on activities I am not entirely equipped for.
In many instances, he is a first amongst equals and first amongst many, a very courageous man being whose life has been shared by his influence on many probably to the detriment of a closer relationship with us his children.
Contrasting my parents with my paternal grandparents, it is amazing how religiously tolerant my grandparents were.
At times, it appears the people of my parent’s generation who were probably the first to be educated and educated to a high standard simply had their prejudices and superstition accentuated and reinforced - it is an observation that fetches true conversing with my cousins.
For a meeting of minds
My father’s status has meant he has been deprived of the source of good advice concerning many issues he has had to contend with. His elders generally deferred to him, his peers probably envied him and listened more to him than recommended much to his favour, the younger ones just never did chat back.
It has meant that critical issues have not had the kind of scrutiny to make objective assessments where necessary, he has however, fared well regardless, he could have fared better in other circumstances.
My long held view about my father’s core competence which I expressed to one of his protégés almost 10 years ago, only really filtered down to him just 2 years ago, and he ruefully expressed the absence of advice from people who could have been more helpful.
Then I said, "My father is a brilliant accountant, but I have my doubts about his business acumen", such commentary can only in a matter of frankness come from a son, I suppose.
What I seek
There are a number of areas where we are at variance and those issues becloud the core aspects of just being able to communicate freely.
My father is well into his second marriage, it is unlikely that at 38, I can be persuaded of the benefits of a life-changing experience like marriage and having kids, when in fact, this kind of enterprise should have been embarked upon probably 10 years ago.
Bless him, he even suggested arranging one for me, I have never so clearly rejected an offer from my father as I did that one offer, even he was quite taken aback.
The African psyche suggests you are only a responsible and settled man once you are married and begin to have kids, well, I suppose if I were living in Nigeria, the pressure would have been unbearable to respond to what everyone expects, regardless of if that is what you want for yourself.
Basically, in Nigeria, you live what society expects of you, not what you chart out for yourself, at times, you might be lucky that those views work together.
Another area is where he wants to me to adopt his patriarchal mantle, whilst I am given to a modicum of magnanimity my sphere of influence is mainly in Europe and not in Nigeria, I do not intend to postulate and pontificate on what people should be doing in Nigeria, having not been there for 14 years.
Also, in the 19 years that I lived in Nigeria, it was rarely acknowledged that I was a native; I was mainly referred to as the boy who was born abroad. In fact, I am the product of 2 radically different cultures and I try to exhibit the best of both.
Many a time, I have been persuaded to get involved in some business venture, it is something I just do not have the mind for, I core competence is in computing and understanding how Information Technology can be used to help a business grow, beyond that, I have no clear career goal to become a trader, a manufacturer, a builder or even a free mason.
Once we clear away all this stuff by agreeing that our separate desires may not been subject to the compromises necessary to see them through in favour of either party, we can move on to the father and son talk.
I am proud of you
These are words every son craves to hear from his father, however, I have gotten to a stage where I am no more driven by the desire to hear those words.
However, I have those same words to say to me father, I am immensely proud of my father for his achievements, his sense of humour, his many community building activities, his stoicism and more so, his desire to reach out in the end to establish a relationship I have desired.
When my father was honoured with a chieftaincy title (equivalent to a status of deputy king, or something along those lines) last year, I felt he was most deserving of it than all his peers, I recognised all the work he had done in modernising our village, raising its profile, helping the people unto greater things in life and so on.
In a country where any megalomaniac with just 2 coins to rub together could acquire a chieftaincy title for a price, my father’s was a worthy honour bestowed out of gratitude and recognition for the work he had done over the years. I am glad that in those little windows of opportunity I have had to chat to him, I clearly recognised that honour to him.
Finally, we live in a world where many get estranged from their parents for so many reasons, causative or circumstantial, we however do not have centuries of life to live to be able to continue holding grudges for another one day, these people were once part of our lives by reason of their being our parents, they represent our roots, our pedigree and the source that creates our future.
If we can get nothing off our parents regardless of their failings, in the many areas where they have tried to be as good as they can be; that is not to say that some parents are not downright rotten, we should for once seek their blessings in many of our endeavours.
Blessings not in the sense that they have to vet what we do, but in the sense that they encourage and promote everything that helps make us just that much better at whatever we embark upon.
There is where I want to be with my father.

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