Monday 17 February 2014

Thought Picnic: My world, their world

All drama and histrionics
Now for the real reason behind this blog, it was inspired by a video I watched on Pa Ikhide’s Facebook page.
A boy decided to play a prank on his father clearly identifying the idiosyncrasies of people of that generation. Typically, a Nigerian parent reacting to some failings of their heretofore precious brood.
In this event, the boy of 16 announces to his father that he has impregnated his 14-year old Caucasian girlfriend and a flare up ensues.
Now, this video was the boy playing a prank on his father, as we laugh we must realise that there is a majority of cases where this is no laughing matter but the reality of an unfortunate set of choices that presage dire consequences for that child.
I failed woefully
I have a story much similar to this, and I hope this with other interesting narratives that the video represents about parents, their children, their expectations, their disappointments, our mistakes, their reactions and the usually contemporaneous bleak prospects.
The background to this story has been written in this other blog.
Having learnt that I failed again, and there was no option for re-doing the course after repeating the class, there was just no way I could return home to face my parents; I had betrayed their trust, squandered their investment and rubbished their expectations of me.
A typical Nigerian household
That is the kind of atmosphere we are brought up in, we are to excel and do our parents proud, we are constantly challenged to improve beyond ourselves, under serious scrutiny of incessant comparison with our betters at everything and in fearful juxtaposition with uncles, aunties, relations, friends and examples of those who have failed.
The trepidation is palpable and yet, I was never under pressure to excel academically from my parents, I was a problem child of a different sort, secretive and defiled through the sexual exploitation of those who were trusted to care for me, there were things I never discussed with my parents and even today have still not brought up, but have shaped many aspects of my life.
Begging and pleading
After a week of going missing, mother in desperation had sent people out to various haunts until word got to me and the friends sheltering me. I had to face the music and deal with the consequences of my situation.
My friend took me back home, my father who had begun a second career as a farmer had returned to Lagos that week too. At first, he would not let me in the house, but after much begging and pleading, prostrating and much else; a kind of grovelling subservience I had never really grown accustomed to, he relented.
Not like my father
Upstairs, he began with his own success stories, and indeed, my father was a brilliant accountant, a successful professional, in the upper tier of adulation of his peers, and he could begin to question whether I was his son having not taken after him.
I was useless, stupid, an idiot, a failure and to make the point more strongly, I was only good for the farm and we were to leave in the morning for the farm, I had no other prospect after that.
The more forgiving aspect of this encounter was no corporal punishment, no threats of sleeping in a police cell or the order that I sleep on the floor rather than in my room in my own bed, but the future looked bleak, very bleak indeed.
You’re off to the farm
That night, I prayed so hard, I probably prayed all night because I was at my wit’s end, and though I have been once suicidal at 13, I have had the grace of hope in the storm since then to know that whatever situation I find myself in, was just a matter of course.
When the morning dawned, I had not even spoken to my mother since I returned, but she left a message, with my sister. “If your father attempts to carry out the threat to take you to the farm, leave the house and come to my school.”
It was close to 10:00AM when my father said, “Akin, pack your things and get ready to go the farm.” I got 30 kobo from my sister, snuck out of the house and went to see my mother. She sequestered me with a teacher from her school for 4 months.
Rebuilding from scratch
In that time, I began to think of what I needed to do with my life, it was good fortune that at times I visited an aunt – aunts and uncles can be extended relations in Nigeria. I was related to her husband, I think 4th cousins.
She invited me to stay with them, my uncle who had seen failure in trying to pass his secondary school finals for years reminded me of a meeting he had with my dad when we returned from the UK.
My dad had promised him £10 if he passed his examinations, and though the promise is still owing, my uncle passed, qualified as a chartered insurer in the UK, became a fellow of the professional bodies both in Nigeria and the UK, was an examiner for the institute and reached the pinnacle of one of the longest established insurance companies in Nigeria.
Mentored by one who once failed
However, it took one man understanding failure to take my failure in the eyes of my parents and whoever else had a stake in who I was to put me on the path to rebuilding my life. I returned to school after, excelled, started a career in computing and did many significant things within 4 years of that personal catastrophe.
Sometimes I wonder if part of the estrangement from my family is related to this, I have forgiven as much as I can, but forgetting what is significantly part of my life and my story is a much harder job. And much as the reaction of my father might have given place to what my life eventually became, this kind of reaction of Nigerian parents to their failed or failing kids is all too common.
The many disappointments we’ve been
Failing at school, getting pregnant, taking religion, getting involved in gangs, engaging in vice, acting outside unwritten but societally constituted norms like not getting married, not having children being homosexual; these are all drivers for apoplectic rage, repudiation, overreaction, histrionics, rash decisions and regrettable outcomes.
In my next blog, I would deal with the many narratives that the video above signifies of parental reaction to children with problems.

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