Monday 24 December 2018

The journey to identity goes further than the many destinations you travel to

The journey to identity is personal
I have just watched the documentary Black Sheep that has been shortlisted for an Academy Award in the short film category, about the quest for identity of a young black man in England of mixed African parentage, the actions the parents took, and the journey travelled by one of the children who followed.
The blog I have written is not a review of the film, rather it illustrates how journeys to destinations to live are different from journeys to a settled identity.
We as children embarked on many journeys with our parents to many places to live, to adapt, to school and by that been influenced by situations and circumstances in the home and our wider communities.
However, much as we have followed, it is unlikely that our parents have followed us in the journey of knowing who we really are. In my own case, my father has always had the presumption that we have the same identity and are would eventually be driven by the same passions, nothing could be further from the truth.
Marked as different
He never embarked on my own personal journey of discovery, for the idea that Nigeria is my home bears no reality to my circumstances. Despite the accident of fortune that had me born in England and spending much of my childhood into adulthood in Nigeria, I was never accepted as a Nigerian.
It was not in the way I looked, for in that, I was no different from any other Nigerian, but the moment I began to speak, my accent betrayed a foreignness that cast me as another, from somewhere else and that changed the way people interacted with me.
To those who knew me, they knew I was born abroad, not steeped in the customs and essentials of our tribal and societal strictures, so, I was excused, forgiven and may be excluded because I was not one of them. I was caught in a flux of identity between where I was born and defined by it and where my parents were born and alien to it. In that, my mother tongue was English and that was different from my mother’s tongue which is Yoruba.
Environments and influences
Parents have great determination, in terms of the provisions and opportunities they, if they have the means, put in the way of their children. Mine was of privilege in my primary education and the ease that was put into my life, but it did not spare me from other issues that attempted to cripple the joys of childhood, our once nuclear family infused with characters and characteristics that created negative experiences that leave a black spot in the childhood story.
For secondary school, they determined, I needed to be toughened up, whilst experiencing some cultural affinity with our clan. I was sent away for months to live with relations and then to boarding school. My first term was horrific and a terrible experience for my mates who were woken every night by my recitation of Psalm 23 because I thought and believed I was seeing ghosts.
As a bedwetter too, that was seen as weakness rather than what we now know as having psychological underpinnings that we eventually work through either by grace or good fortune.
I got resilience
Then, rather than recognise some of the turmoil I was going through, I was considered too slow by my father and my mother thought I gave away my things to curry favour. Everything or situation had a pearl of wisdom they are conceived in their minds was the cause to which they made what they thought was adequate provision.
Yet, somewhere in our lives, we had gathered tools and coping mechanisms that have given us resilience and strength to overcome crises after crises.
The question, “What is the matter with you?” was rarely asked in genuine concern for welfare or wellbeing, rather it was spat out in disdain, criticism and condemnation because one was not measuring up to an expected standard. It is possible that my memory fails me, but if I can recall outright praise, it had little impact.
How do you talk about clinical depression?
It all came crashing down after I left secondary school. The first two schools I attended after for a total of 4 years yielded nothing, I was asked to withdraw twice, and it was not because I was a dunce, I just did not know why I was in a class on certain days. With hindsight, these were times of clinical depression, the signs my mother in her religiosity would have thought required more prayer and ritual and the patriarch just saw as a weakling in his firstborn.
No, parents can never embark on that journey of personal discovery of their children, they can only facilitate, provide opportunities and paths. Most importantly, have an ear to listen to a cry, because children still cry, cry for help, cry to be heard, cry to be lifted, cry to be accepted. I fear parents lose that listening ear sometimes much too early for the benefit of the child.
I had no one to talk to about what I was going through, I needed professional help, but I was failing son fit to be taught a lesson of life so that I would sit up and begin to take responsibility. I smile today because I have been given the good fortune to make stories of the dark times of my life.
I love who I am
I was never on a quest to get an identity, that journey was always one of discovery, realisation and acceptance. Too many influences have interacted with my personality towards understanding and loving who I am. I embody many characteristics of my parents’ personalities and some that are uniquely mine.
I love who I am now, I accept who I am and live who I am for who I am, and all this would be radically different from who or what my parents would have expected me to be. I am a product of influences, circumstances and environments of fate, fortune and force, none of which I choose to repudiate.
When asked, I am an Englishman of Nigerian parentage, that is a settled matter. There is a long story to tell, because, in one conversation with my father, he said, “You have always thought like a westerner.” I am still deconstructing that platitude, for it is deep.
I recognise that this might read like an unfinished blog, this is because as I was writing I realised there are many strands to the story, too long for a blog and better put in the context of a book, whenever I get to write it. I have also written on this in other blogs from other perspectives.

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