Friday, November 28, 2008

Letter to my Imaginary Childhood Friend

Dear Nyamke,
I heard you just had a baby! how grande. I am almost welling up. To think that only a few years ago, we were standing under the big tree at the Legon bus stop, without a care in the world! Time really does fly, and it carries us along with it to far flung places and in a way, makes us become. I am writing to you because as you have probably figured out by now, no one teaches you how to be a parent but in the end, our children will judge us based on how we interact with them, and sometimes the world will judge us based on how our children turn out and so I plead that you tread carefully. I thought it also expedient to remind you of our days in elementary school, and how in those days there were two kinds of parents. The ones whose children wanted to show them off and the ones whose children wished they'd die. Children have a funny way of thinking don't they? Still, I ask that you be considerate of your children's feelings and their frail personalities. When you find your wife buying her first pair of mum jeans, give me a call! I beg you.

Will you promise me that you will be the parent that goes for Parent-Teacher Association (PTA) meetings? Be present at all the events. Don't listen to what s/he says about it not being a big deal. It is. It was for us, it will be for them. Be there for open day. Be there for the nativity play. Even if she's the donkey, show pride, when s/he brays. Show pride when s/he hee-haws, and even if s/he forgets that donkeys don't neigh, show pride when s/he neighs. She's only a child. At that age, it's cute. Enjoy it. Take note especially that I said you should show pride, as opposed to be proud. You need your child to know that you're proud of them. But do not embarrass your little one in the process. Do not be like that friend of ours whose father bellowed into the microphone..."That is my son, doing the high jump for section red...Kwabena jump jump jump, Kwabena jump jump jump". Kwabena had a tough time in secondary school because his friends didn't let him hear the last of it. hehe. Parents are often like hot pepper soup in the harmattan season. Either too hot or too cold. Never just right, but you can try. Oh, did i mention that you need to be there for those athletic games? Be proud of her for being part of it. No matter what we learn as we grow up, it's not about winning.

Nyamke, some people say that their duty is to be a parent, not their child's best friend. Are those two roles mutually exclusive? one wonders. As a parent, your duty is to guide. I'll be honest with you, Nyamke, because you knew me when I had bow-legs, you've seen me as I am, I can be honest with you. I don't see it so much as a duty as I think it is an honor. You get to guide your children, you get to teach them, correct them, affirm them...exciting stuff! One day, as I stood at the bus stop, waiting for a bus in Durham, NC, a man who was lame in one leg got off the bus. He looked like a hobo, i have to say with all the bells and whistles, you know what I mean...the raggedy clothes, the stubble and stench to boot. There were two children standing next to me. One was about ten, and the other closely following in age. When the man got off, one of the children started to titter. The other child, said to the one who had laughed in a stern disapproving tone, "It's not funny!" The laughter disappeared, and I was so proud of that child, I could have hugged her. I hope that your children turn out that way, Nyamke. You get to mold them, and teach them to respect people, to be good people. You’re a lucky s.o.b.

So by now it is clear that your job is not to be your child's worst critic. The rest of the world does that well enough. I don't think it needs much help from the parents. Let your children be children. Allow them to play, and learn. Allow them to not be the 1st in mathematics, general science, and music. As long as they are doing well, let well be good enough. Don't let best be the only spot they can occupy, for best is too narrow. Appreciate their other good points. Show them to be happy for their friends. I'm not advocating mediocrity, but I'll let you use your judgement. And oh, how could I forget! Please talk to them about sex. And talk to them early. Fifteen is too late, and don't be ambiguous when you talk to them. I'm not asking you to have "the talk" because hopefully, you will not be having just one talk. My hope is that it will be on ongoing dialogue about how they feel about boys, what sex is, as you encourage them to wait till they can negotiate safe sex before they venture. If you're religious, I suppose your reasons may be different but please talk about sex. Waiting for the day before your child heads off to high school to have a conversation about "bad girls and bad boys" isn't quite my idea of talking about sex. It's not that hard, Nyamke. I bet you and I could talk into the wee hours of the morning about these things. It's actually quite entertaining:)

I will end by asking that you let your children be themselves. If you can help it, don't let them become you. Not that you're not great. Your children are lucky to have you for their father, but they don't have to follow your footsteps exactly. Be there to give advice but let them be the ones to make the decisions and in all cases, be supportive. Be your child's biggest fan. Yes, Cambridge is dandy and I used to brag to my friends that my best friend goes to Cambridge but if they want to go to Legon, let them. In fact, let them be able to say they want to go to Legon. The Cambridge grads I know are no more competent than the legon grads who apply themselves. You know this! Your child doesn't have to be a doctor because you are one, Nyamke, and when they are old enough, your child doesn't have to marry a fine Nzema lass. Your child doesn't have to date only from "good homes" when we all know that what people mean by that has nothing to do with values and everything to do with social class. I stress this Nyamke, because you, like me, came from nothing. Where would we be if the the world had turned its back on us?

You know, i didn't realise how much i'd missed you until some okro mouth whispered the news of your new bundle of joy to me. Hmm, gossip, gossip, that same okro mouth told me that Gyekye also got married. It seems that Oper per per yaaa ma onyaa nye dEm bosombul yi* wonders! hehe. I will try to keep in touch more often. Say hello to the Mrs. I think of you often, always fondly.

* The part about Gyekye is in fanti and translates to: I heard that Gyekye (a girl friend of ours) got married. After her restlessness, and picking through the men as if to select the best, is this what she ended up with? This native god? Bosombuli is a sort of negative adjective which suggests the grotesque ugly depiction of the african man, as often seen in pictures from the slavery era.

1 comment:

  1. Thoughts of a SimpletonNovember 06, 2009 3:38 PM

    Brilliant. I thouroughly enjoyed that. I wish many parents could read this and encourage thier kids to be themselves. In fact, all people who end being Movers and Shakers - are those, whose parents nutured them to flow in their potential.

    I love it.