In My Son's Corner
WHY I HAVE WRITTEN THIS BOOK
I had no intention of writing about a topic so dear to my heart, but my son caught me off guard when he suggested, just before turning 20, that I write a book about how he was raised. Apparently, he thought that the task had been done and dusted.
Wondering what he had in mind, I enquired, “Who is the target audience? Your friends?”
“No. Not my friends. I thought you would write it for parents.”
I was taken aback. Up until then, I’d suspected he thought he could have had a better crack at fatherhood than I did. After a heated encounter in his early teens, I caught him writing a few pages on what fatherhood should look like.
And he didn’t inspire much confidence when a girl in his Year 8 class presented him a perfect opportunity. A family friend overheard her daughter tell my son, “I wish your dad was my dad.”
She missed her father who had recently left home after separating from her mother.
My son was quick to state, “If my dad was your dad, you would do maths during summer holidays!”
“Yeah, you would,” he declared from experience.
I hoped I hadn’t given him the impression that parenting him was the execution of a well-thought-out plan. Instead, it largely entailed responding to his evolving needs. So, his temperament was in the driving seat, and my love for him and evolving wisdom provided the sign posts.
My son was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, and arrived in London two months after his first birthday. His battle for life could have been fought anywhere, each place presenting different dynamics. Raising him in London was incomparable to doing so anywhere else. The global city, adopted home to almost every race and nationality, exposed him to every imaginable culture.
His mother came to join the NHS, and I was drawn to the vast IT industry. We thought the work and life experience would be priceless. Nothing prepared us for the challenges of simultaneously raising a black boy in Greater London.
I spent more time with him in his formative years than his mother, as NHS duty called. We didn’t realise the price he paid for this until one evening, aged six, he confronted her, “Where are you going?”
“Work, work, work. You’re always going to work! Just tell your boss you quit!”
It was fortunate that at least one of us didn’t do shift work. It enabled me to play a bigger parenting role than I would have under different circumstances.
No book could ever hold a complete account of how he was raised; contrary to his belief, the task will never be complete. This book is a selection of the major factors I responded to.
ON E : I N T RODUC T ION
Going back in time and piecing together the highs and lows of fatherhood was not too difficult. Every event had been mentally catalogued and internally indexed by place, emotion, sound, smell, and countless other attributes.
The smell of dust could trigger a replay of a three-legged race at a Year 2 sports day that my son and his friend, Rio, had effortlessly won. I can still feel the discomfort of getting excited for him while aiding a helpless mother console one of his less agile friends.
How fast time has flown! Nineteen years packed with unforgettable firsts and lasts. I had narrowed down fatherhood to three primary roles: provider, protector, and teacher. But it turned out there were many more hats to wear.
I was a permanent presence in his corner of life’s boxing ring. Much as I would have liked to fight for him and even shield him, only he could engage in the battle for his life. Experience enabled me to provide timely and honest feedback, some of which he took on board. But at times it took a knockdown for him to see sense.
I was also the relay race forerunner who passed the baton on to release him to run his own race. Most of our disagreements turned out to be centred on the timing of the passing of the baton. He thought he was ready to run even before he could walk.
My son grew up in the age of truth buffets, a time when the majority only consumed what was palatable to their tastes. Every other person had become adept at directing the spotlight on snippets of the truth while keeping the rest in the dark. So, halftruths us ually eclipsed the whole truth.
Facts played second fiddle to what the influential either endorsed or wanted to believe. Information pyramids could be overturned to publish insights drawn from data yet to be gathered.
Before elections, truth was what the electorate expected, and immediately afterwards it changed to what the elected wanted the electorate to believe.
Historical commentary couldn’t be taken for granted. The colonial era was at times depicted as a crusade of mercy, while Africa was generally portrayed as a place where time stood still to watch the rest of the world progress.
Conflicting conclusions could be drawn from the same facts. For instance, there were different schools of thought on why a disproportionately high number of black boys in England and Wales were (and still are) in prison.
The dilemma was where and when to start setting the record straight. We were already playing catch-up to a misinformation machinery that had had quite a head start.
Although only he could tell his own story with any credibility, there was no shortage of volunteers eager to teach him who he was. But he soon learned that even the animal kingdom narrated its own story.
Law of the jungle
Africa’s wildlife programmes intrigued him from the very first time we watched one together. He found the animal kingdom transparent, with no hidden agendas, except in long grass or darkness when predators were on the prowl. It introduced him to the law of the jungle – survival of the fittest.
Every type of animal is uniquely equipped to perfect the art of survival. Living to see another day is only one part of the story. The complete picture includes the flourishing of every kind, with every member playing a significant part.
He noticed the jungle was in constant flux and renewal, forever pruning itself of vulnerabilities. So, lagging behind its pace of change rarely went unpunished.
Boundaries, physical and virtual, overlapped, with every type of animal observing its own. Power was the currency of choice to settle territorial disputes.
He came to understand that, contrary to history, the law of the jungle established the world order and the food chain hierarchy. And Africa was one of the many hunting grounds that had been secured by military might.
While animal conservation and wildlife programme makers adopted a policy of non-interference, the same courtesy was not extended to the custodians of the continent’s wildlife, who were forced to follow in the footsteps of Europe in terms of culture, language, and religion. It was tantamount to training the highly social African wild dogs to adopt the solitary lifestyle of foxes.
He concluded that the world order wasn’t as it should be largely because Africa had been diverted off its natural course.
We instilled in him the notion that he was not obliged to take anything at face value and urged him to constantly sieve details for truth. There was no room for indifference.
A one-dimensional view of anything can distort the truth. The onus was, therefore, on him to look for all the angles.
David Livingstone’s exploration of Africa was a good case in point. History has hardly mentioned the African hospitality without which Livingstone wouldn’t have been able to venture into the unknown. He was welcomed as a guest and given guides to significant sites such as the Mosi-oa-Tunya, which he renamed the Victoria Falls.
Also understated was the people’s ability to quickly learn foreign languages. But this unsung skill opened channels of communication, facilitated negotiations and enabled Livingstone to teach.
He thought that this explained why most of Africa is multilingual. Most people are fluent in at least two African languages and one European language. This compelled him to question what is ordinarily taken on face value.
Open days at school and college revealed that my son was actively engaged in his classes. At a parents’ evening at college, a teacher’s initial remarks were “Your son is different from most students. He won’t accept anything that hasn’t been explained to his satisfaction. I prepare lessons with him in mind. He is one of my favourite students.”
Though it didn’t always translate into improved grades, we were pleased with his preparedness to probe.