Story of He (and Me)


I'm up late editing my father's memoirs. It's 300 pages long and I'm less than half way through, knee deep in red ink and white-out, a dog-eared copy of Strunk & White at my side. My eyes are starting to swim a little bit, so I thought I'd blog for a little diversion.

My dad's life is a real page turner. The middle son of a fisherman, he was kept out of school in order to work on my grandma's farm and grandpa's fishing boat off the Nigerian-Cameroonian coastline.

By all statistics, in his own estimation, my father should never have survived the brutal conditions in his village and on the Atlantic. He was born in a goat shed, not a hospital; suffered dangerous skin infections searching barefoot for mushrooms in the woods; ran into a cluster of beehives up a palm tree and fell down to the ground; endured several machete injuries, one of which was nearly fatal; and survived a night alone at sea, at the age of 13, when his canoe drifted far off the shore and could've capsized, leaving him to the sharks.

And all the while, no education, but an unspoken desire for freedom from conscription into his father's fishing enterprise or the priesthood.

I'm finding out all kinds of things I never knew, like how he hadn't been in a classroom until he was 24-years-old -- the age I am now -- studying for his GED. He worked hard, and went on to earn his Bachelor's, Master's, and doctoral degrees, granting me the paradoxical entitlement to eschew all thoughts of Ph.Deeding myself.

I always say that there's more to be gained in one year of authentic living than four years of schooling could ever teach. But my father's story certainly makes a compelling case for the power of education.

What I love most about my dad's book is his sociopolitical commentary; it helps me to understand myself better, why I always probe a bit deeper than the surface of things. But where we differ is in the nature of our struggles: his primarily physical, social, and economic; and mine, resulting from his positive efforts to stabilize our family life, are mostly psychological, social, and vocational.

I don't think of myself as bound by the same duties and obligations that my father was, charged with setting our family on a firm foundation. Instead, I think of my parents as providing the steppingstone from which I jump to new heights and levels of attainment. I'm hoping that my kids too, someday, will have a strong understanding of the ground that was laid for them, but feel free from the shackles of obligation.

Like me, I want them to fly.

1 comments:

{ evadburns } | August 26, 2009 at 10:35 PM said...

Wow....very moving. Just saw your blog and I am in LOVE...exceptionally aspirational and inspirational.

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