At the beginning of every school session, when I was about to leave the house, my dad always gave me the same advice: Don’t join bad gangs, remember the son of who you are. He must have struggled with goodbyes.
My parents raised us to be respectful, good, religious and better than them. This meant the best education they could afford, plus “tough” love and a whole lot of church to keep us focused. But every time they sent us to school, there was always the risk of losing us to the big world of bad gangs.
And lose me, they did.
Many Nigerian families I know are like mine: conservative, with closed cultural and religious values. Yoruba parents think every other group is a red flag. Christian parents think everything is a sin. My parents weren’t overly strict, but they were conservative enough that once I changed my values, it created a rift between us and even my siblings.
I vaguely remember enjoying a lot of religious things as a child; but from my first term in boarding school, I started to change. I saw, for the first time, that the world was bigger. There were more songs than Christian songs; other books than the Bible and Left Behind; there was porn! Problem is, these things are the “bad gangs” you’re supposed to avoid and so I couldn’t take them home with me. Every holiday, when I went back home, I pretty much left myself in school. Eventually, I even stopped wanting to go back.
We’re all products of our experiences, and so are my parents. I don’t have a lot of context into why they’re this way or why they chose religion as the cultural glue for their family, but it wasn’t the best choice. There was no room for anything else that conflicted with Jesus.
My parents did a good job of giving me a better, fuller life (which is why I can be critiquing their life choices now), but one thing I’ve never wrapped my head around is: how do you send a child into the world to get a better life and expect them to come back the same?
Fast forward many years and my family was in this limbo state where my mum was literally the only reason we kept in touch. She forced us to be in touch, but over time it got tiring. I also didn’t want to be pestered into caring for my family either. In an ideal world, I just want to be friends with my family. It wasn’t happening naturally for me because I’d lost the connection. So, this year, I started to try.
Reconnecting our family was definitely off to a tough headstart, not only because of the many years of an unpleasant marriage but also because Jesus was the glue and someone threw it away. In the end, what matters most is to be present. I forced myself to remember, to call, to reply Whatsapp messages, to be available, to create new shared experiences. After a while, it stops feeling forced.
I think it’s a misconception that a family is a special group of people with whom you’re supposed to have a magical connection. As with every relationship, it never gets better by wishing it was different. It only does by putting in the work.
More often these days, I unburden my parents, my brother and I talk about life plans, my sister and I talk about stuff, we have regular family retreats, we do lunch. We’re better friends now.
My family is still closed out to the details of my life, but that’s okay. There’s a new connection to nurture and that’s what matters. Ope still doesn’t go to church, but now he remembers to set up lunch. At least, that’s a good start.