A letter to my parents, and all African parents,
Well, the aim of this letter is to be pleasing and to say thank you; some people who know me, will know that I’m not particularly keen on writing about myself in the confessional vein, much as I like and appreciate other people doing so; it’s something that has been brought home to me more recently by the cultural trend of effusive praise for parents on father and mothers day respectively, particularly, (or at least more noticeably, in the Afrosphere) – especially because I often find that the praise seems to belie or deny the often deep generational conflicts many of our cultures seem to have nowadays, and the nuances difficulty and pleasures that any real human connection entails. Nevertheless, they are also brave, kind and spirited acknowledgements of human love and care in the family, the form of love we know from the Greeks as Storge and Agape – so, despite the fact that I missed the chance to say so during the two days this year, I am taking the chance to do so now, and also suggest that we might start a new tradition of parents day (22nd December to January 22nd, obvs. marked as part of this whole festive season) – that marks the role that both parties play in the coming through of a person, and to celebrate the mutuality of the gift of life, which is to say the child is a gift to the parents, and honours a home by coming into it, and likewise, once grown, (unless ya really hate life) the parents have given life as a gift to the spirit of the child. So, all protocols observed, my intention really in this piece is to express the appreciation (set my own and out short comings aside) of the gifts I received through the lives that brought me into this world; the first is faith, often we associate the care of our mothers with food and literally keeping us alive, but I realise both through the observation of those who do not have it and the observation of its sustaining power in my life, what a gift my mother’s firm insistence on faith and commitment to the word and praise, through song, prayer and (small) dancing is in the face of adversity and in the expression of joy. I don’t actually in this instance mean specifically the Christian faith that I was raised in, but the simple act of acknowledging the numinous and mysterious in life, it is true that this often descends into unhelpful superstion but it is more often than not, a strength, and also a call to forgo despair – for this wisdom, I’m grateful. I should say that the knowledge of faith came from my father also, yet, it had a different flavour, with the wryness of wit that acknowledges the humour in religion as well as it’s more dictatorial aspects both expressed in the iron rule of compulsory attendance in church and the awareness of human frailty in the face of life’s mystery, from both was the awareness that life is always more than meets the eye. From my mother also I received the gift of being able to cook, as long as I have some cash for rice, some tomatoes, spices, and (preferably meat, unless the vegans win) – I know I will not starve; my memories of childhood are suffused with the knowledge of cooking observed and instructed both directly and indirectly; my sympathy goes out to those delicate types who can neither kill nor skin a goat or fowl, nor make a decent Bolognese. The most elaborate of delights as children for us was to have a casserole, stewed in the oven, in the prized pyrex dishes, or asaro cooked lovingly, though not always pleasurable when fennel or cumin seeds were added; from our father, we received the boisterous appreciation of exotic foods (electric fish, soy beans and soy milk before they were fashionable, and later, avocados, caviar (not a joy for me), and more excitingly, Italian ice-cream, the legendary meat piece of Mr. Biggs – the pleasures of food are a common enough inheritance that I should not go on, suffice to say, I appreciate the privelege and good fortune. In tandem, with this, from both I got a social conscience and a wider sense of being part of a community of heritages that include all the historical experiences of the people we are or have been part of, Yoruba,Oyo, England, Russia, Turkey, and of course, Africa as a whole place, and our source. The one thing that I appreciate more and more is that despite our awareness of our parents occupation we were insulated from the intricacies of the difficulties any career entails; it’s something to be appreciated after one has experienced one’s own battles, and especially sobering to realise many fight such battles with the humility and tenacity of people who have mouths to feed and souls to keep alive; I would be missing something out if I didn’t mention also that I have been thinking a lot about taste, pleasure vis a vis wealth and non-wealth lately, and one of the gifts I appreciate, from both my parents, which is also I warrant, a trait of Yoruba culture, the idea of taste and what I will call everyday pleasure or luxury as a basic component of human existence, it is the discernment and pleasure of cloth, the appreciation of a cool, glass of water and the appreciation of gentility and politiness even if it covers disappointment, sadness or other forms of pain. There is so much more that can be said, but given the times we are living in, and my own personal journey right now, this feels like the time to put on record – to Ambassador and Mrs. Fatunla, a deeply felt thank you for being the doors through which I walked on to this earth. I cannot speak for my siblings, but I trust they feel the same. A last note, that as with so many African families, our experience is one of dispersal, and there are so many who act, in small ways and large, in locus parentis to us,- though to paraphrase a proverb: Ka she bi iya, Ka she bi baba ko jo ka ni iya ati baba – (to have someone stand in place of a mother or father cannot compare to having a mother and father) – to those people too – I extend my thanks, and also add a virtual libation to the spirit of all the parents lost this year and a prayer for all of us and their children that we may grow old and vital as methuselah.