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Our Fathers' Dreams and Disappointments

Great expectations passed through generations

By Ronke BabajidePublished 8 months ago Updated 8 months ago 6 min read
Second Place in Father's Footprint Challenge
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photo by wirestock on freepik

I wish I could explain to my parents what I do for a living. It's not that I haven't tried. The problem is that in their world, there is no equivalent to this job that has been created by digitalization.

When my mother tries to imagine what I do, she sees me sitting in front of a screen, typing on my keyboard. Much like a secretary. But she's confused about why I do that and how that translates into the high salary I earn.

It was easier when I was still in a lab wearing my white coat. Being a chemist was a tangible profession. But I left the sciences and moved into this unexplainable world of bits and bytes. Carelessly shattering her hopes of being the mother of a Nobel Prize winner.

When he was younger, my father would have understood. If he had cared. After all, I inherited my love of new technology from him.

He bought every new gadget there was. An electric typewriter as soon as it came on the market, the first video player that came with a remote control. He carried a Commodore 64 halfway around the world to give to my older brother. Not to me, mind you.

It was never planned that I'd inherit his enthusiasm for technology.

But he never cared enough to ask for details of my job. I guess the only thing that mattered was that I hadn't chosen to be a doctor. To his great and lasting regret, none of his children did.

I'm sure he didn't imagine this disappointing outcome when he left Nigeria for Bulgaria. In his dreams, he was a doctor returning to Nigeria to open a prestigious practice. A practice that he'd pass on to his children after a long, fulfilling career.

His generation of young Nigerians had a fiery urge to change their newly independent homeland for the better - through education and skills brought back from the first world.

He went abroad to learn and educate himself, then return to build a better world at home. And return he did, with a wife and 4 children in tow. Never giving up the dream that the world can be a better place.

But he didn't return a doctor. That dream he had to leave behind.

He had no idea how much he'd dislike dissecting formaldehyde-soaked corpses, and that the need to do so would make him move into a less gruesome field. But his medical career stalled quickly under the neon lights in dissection class.

Not surprisingly, all his children were equally squeamish and refused to live the dream for him. Maybe it was the stories he told us about it when we were little that put us off forever.

You couldn't have paid me good money to go to medical school.

My father believed in equal rights for all. One might think that this was the accepted way of thinking in communist Bulgaria.

But not only did he have to give up on medicine due to a weak stomach, he also had to leave Bulgaria soon after. The regime didn't approve of foreign students demonstrating against racial injustice in the streets of Sofia. So he moved to Vienna and into the arms of my mother.

Instead of medicine, he studied the world of economics, made babies - a lot, and repeated his mistake of not keeping his political opinions to himself.

You might think that being asked to leave a country for political agitation would discourage him from further activities.

But instead, he managed to end up on the front page of the most important daily newspaper. Again he'd marched with his brothers for justice. This time it only cost him his job, not his residency.

Still, the result was somewhat inconvenient. He had wasted no time, and at this point, he already had a wife and two children to support. In order to finish his studies and be able to feed his growing family, he worked in a cannery in rich Sweden during the summer vacations.

I don't think he minded. The way he always told us this story made me feel that it was always worth giving up a little comfort to voice your opinion and do what you think is right.

He was young and unstoppable. He dreamed of a big family, a higher education, and a triumphant return to his homeland. He wanted to help shape the future of the great Nigerian nation he envisioned. He knew what he was fighting for and pursued it tirelessly.

Unfortunately, the fact that none of us became doctors in his place isn't the only disappointment that life had in store for him.

The world has become a disappointing place.

There is this country that he came back to change. And change it did. It's no longer recognizable. But instead of the utopia he had imagined, it has become an untamable beast. Life in Lagos is now like a permanent near-death experience for the masses. Everyone is constantly on the move. Trying to survive in an unforgiving, harsh world.

There is no social security, no health insurance, only family. If you don't have family, there's no one but you to catch you when you fall.

There is money or no money. Either you have too much of it, or you have too little all the time.

Lagos is tough; poverty is more common than wealth. Survival is a struggle. This place is only for the strong or the lucky.

For a long time, the brutality of this struggle for survival was unimaginable to anyone living in the industrialized world. Now you see it all over the world, even across the United States. When you walk down the streets of San Francisco, you pass the homeless camps under the shiny buildings of the financial districts.

My father gave me a gift when he brought us back to Lagos and let us grow up in this teeming city. I've seen things that I'd rather not have seen but that we should all see.

Thanks to him, I'll never be able not to see how unfair the world we have created is. The sheer luck that allows you to grow up on this side of poverty or that.

The privilege you have when you end up on the right side of the fence. And the responsibility you have to change that for everyone if you're one of the lucky ones.

Life in Lagos is now no longer an exception but a kind of premonition of what is happening to the whole world. In Lagos, the wealthy elites retreat to gated communities in Leki or Victoria Island. There they live a life that bears no resemblance to the daily lives of most people.

It's disheartening that a country with such vast resources is unable to provide its citizens with the most basic amenities. But the glaring inequality feels so much like a mirror of the global community. We have vast resources, but fewer and fewer people benefit, while the rest suffer and struggle.

I inherited that urge to change the world from my father, the desire to live a meaningful life. He made sure I ended up on the right side of the fence. He may not know exactly what I do for a living. But he's the reason I don't struggle.

The changes I see in the world around me don't affect me - yet. I'm still one of the lucky ones. But I worry that I might not only disappoint my father's expectations but my own as well.

That the work I do won't amount to a life's mission. That I won't change the world. That maybe it's not just my parents who don't understand why I do what I do.

immediate family
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About the Creator

Ronke Babajide

Woman in IT, Natural Scientist, Life Coach, Speaker, Podcaster, Writer, Founder

Host of the “Women in Technology Spotlight” https://bit.ly/3rXvHvG

Creator of "The Queen Bee Hive" https://thequeenbeehive.net/en/

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Comments (7)

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  • Beautiful Intelligence7 months ago

    I loved this. It sounds like you have some things to do. Your role in life is not complete yet. I can't wait for the day to hear about it. God bless you and your father.

  • Catherine Dorian7 months ago

    What I appreciate the most about this personal essay is how you point out with rawness the ironies of how your father's life intersects with yours. The father's stories about becoming a doctor turn the children away from medicine; the father's demonstration that expressing what you believe is worth sacrificing comfort becomes convoluted when you think about the life that he was able to provide for you. A stunning exploration of all the complexity that is growing up under your father. Thank you for sharing this. Congratulations on Second Place!

  • sleepy drafts8 months ago

    Wow! This was absolutely amazing. Massive congratulations on a well-deserved win! ❤️

  • Linda Rivenbark8 months ago

    Thank you for sharing such personal and moving experiences about your family life and how it has affected your own life.. Even though you never became a doctor, you did learn to speak up for injustice and try to make a difference. Very well-written story!

  • 👏 In glimpsing your dreams and disappointments, I saw my own. Thank you & Congratulations! 💜

  • Babs Iverson8 months ago

    Congratulations!!!♥️💕

  • Dana Crandell8 months ago

    A wonderful tribute! Congratulations!

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