My later mother often reminded me of the sacrifices she made to support our family. She never made it to university. Instead, she became a nurse and worked with passion and determination to save lives. She chose to challenge me by making me understand that life is difficult. She taught me about duty of care to others and made me aware of the choices that one has to make to support a family. She gave me a task I only discovered when I became a husband and a father.
The first time I had to leave my family to pursue an academic opportunity, we chose to live apart for one year; that year gave us a sense of the challenges that laid ahead of us. A daughter would join us and shape our experiences of who we were and how we would evolve as a family. When I became a father, I felt that I was ready to take on the lifelong commitment to the wellbeing of my daughter and her generation. It also dawned on me that my wife should not be telling our daughter, a few years from now, that she had sacrificed her professional career to support the family.
About two years later, I had an opportunity to set feet, body and mind back on the continent. That decision had implication for us, as a family, now expecting our 4th family member. It was a difficult time for us, trying to balance professional aspirations and family. We made the difficult decision: the family stayed and I moved. We learnt from that experience that putting family first is a choice that has a cost. That cost is delayed gratification. It is also weighing up the awareness of the constraints and the appreciation of the possibilities that makes family decision-making uncertain and challenging. Yet it is crucial in ensuring that all parties feel valued in arriving at an outcome.
In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I reflected on the challenges ahead of building a professional career, being a father and the husband of a qualified chartered accountant. As the experience came to an end, we decided to relocate to Johannesburg, South Africa, as a family, with the implication that my wife was starting a period without paid employment. And it was important to us both to take our children to the African continent. We stayed for a year, then moved to Accra, Ghana. In that city, we were confronted with the reality of men and women that followed the spouse who had a better professional opportunity. These decisions were not binary but the outcome of negotiations that weighed the invaluable experience of exposing children to the diversity of the continent. My mother chose not to follow my father and kept us grounded in our home country until we left for university. That was also motivated by the fact that she wanted to continue working. We were older and the foundation was built with both parents and extended families present.
I knew that we had to plan for the change of seasons. In 2018, my professional situation changed. I relocated to Lomé, Togo. At that point I chose to challenge my own emotional comfort and put on the dinner table the importance of recalibrating professional aspirations. We have to be bold for change because our children learn from what we do and the life experiences that are created by the balancing act brought about by uncertainty. For me, it was important to demonstrate to my son that if confronted with a similar situation, he ought to have the emotional tools to address it. And for my daughter, to remember that she deserves to be heard, even if she does not voice it, in the home she might decide to build.
My parents, in their time, gave me the tools to find the balance when my time would come. My late mother chose to challenge me to honor the education that she gave me. My father made it work for the family by being present even when absent. They were great teachers. Choosing to challenge our selves, our families, our decision-making, our preconceived notions of what we must do is not easy. In many respect, it starts at home and while challenges will vary from generation to generation, the fundamental values of discipline and love are the pre-requisite for the grace that makes the difficult parts of our choices to challenge bearable.