I just heard this podcast from the Jesus and Jollof podcast about divorcing our parents. And it took me far back. Into my very early adulthood. And how I subconsciously “divorced”from my parents.
My parents have never been those parents who were overly amazed with me, I never felt put on any pedestal. But I liked that they expected me to think for myself and make contributions to decisions.
One of the earliest decisions I remember being consulted on was what high school to go to. Dad proposing that I report to a school closer home, and my Mum asking if she could have me moved to another High school other than the one the government had sent me to. I had never been far from home and wanted the adventure of travel and going to a completely new place. So I mentioned I was fine with the government allocation, and off I went to the school that was 7 hours away. No hard feelings.
The real moment of pain came after KCSE results were out and we now had to discuss what course I would take in Campus. And it was then I realised I no longer was expected to have my own choice if it seemed uninformed to them. It was then that my parents learnt, that I had chosen as my first choice to study Commerce, the second choice was Law and that I had the audacity to even choose Criminology. The prospect of studying criminology was such a thrilling fantasy. Dad was angry, pissed even that I had not chosen Medicine in any of my courses to pick to do in Campus. I think in their unspoken expectations, they had known that was what I was to do. And it had been, for a short stint after reading Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands book when I was 11. Then of course, after I had forgotten the book, I had moved on to other random ideas of what it would be like to be a firefighter, or a vet, and wanted to be a pilot for a long time after that.
I decided to study Commerce when I was in form three. My parents were talking about how much change Mwai Kibaki had brought to the Kenyan economy. Our shilling was trading at KES 76 to the dollar. The lowest it had ever been. Roads were being built and our economy was thriving. I wanted to bring about positive economic change just like Kibaki had. And when I asked my dad what Kibaki had studied, he told me that he thought Kibaki had studied Economics. So my heart was steadfastly set on Economics. I watched a lot of business news at that time and read the papers enough to know that I wanted to know more about how the economy worked. About the effect of fiscal policies, the budget and government decisions that affected every single Kenyan, even those in the grassroots like us.
And that is when we begun to discuss my choices. Despite many discussions where each side tried to see the other’s side, we could not seem to agree. My parents and I had always had actual respectful conversations about my choices. But this time it was different. They wanted me to obey, because they were wiser, and older and definitely wanted the best for me.
Dad’s reason for his belief was that if I studied Medicine, I would never be out of a job. The world will always need doctors, since people will always fall sick. The medicine market is not flooded with jobless graduates as in other fields. All factual statements.
Mum made the argument that if I chose Commerce, I would be wasting my capabilities since course work for Commerce would fail to be challenging enough mentally. She felt I should have studied something more demanding. Additionally, Kenya has several jobless Commerce graduates, years after they graduated. How would I differentiate myself from the masses?
Their concerns were reasonable. All of them which I was ill equipped to answer. All I was going on was a gut feeling and a deep desire built by years of studying the news. And I had never blatantly disobeyed my parents before. And they both were certain I was making the wrong choice. I developed crazy anxiety during that period. I could not keep any food down, or sleep. And I spent a lot of time researching any successful Commerce graduates and their career trends.
When my Dad was at his wit’s end, he sent me over to visit my aunt who is in the Medicine field. I guess to engage me on the same. We watched a lot of surgery shows at her place. And she told me about her work.
The more additional people confirmed what my folks thought, the more anxiety I gathered. I worried that I would totally fail as a person if I did not become a doctor. I would imagine a future where I could not get work no matter how much I tried. Because everyone told me how flooded the Commerce market was. Plus Commerce is not nearly as impressive as Medicine.
Also, it was extremely terrifying to have a bucket of what ifs, where your folks are on the other side of your belief.
What if they were right? What if I would stay five years without a job? What if they would have to support me? What if I had to stay home and farm since I could not find gainful employment? What if I never succeeded in life?
Many months down the line, when my Dad saw that I was not buying the medicine idea, he decided to let it go. But he put a caveat. He told me that if I ever finished campus and could not find a job, he would not give me any financial aid. I would have to cater for myself. And also he told me after campus, that he would not pay my rent or send me food money or pay for any other costs. I would be on my own. I was terrified. Just terrified. I went ahead and studied Commerce after all this and the aftermath is a story for another day.
And so listening to this podcast reminded me so much of this difficult time since Yvonne talks about how she chose also to not pursue medicine.
Deliberately going against our parents, especially as an African child, is one of the most difficult things you can do. The cost is high. Especially when there are pockets of silent treatment, or being cut off. However, sometimes, it may be necessary.