So, while I was overjoyed in 1998 to discover that I’d be moving to New York City with my father from Nigeria, I had no idea that all the things I’d seen on TV and would come to know as New York would NOT apply to me.
We were in our own world in our apartment – even when we moved from one neighborhood in the Bronx to another and I changed from one elementary school to another- nothing changed at home. We ate the same foods, went to the same churches, and spoke the same language as if nothing had changed at all since we left Nigeria.
Looking back on the past decade, I’d say that this culture capsule in which I was brought up had some advantages in the kind of person I’ve turned out to be today. But it also came at a social cost as I will demonstrate in a second. I can’t attribute everything about my upbringing to Igbo/Nigerian culture because each family and each parent is different and I’d like to think that my father is a bit on the extreme end of protective/controlling African fathers.
There was this one incident when I was 13 that I remember telling him, “You watch. I’ll never forget this!” as I stomped around angrily and thought I could not contain myself. At that young age I knew I was doomed. It looked like I was never going to survive my teenage years if this was the parent I was stuck with.
My friend Geraldine was having a birthday party in two weeks and was really excited about it. All my friends would be there and I wanted to go celebrate with them too. I thought to myself, “Finally, I’ll figure out what the big deal about parties is. I’ll go early and it’s only one block from our apartment so it won’t be a problem for Daddy.”
As soon as my dad came home I told him about the party, “EVERYONE is gonna be there! And it’s in two weeks so I’m telling you way ahead of time and she lives right on the next block on Stratford Avenue. They said people could start coming at 7pm so if I go then, I could be home by 10 if you want me home then!”
And I asked, “So does that mean that I can go?”
He must have realized that I wouldn’t let it drop until he said okay and he was watching TV, as he does every evening. So he said “okay” nonchalantly and I stood up victoriously and thanked him. He wasn’t moved.
The next day at school, I told my friends, who all knew how big of deal it was for me, that my father had agreed to let me go to the party. Now I didn’t have to feel left out when they talked about the party because I knew I would be there. It was a different feeling – a sense of belonging. My worlds were now in sync (Gosh, we loved N*SYNC!).
A week later, over dinner I reminded my father about the party again and I got the green light again. Awesome! If only every party I was invited to were around the block!
The day before the party, I told my father that I was really looking forward to this party and troubled him with some uninteresting details he probably didn’t care for – like that Geraldine’s mom was going to cook some food for us and that I wouldn’t be the only one getting there so early at 7pm. I probably also told him that I needed a couple of dollars to buy soda for the party. Most of his responses were nods and one-word answers, but I was used to that and didn’t mind.
After school the day of the party, I picked out the sweater I was going to wear – it was my favorite at the time – dark red till the mid-section, then a white horizontal line, and the bottom was black and the whole sweater was soft and fuzzy like a teddy bear. As I got dressed I walked to and fro in our apartment but my father didn’t seem to notice much. When I was finally ready to leave, I called Geraldine to let her know I was on my way over and then I said goodbye to my father and promised to be home by 10.
He replied, “where are you going?”
And I, “To Geraldine’s birthday party. The one I told you about… right here on Stratford Avenue?”
He said, “You’re not going anywhere.”
I was shocked and then I thought my father must be trying out his twisted sense of humor on me. I replied, “You said I could go. I told you two weeks ago and I told you yesterday and you said it was okay. This is not fair! I’m going”
“You’re not going anywhere this late at night, Donna.”
“It’s only 7pm! And it’s right there! You can walk me there and pick me up after if you want.”
He wasn’t budging and I was furious. I called Geraldine to tell what happened and she put me on hold to talk to her mother. Now, Geraldine had an idea. She and Stephanie, who was already there, could walk over and come get me and then walk me back to the party. Was that okay with my father?
I told my father the idea. He wasn’t impressed. For some reason, I wasn’t going to this thing and after a couple of hours, of going back and forth with him on it in our living room, I finally went to my room and changed into my pajamas. It was over.
His reasoning was probably the same one he always gave – something about doing what’s best for me and I would understand when I grew up. Yada Yada Yada.
Now I’ve grown up. And I’m still upset about that incident. It really wasn’t fair. Of course he was partially right. I didn’t really get to party with my friends until college and by then, I’d cultivated the time-management skills necessary to balance socializing with important schoolwork.
I party. And I work. I do both pretty well. And I can’t say that my strict upbringing had nothing to do with that. Being in the Bronx, therefore, had almost no influence on the kind of person I am now. It’s more about the cultural upbringing I had and the way I’ve learned to balance it with the American culture that surrounds me.
What a riot!