This is not a direct sequel to “Best Gift, Ever!”, but it almost is.
I got so many positive comments and questions after that particular blog-post that I started to imagine my future celebrity book-signings, huge six-figure (even seven-figure) royalties. Why, I was even already on Oprah, to talk about my latest book and how well it’s doing on New York’s bestseller list. Dr. Phil was recommending it as well. Just before it became recommended reading for every child-psychology course in the US and Canada. Translated into fifty different languages, many hospitals were already talking of putting it in every new parent’s hands. Wonderful! Amen, somebody!
But coming back down to earth, the immediate questions that faced me were, if you indeed want to give your child or ward the best gift ever, how would you go about it? How would you help your child become independent in this world, and have the ability to navigate this world as she pleases? How do you prepare her for a world that does not yet exist?
One of the very best analogies I’ve found, for how to bring the best out of your growing child, is the art (yes, art) of growing a plant. Well, you don’t expect your child to remain rooted to one spot his whole life but the similarities are many.
Scientists have long talked about “Nature vs Nurture”. Which has the strongest pull on how well a child does physically and mentally? Is the child a successful musician because the genes are there, or because he was exposed to musical trainings right from birth? The conclusion is that where the innate abilities do not exist, hundreds of hours of training by the best coaches will not achieve much. But again, genius, they say, is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. Genius without the right amount of practice and exposure will ultimately become a failure. It will only become a frustrated attempt at something great.
Similarly, no matter how much fertilizer you pump to the roots of the maize plant, it can’t ever give you mango fruits. But the mango tree that is left to the harshest conditions is better not to have been planted at all. You will get nothing worth calling a Mango fruit from it.
Let us therefore start from the easy one. Nature.
I strongly believe it is the responsibility of parents to start by observing very carefully, the fruits you have seen from the many genes that have contributed to your child. This is a very important and dangerous step. Important, as can help maximize the innate gifts of the child. Dangerous, as it can miss-direct as well. It is possible that the child will be better focusing on something that had never fully developed in the ancestors. Or better still, he will excel at something that the ancestors were never exposed to. How do you recognize a Formular-1 driver when none of his ancestors ever raced a car? Or recognize a gifted neuro-surgeon when there is no apparent “ancestor-fruit” to point in that direction? Well, I’d advise you start from the known, watch carefully for interests other the known, and encourage it.
One of the more noticeable gifts that gets passed down many generations is musical ability, either to be able to sing or play a musical instrument, compose(arrange) beautiful music.
To illustrate this point, one of the best examples I know is a well-known family in Nigeria that has produced musical geniuses for more than one hundred years, and has also produced a master in another branch of the arts, which I will talk about later.
Let’s start with the very first member that comes into limelight in the late 1890s. Josiah Jesse R was a clergyman, teacher and composer of note. In fact, his musical prowess was so well known that his nickname was “Singing Minister”. One of the very first to be educated in his native Abeokuta, he became a teacher right after, and at 70years of age, went to London to record his only known album. Meanwhile, he had 3 children, Grace, Segun and Dotun. His musical prowess was passed on to his three children in different degrees I’d presume, but of particular note was Dotun, who followed in his father’s footsteps and became a clergyman and teacher. Grace married a clergyman/teacher as well, and Segun became the nation’s Chief-Pharmacist in pre-independence Nigeria.
What became of Dotun’s musical ability? He was a noted classical composer like his father, but his primary vocation was teaching. He was also very much involved in unionism and was founder of the Nigeria Union of Teachers. It is reported that while he was Principal at Anglican Grammar School Abeokuta, on occasions while the whole school was sang at the school assembly, he would sometimes just ask everybody to stop abruptly, and bellow out in pure indignation “Someone is singing discord in Form Two! Start again…” and he would fish out the wrong tone from a crowd of hundreds of students. He’d make them sing it repeatedly till it was perfect. No compromise. Amazing talent, I’d say.
It’s clear with hindsight that neither Dotun, nor Josiah his father, considered music as a career. It was something they loved passionately, and had unusual ability for. Perhaps because teaching was the main vocation available for educated blacks in those colonial days, they taught and worked as clergymen. Perhaps it was a realization that he had spent too much time away from his passion that made 70-yr old Josiah go to London for that famous album in 1925. I wish they had made classical composition in particular, and music in general, their vocations.
But I doubt that they watched out for these gifts in their children. Or that they made a big deal out of it. Why do I say that? Well, Dotun got married to an activist Funmilayo Thomas, had four children (three boys and a girl) but did not consider training his children as professional musicians. He sent them to England to train to be doctors instead. Olikoye went on to become a successful doctor, Nigeria’s Minister for Health, and a Deputy Director-General at the World Health Organization. Bekolari was also a successful doctor and political activist. It was the third brother, Olufela that decided he was not going to register for the Medicine he was sent to England to read. He chose instead to read Piano and Composition at the Trinity College of Music, in England. Fela chose to be Fela, not Dr. Olufela Ransome-Kuti.
I guess that by now, you already know the family. The Ransome-Kutis had (or have) music in their blood, but it’s not common knowledge that Fela’s first cousin, a bright young man schooling in England in the late 1950’s also had to fall back on music, singing and playing his guitar at clubs, bars, weddings, anywhere, to raise money while at school. He played in England, France and Holland during his summer vacations. He had music in him too but thankfully he recognized another gift that was more prominent than music. He could write. The son of Grace, Josiah’s only daughter, grew up to not only write well but to receive the highest recognition in the world, a Nobel-Prize for his writing, Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, a grandson of the classical composer Rev. Canon Josiah J. Ransome-Kuti, found his own art, and practiced it till he became an authority.
Josiah’s other son, Segun Ransome-Kuti also passed on this music. His grandson, Segun Bucknor, and great-granddaughter, Tosyn Bucknor are well known in the music circles in Nigeria for their eclectic contribution to music.
So, what lessons am I pointing to here?
Recognize the special gift, pay special attention to what has been passed down in the DNA, on both sides, and all sides actually. Whether it’s the gift of music, fine arts, sculpture, writing, acting, administration, natural leadership, analytical analysis, adventure, travel, architecture, telling stories, fashion, oratory, politics, etc.
Take special note of the gifts that are in the family. I think this is very important. My father wrote while he was alive, and it’s no wonder that my sister has a book of poems published. I started drumming at a very young age, and was a reliable drummer in our church in my teenage years. I was however shocked one day, when my Dad crossed over from the “Elders’ side” to the choir side during one service and asked the main drummer to excuse him. And I saw my father beat the drum very beautifully. I was simply amazed that he could drum. Then I found out he could also play flutes effortlessly. While I have not made drumming my vocation, I am watching out for writing, wit, humor, music, in my children. You should hear the humor and wit of my brother, sisters and uncles. Uncle M.A. especially. As well as drama. My wife’s family is replete with internationally-acclaimed talent for stage-acting. And you should hear my wife sing. Beautiful. So I’m watching out, without putting pressure. Just watching. And listening.
I will repeat the first point again. Know what can show up. Watch out for it.
That’s the first duty of the gardener. Know Your Seed.
Chukwudi Adepoju ©21st Jan. 2013.