By Nekpen Osuan
Parenting is not an easy task, especially in a foreign country which shows little concern for foreign traditions. My father successfully took himself from poverty in rural Africa to the American middle class, and taught by example that values and work ethic are priceless. Though my father grew up without much formal education, his love and sacrifice has afforded me a life rich in consciousness, compassion, and conviction.
In order to be successful in America, my father accepted assimilation. This was a slow death he consciously embraced and often speaks about with mixed feelings. He was fully committed to the waning American dream. Today, I am grateful for my father’s sacrifices, both great and small. Even while being underestimated among privileged peers and despite the ignorant attitudes of some, my father is proud of his African accent, his midnight dark skin, and his successes. Being different did not deter him from his goals to provide and care for his American children whose dreams quickly became his own.
As a first-generation American, I always wanted to fit in. I was born with a strange name and was never permitted to modify it just to fit in. When I was teased for my “nappy” braids and bookish ways, my father would say that there were too many important stories in my identity to not have pride. Despite our poverty, I grew up with confidence and a strong sense of self. I was never truly aware of our meager means and now look back on my childhood with a great deal of gratitude for my upbringing.
In middle school I struggled with math but received constant support and assurance from my dad. I remember feeling guilty for having a scientific calculator stolen from my backpack at school. My father quickly replaced the calculator and never complained, though I knew the financial burden it caused for our struggling household. Despite my struggles in math, I found confidence to take on challenging courses and my father found affordable programs that provided me with support. I would go on to major in economics, earn a master’s degree in economics and education from Columbia University, and work as a data deputy for the 2012 presidential cycle. Today I am a financial analyst. Undoubtedly, without my father's reassurance and positive influence in my life, I would not be the person I am.
My father worked two jobs to put me through college and even generously supported me in graduate school. My parents opted for a cheap apartment over getting a house—when they could have afforded it—and never asked for anything in return. They now joke that because of me they were spared from the housing bubble.
My father and I are closer friends now than when I grew up in his strict household. He jests about my childhood, saying, "What do you give your children in the land of endless consumption?" I reply with a smile, thousands of miles away, "Great things they can carry no matter where they go."
Thanks, dad—I am more grateful than words can express.
Nekpen Osuan is an analyst at the NYC Department of Education's Division of Finance and served as Deputy Data Director for a 2012 presidential campaign. She is passionate about education policy, civic engagement, and economic development and is a 2007 YP4 fellow.
This blog post is part of the Strong Families' first Papa's Day celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blog. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.