We all grew up in the same environment, yet have different perspectives–same teachings, different takes. Although we have encountered and been forced to overcome adversity- from personal struggles to systemic barriers- we still have hopes of creating the best of opportunities for our children. In this blog, we will examine how our upbringing influences our leadership style as fathers in today’s society.
My creation and birth were a result of the perfect storm: I was the first boy; I was gifted two wonderful older sisters who were 11 and 9 years old at the time, and I had TWO very nurturing parents who have been in my corner since day 1. As such, I always knew that it was my birthright to inherit the Ogunyemi throne (LOL). I can recall, oftentimes, my mother calling out my oldest sister for “trying to be my 2nd mom”, while trying to keep my “younger” sister from killing me. These two experiences granted me a wealth of knowledge about the structure of the family, even more than I even realized at the time:
1. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS look out for family ESPECIALLY your younger siblings and
2. Never allow resentment to set in between siblings.
If we look at point #1 – the nurture & protection that my oldest sister SHOWED me created a protective nature in me that only grew as I became a big brother three times over. NO ONE – and I mean No one – could touch a hair on my little brothers’ heads. Now that I am a father of two, I am able to instill those same values & principles into my children. Our mother used to always tell us that when things hit the fan, when the world is in chaos, when the world turns its back on you, ALL we will have in our corner is each other – and that’s enough! I have taught my oldest son that it is his job – his duty- to protect his baby brother and to make sure that his baby brother feels the love, nurture, and protection from THIS household FIRST.
As we look at point #2 – nipping sibling resentment at the bud – my “younger” sister and I had MANY spouts…I swore that she was always upset with me (eye roll). As I got older I began to understand that SHE was the youngest for NINE YEARS and then all of a sudden, this new baby had disrupted her entire world. In adulthood, my household is what most would call a “non-traditional” or “blended” family. For the 1st 4 years of his life, it was just me and my oldest son, Ethan. Fast forward, his daddy meets a girl, and a few short years later, he is a big brother. I observed as he would act out and I could deduce that he could not even explain WHY he was acting out. My experiences with my sister taught me the “WHY” and how to make sure that resentment did not set in and that he did not begin to dislike his fresh new baby brother. With this in mind, I can deduce that my first two interactions with humans other than my parents (my big sisters), taught me how to deal with different personalities and to ensure seamless transitions within the “modern” family dynamic.
“Put some food in your mouth!” our dad would sternly interrupt, as we sat around the dinner table and one of us had said one word too much. “Putsomefoodinyourmouth,” he would rattle off, almost like it was one long word, anytime conversation was (let’s just say) unbecoming. I now understand as I sit across the table from our 5 year old son while his mouth runs at about 1,000 words per minute.
Looking back on it, Daddy (yeah, I still call our daddy, “Daddy”) taught us a valuable lesson. I don’t know if he ever actually said these words, but the phrase “put some food in your mouth” (or whatever hilarious quote we derived from that phrase), taught us to MAKE YOUR WORDS COUNT– to be thoughtful and measured. He taught us to “think before you speak, son.” and as our mom would put it, “there’s a time and place for everything.”
Obviously, we were unaware of it then but a couple decades later, all of us echo their words to our own children. Though I’m sure our parents oftentimes preferred we would actually shut up and eat when they said things like, “finish eating your food FIRST, then play,” these phrases surpass the literal and have become metaphorical pillars in our individual households. These incredible lessons taught us to prioritize–PUT FIRST THINGS FIRST! As I reflect on that ageless guidance, I am excited to know that I am contributing to my own children’s success as I teach them to FOCUS ON THE TASK AT HAND. Though sometimes humourous, these experiences during our adolescence greatly contributed to our ability to lead and nurture our children today.
Fathers, internalize this reverberating message, your experiences have given you everything you need to be successful! My brothers made sure that I had my share of adversity growing up. I was the fifth of six children, and in our family, number five just happened to be the odd ball–one and two were two peas in a pod, three and four were partners in crime, and number six was in a protected class known as “the baby.” With that in mind, I remember going to my Mom with what was probably one of 1,000 complaints about my brothers. I wanted vindication. I wanted revenge. I wanted justice! Instead, my Mom looked at me and calmly said, “if you allow people to know what buttons to push to upset you, they will always push those buttons.”
Of course at the time, I did not understand or appreciate how profound that statement was, and I definitely did not expect to be teaching my children similar lessons down the road; however, life provided me many opportunities to apply this timeless advice. Simply stated, I believe one of the keys to overcoming adversity while pursuing opportunity is to master the art of conquering conflict. As a father, we have an innate desire to protect our children; however, I implore my fellow fathers to never waste a negative experience. Use them as teachable moments.
Now I am not encouraging fathers to stand idly by, waiting to offload a lengthy lecture ripe with anecdotal phrases and clichés while their child gets pummeled, but I am encouraging my peers to use the natural clash of wills between two human beings to nurture your children and develop the characteristics needed to be successful in today’s society. Applying this simple approach will help turn our hopes for our children into reality.
I, the said “baby” find it quite comical that Olaolu considers certain aspects of his growing up adversarial and “odd”… Objectively speaking, the youngest is ALWAYS the best (i.e. King David). Nonetheless, my siblings found it necessary to “teach” me otherwise. Being the youngest, I often had a chip on my shoulder- to be the loudest, tallest, to fit in with my older siblings. In many ways, this obviously backfired. In the best of ways, though, my family found ways of cultivating that lively, rambunctious personality into the person and father I am today.
My family has always been my biggest unconditional support system. I can recall multiple conversations of being told, “I don’t care what you do, as long as you enjoy it, make us proud, and strive to be the best.” As an adult, I continue to take pride in the Ogunyemi name with hopes of passing that pride to my son. As my reflection, it is important for me to teach Kian how to be persistent, resilient, and driven while using discernment in every situation he will find himself in. My family taught me when to be loud, but that there are more times to be more quiet than loud. As a father, I hope to continue this strategic approach in celebrating whatever Kian’s personality becomes so he can continue to make a difference in the world.
The short story for all of us is that we have a faith that drives everything we do and parents and older sisters that loved and supported us (still do) in everything we sought to accomplish. We interpreted situations very differently and have a diversity of experiences. In fact, you may think it is a full blown war whenever we get together for holidays or other occasions. Nonetheless, unconditional love persists. We have stood side-by-side for successes, failures, traumas, special moments, heartbreaks, and everything in between. Because of this, we stand before you as college graduates, spouses, mentors, leaders, advocates, friends, brothers… And most of all, good dads!
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