A Tradition of Giving.
I envisioned “Work It Girl” as a place where women could go to address the almost universal quest for a well-rounded, balanced life. Thus the concept, “look good, feel good, do good”—each segment focusing on one aspect of my three part philosophy.
For the “do good” segment of Work It Girl, I wanted to focus on women who are simply rocking it at life, whether in a major way, or in a small way, and whether this “doing good” applies to them doing good for themselves, or whether they are doing good for others…however, I’m going to deviate from that idea a little bit today and talk about a man—the original do-gooder in my life—my dad. While he might not be a Work It Girl, he definitely knows how to live a life filled with doing good.
I started to write a bit of background about my dad’s life, and it turned into a novel, so I’ll give you the cliff notes version. From being “allowed” to sleep on a relative’s front porch in Accra, my dad made his way to being financially stable in the same city. Remembering the hard times he had been through, he took it upon himself to allow other young people to stay with him in Accra, get their footing, and pursue their education.
When he finally came to America, the spirit of giving stayed with him. Especially in my younger years, but even when I was older, I remember there was usually someone—sometimes an entire family— staying with us in our home for varying degrees of time. He’d house them after they’d traveled from Ghana, or some other part of the world, as they tried to find their way in this new world. Sometimes he knew them; sometimes he didn’t.
After he started his appliance business, the missionaries from our church would call his store, sometimes several times a year, to ask if he could please give someone a refrigerator, a washer, a dryer, as they had fallen on hard times and needed the appliance to get by.
Whenever he’d get a call from overseas, he’s try to help out as best he could—if someone needed help purchasing a plane ticket to or from Ghana, if someone needed help paying a medical bill, if someone needed food, shelter, clothing, tuition money…the list seemed to never end. He never had a fancy new car, never went on a cruise, never took a fancy vacation. He has rarely, if ever, indulged in the extras that life had to offer—fancy dinners, luxurious hotel stays, golf outings…
Growing up, sometimes I was resentful of what I considered my dad’s overabundance of generosity. We never suffered—we always had a little more than the other side of enough. There was food on the table, clothes on our backs, and a nice roof over our heads. There were piano lessons and singing lessons and soccer games and summer school. But I knew, or I thought I knew, that we could have more—fancy trips to Disneyland and summer vacations, a used car for my sixteenth birthday, visits to the vet for my dog... Comparing myself to my American counterparts, I knew that we could get further, have more, do better, if he just put away his cultural views of community and obligation, and focus on us, just us.
I was at war with the Western view of individuality and the competing Ghanaian culture of community.
And then I went to Ghana.
I saw where he was from, and how far he had come. I saw, hugged and kissed my grandmother for the first time. I was surrounded by people who knew my name, and where I was from—home—even though we had little in common, except the blood that flowed through our veins. While Apam is a far cry from what is typically shown on the Discovery Channel, it was a stark contrast to the way I was living my life.
I looked at my grandmother’s house—my parent’s gift to her at the expense of their own Ghanaian homestead—a dream they had spent decades building, so that when they went home for the first time in almost thirty years, they could build a home and have some place to come home to the next time they visited. My grandmother’s home was nothing fancy by American standards—cement walls, and floors, in a small town where the likelihood of me comfortably living would be slim to none, some wood paneling in the sitting room—but it had electricity, and running water, and while the open air market teemed with noise, and goats scurried through the rough-hewn streets, it housed the woman who gave my father life.
In that moment, there, I saw what he sees in the people still there—some trying to make their way up and out. He sees himself, and the potential that lies within, if someone, anyone, gives them a hand up—the hand he wished for and never had in his early years.
This Thanksgiving, I was surrounded by another Western African culture, loud, fun, busy and full of some of the tastes, smells and sounds I missed. Reminiscing, I pulled up pictures of my grandmother, wishing that somehow I could reach across the ocean, the barriers of language and culture, and connect with her on a real level.
The next day, I received the phone call that my grandmother had passed.
It hit me in a wave of emotion. I was more sad for my father than myself; he had only had the chance to see her twice since leaving his home. I ached for him at having lost the opportunity to hold her in his arms and say goodbye, and it brought tears to my eyes. Whispering a brief explanation to the person nearest me, I excused myself from the bustling Thanksgiving festivities for a moment to gather my thoughts.
Returning to the party, I was pulled aside for a brief moment—it had been decided—this African community wanted to put together a small package for my dad, to help him find his way home. I was moved to tears once again, this time at the generosity of others.
Suddenly, I was on the receiving end of this African community “do good” act. It hit me, what it must feel like for some people, when they received a gift, an appliance, some money, some food, some shelter, from my father. I may not always agree with this overabundance of giving in the African culture—sometimes at the expense of the idealized version of the Western experience—but I understand it now; this desire to touch someone’s life for good. While I may not fully espouse this African community of giving, my life experiences have shaped me in a fundamental way, to be good, to do good, and to change someone’s(s) life because of what I’ve been given.
So yes, do good. Do good for yourself, and do good for others. And live a fulfilling, balanced and enriching life because of it.
Work It Girl