As an activity in English last week the class elected important words from the book The Poisonwood Bible. We spent the latter half of class narrowing down the list to the ten most pertinent words to the book. Father was the first word selected. There was much debate over which word was more encompassing: Father or Fatherly. In the end we chose Father. It was argued that the word Father is more exemplary of the themes in the Poisonwood Bible. Father alludes to religion in the book because the main characters are on an Evangelical Baptist mission trip to the Congo. Father also evokes a notion of patriarchy which is very central to The Poisonwood Bible because a main character Nathan is very strict and sometimes cruel towards his wife, daughters, and even the Congolese.
With all this talk about fathers, I began to think about how a father affects the upbringing of his children. What can a father teach? What happens when a father isn’t around or doesn’t invest time in his children’s lives. In Poisonwood Bible, Nathan is so focused on converting the Congolese to Christianity that he often ignores his daughters.
Come Sunday, I got a different perspective on the role of fathers and parents. I went to a local seminar type event to see a few Lost Boys of Sudan talk. If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Lost Boys, click here. Anyways, one of the speakers, Kuek Garang, told the story of his relocation to Chicago. Until recently, he hadn’t seen his parents in 22 years. The resolution to Garang’s story was his trip back to the Sudan to visit with his parents. First Garang reunited with his mother. Garang’s experiences fleeing Sudan forced him to grow up rather quickly. He mentioned feeling like a kid again for the first time since the civil war in Sudan.
For me, the most compelling part of the story was Garang’s view of his father. He said that he could not become a full child again until he reconnected with his Father. Garang said that most people take for granted how lucky they are to live with both of their parents in safety. He really valued the life lessons that his parents taught him. Garang’s final statement was that in the absence of parents, education is the most important “role model” for a child. He was so thankful for his opportunities to go to school in the U.S..
Although I realized that parents have a huge influence on their kids, I never thought about the alternatives to parents. Kuek Garang’s story opened my mind to the importance of parents and how children, like the daughters in Poisonwood Bible can be severely damaged by dismissive parents or a lack of parents.
If you are interested in Garang’s story, he has produced a documentary of his trip home entitle “22 Years from Home.” The Lost Boys of Sudan that I saw were a part of CALBOS the Chicago Association for the Lost Boys of Sudan, a group of Sudanese refugees that were resettled in the Chicago land area.