So I’ve been thinking about buying life insurance, and also about writing a will. Apparently these are the things that you’re meant to do when you become a parent. I need to think about my kid’s future and how I can secure it on his behalf.
The cheerful daytime TV adverts that I’ve been gorging on since maternity leave inform me that a funeral can cost upwards of £7,000! They let me know that I don’t want to leave my loved ones in the lurch. My bank contacted me to arrange a meeting to discuss my “change in circumstances” and the relevant insurance products and saving accounts that I might be interested in, so that I can “guarantee” my son’s future. My letterbox is never short of a helpful mailer informing me that now that I’m a parent it’s time that I write a will, y’know, just in case…
That’s all great and good, apart from the fact that I have nothing to leave my son. Cue that familiar knot of parental anxiety as I realise that I have brought a baby into this world with not much to offer him by way of material security. I don’t have a cramped and overpriced starter-home in the racially rigid entangles of Greater London to bequeath him, much less a silver spoon, trust fund, or the prospect of a debt-free higher education. Maybe I need some of those sharp elbows that the middle class are famed for, I wonder aloud to myself, as visions of me clawing and tossing other people’s children aside to get my own progeny into a “good” school fill my mind. I shudder – God forbid. But if only I came from money! It’s all right for those whose parents can buy them their first house, or write a cheque that lands them amongst the well-connected and well-funded. If only…
One balmy Saturday afternoon I found myself at my grandmother’s. The living room had been overtaken by boxes, picture frames and piles of objects wrapped in mouldering newspaper. Being the sentimental vulture that I am I picked my way through the musty artefacts, my interest piqued by a pile of largish, still-sealed brown boxes. The label on each box was addressed to my late grandfather from a New York-based publishing house and “Author’s Copies” was stamped officiously on each one.
I knew immediately that this was my grandfather’s novel, a famed and mythical thing that I had heard about over the years, but had not realised until then had actually been published. The book hadn’t featured on any bestsellers’ lists, and it was long out of print, but still – my grandfather was a published author! As this new piece of information sunk in, my mind began overrunning with possibilities. If he could do it, could this possibly mean that I…? I mean, do these things run in your blood…? Can you imagine…?
Maybe it was my state of shock and mourning, but the day that Muhammad Ali died, every time I looked at my 9-month-old son I kept seeing Ali’s face in his. “A great man died today,” I told him as he slapped his palms enthusiastically on my thighs, “a very great man, who was once a little black boy just like you.” That day I felt it in the realest possible way that my son could grow up to be anything, and anyone. Muhammad Ali was once a little black baby like my own, biting his fingers and gurgling at his mother. Did she have any idea that her little bundle of wonder would one day become “The Louisville Lip” – “The People’s Champion” – “The Greatest“?
There’s that video of Venus Williams being interviewed at fourteen. The interviewer, bothered by her unwavering confidence, continually questions why Venus believes so wholeheartedly that she can beat her opponent. Richard Williams interrupts, bowling right into frame to tell this adult man to stop trying to undermine his teenage daughter. Not only did Richard Williams shepherd his daughters to greatness by training them physically, he also gave them the space to dream big and bask in their own confidence, fiercely protecting their right to do so. You really can’t put a price on that, but if you wanted to, $220 million (the combined net worth of Venus and Serena) is a good start.
Discovering my grandfather’s book has reminded me of a very present possibility and a latent desire. This is why I’m also convinced that even more than the material trappings of “financial stability”, one of the greatest legacies we can leave our children – and children’s children – is the hope of possibility, and the permission to dream of excellence that will eclipse a humble beginning in Louisville, Kentucky, Compton, California, or a congested corner of south London. Now of course the world will try and beat this out of them, as is the textbook reaction once anyone has the audacity to assert the inherent value and worth of black folk, but I’ll be taking a leaf out of the Richard Williams parenting handbook when they do. Forget the sharp elbows of the middle classes, I’m off to practise my diving elbow drop…
Featured photo via Laila Ali
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Jendella Benson is a photographer, writer and filmmaker based in London. She writes about issues of faith, race, identity, feminism and the arts for various publications online and offline, and is also an occasional public speaker and workshop facilitator. She tweets regularly from @JENDELLA and more of her work can be found at www.jendella.co.uk.
You’re Doing It Wrong is a bi-monthly column by Jendella Benson on parenting, relationships, and the kaleidoscope of small victories, anxiety and unsolicited advice that is modern family life.