Beyond the classroom: My father and his Napoleon story, By Osmund Agbo


Reading Time: 5 mins read

Dreams from My Father is a poignant memoir by Barack Obama, the 44th president of the United States of America. In this compelling narrative, Obama reflects on his personal journey of self-discovery, identity, and the search for belonging. Spanning his early years in Hawaii to his travels to Africa, the book delves into his complex relationship with his absentee father and the influence of his diverse cultural background. Through insightful storytelling and introspection, Obama shares his experiences as a biracial individual, exploring themes of race, heritage, and the significance of family connections. 

A father assumes the revered role as the boy child’s very first superhero 

and the manner in which he fulfills this sacred role profoundly impacts the child’s holistic development. Barack Obama’s compelling and thought-provoking journey of self-discovery, as depicted in the memoir, finds resonance in my personal experiences while contemplating the relationship I shared with my own father during my formative years.

As the youngest child in a brood of eight siblings, my entrance into this world was marked by a remarkable age gap due to the observed intervals between pregnancies at the time. Consequently, by the time I made my appearance, my parents were already inching towards the autumn of their lives. In my case, I arrived as an unplanned surprise, emerging more than three years after the birth of my immediate older sister, Priscilla. The villagers, at the time, referred to individuals like me as “womb-sealers.”

Unlike my older siblings, I didn’t have the chance to experience my father’s vibrant youth or playfully interact with him. Nevertheless, what I may have missed in experiencing the vibrancy of his youth, I gained manifold from the reservoir of wisdom he generously imparted in me during our moments by the fireplace. To this very day, when faced with daunting challenges, I find solace in tapping into the depths of his extraordinary wisdom.

Among his numerous motivational narratives and life-altering anecdotes, one particular story stands out in my memory. It was his narrative about Napoleon Buonaparte, the French military commander and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution. 

One sunny afternoon while growing up, Napoleon was strolling through the lush countryside, when he happened upon an old oak tree, its branches teeming with a vibrant array of spiderwebs. Intrigued, he sat down to observe a tiny spider diligently spinning its delicate creation. The little arachnid would tirelessly weave its web, and test its strength by gently lying upon it. Yet, every time, the web would give way, and the spider would fall to the ground.

The scene repeated itself, with the spider undeterred by its failures. Each time it fell, the resilient creature would pick itself up, dust off the sands that clung to its body, and commence crafting a new web. The process went on, and the spider faced numerous frustrations along the way. At times, it seemed tempted to give up, but something deep inside, urged it to keep going.

Napoleon watched in awe as the spider’s determination remained unyielding, despite the setbacks. The young man felt a connection with the creature, as if its struggle mirrored his own battles in life. Inspired by the unwavering spirit of the spider, Napoleon internalised the valuable lesson of perseverance. 

There is a back story to this; it was 1989, and I had recently completed my secondary school education the preceding year. However, the burden of idling away at home weighed heavily on me, for I had not met the cut off mark in the University Matriculation Exam (UME) for two consecutive sessions, leading me to contemplate abandoning my favoured career aspiration, which was Medicine. As a young man, the dissapointments gnawed at my confidence and perception of self-worth. Although I refrained from voicing my concerns, my insightful father discerned the mask I wore, pretending to be fine.

Though I couldn’t verify the authenticity of his Napoleon story, the motivational talk, without doubt, served its purpose at the time. Without this inspiration, my life’s trajectory might have been vastly different, and I might not have had the opportunity to escape the daily grind and allocate time to pen these words.

My father, despite only attaining formal education up to Standard Four, proved to be an autodidact, possessing a wealth of wisdom encapsulated in his array of captivating stories. Whether imparting insights on choosing a life partner or giving his exhortations on frugal living, his narratives left an indelible mark on me and my siblings. His wisdom remains an enduring legacy that shapes our lives to this day.

In the realm of human achievement, the stories of world-famous autodidacts challenge the conventional notion of over-reliance on formal education as the sole path to wisdom and success. History is replete with examples of remarkable individuals who, despite lacking formal education, possessed extraordinary wisdom and made enduring contributions to society.

Take, for instance, the legendary polymath and inventor, Thomas Edison. His formal education was minimal, but his insatiable curiosity and relentless pursuit of knowledge led him to become one of the most prolific inventors in history, with over 1,000 patents to his name. Edison’s unconventional approach to learning, characterised by his countless experiments and failures, eventually led to groundbreaking innovations that transformed the world.

Likewise, the self-taught African-American mathematician, Benjamin Banneker, challenges the notion that formal education is the sole gateway to brilliance. Born into a time when education for blacks and other people of colour was severely restricted, Banneker defied societal limitations and taught himself astronomy, mathematics, and engineering. His knowledge and expertise in these fields culminated in the creation of a functioning wooden clock, as well as almanacs predicting celestial events, garnering him widespread acclaim and respect.

These extraordinary individuals prove that natural wisdom and self-education can transcend the limitations imposed by a lack of formal schooling. Conversely, the world is not devoid of educated individuals who remain woefully uninformed. The possession of degrees and accolades does not guarantee wisdom or an in-depth understanding of the complexities of life.

It is essential therefore, to recognise that true wisdom emerges from a combination of formal education, experiential learning, and an insatiable hunger for knowledge. Embracing diverse sources of wisdom, including the insights gained from the experiences of others and the teachings of self-taught luminaries, can lead to a well-rounded understanding of the world.

The stories of renowned autodidacts underscore the fallacy of over-reliance on formal education as the sole measure of wisdom and intellect. The world has witnessed great minds who, through self-driven pursuits and the thirst for knowledge, achieved greatness despite their lack of formal credentials. 

Conversely, education, while invaluable, should not be seen as a guarantee of wisdom, as there are educated individuals who remain uninformed and closed-minded. Embracing a holistic approach to learning and being receptive to unconventional sources of wisdom can lead to a more enlightened and enriched existence.

Here’s raising a toast to my father and other autodidacts who lived way ahead of their times. May the world be blessed with their uncommon wisdom to help navigate today’s ginormous challenges.








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