by Ify Adenuga
I had just watched the ‘Bridgerton’ series on Netflix and one particular quote really resonated with me: “Is anything more exhilarating than taking a gamble? For it is often the highest risk that carries the greatest reward. Yet, wager wrongly, and you might find yourself left with nothing but regret.” (S1 E7)
Looking back at my life journey which I shared in my autobiography, Endless Fortune, I took so many gambles from an early age, during the civil war, right through to my primary school days and secondary education, always in pursuit of freedom and happiness. I was raised believing I had to be perfect to be loved and appreciated, particularly by my parents and the significant adults around me. I grew up thinking ‘to love and be loved’ was an exclusive characteristic of married couples of which you’d miss the subtle expression if you blinked as a kid around them. I never thought my parents actually loved me but now I recognise that each time they called me by my nicknames it was their way of showing affection to fill the gap - their cultural way of showing how impressed they were with me whenever I did something that made them proud. I silently took pride in all my little milestone achievements and this culminated in an uncompromising resolve to raise my own family differently as a way to cancel out my negative childhood experiences. I wanted to be free of the war and all its impoverishments. I wanted to be happy. I constantly daydreamed my existence into a peaceful environment where all my dreams could come true.
Of my many gambles in life, one of my biggest gambles was marrying Mr. Joseph Adenuga senior who came from a different tribe to me in my country. I would break out in a sweat each time I thought about speaking to my family and people about being in love with a Yoruba boy. But I damned the consequence of any potential regrettable emotions and/or family backlash I might have faced, I was happy; that’s all that mattered to me and at the time I had a beautiful bouncing baby boy (Junior aka Mercury award-winning artist, Skepta) to show for my happiness. I was prepared to live outside my cultural and traditional expectations to be free and happy.
It was in the UK that I raised my family along with Joseph and got the chance to follow through with my resolve to follow my instinct and bring up our children with little or no particular attention either to my cultural norms or western social constructs. For example, I just knew I must enable my children to develop and be who they were free from conditions to realise that happy childhood that alluded me as a kid. So instead of loading all of my parental expectations on them, I was going to do the best I could to enable their career pathways and even though they all headed into the creative and entertainment industry, I was not worried about any cultural expectation around raising kids to go into mainstream professions (Doctor, Lawyer, Accountant, etc). I was more focussed on raising children who were shown love and enjoyed their childhood environment which for them was playing with all the technological and electronic gadgets around the house! The more they fell in love with the family dynamics – that everyone was a team player and each player had equal responsibility to sustain the family feel good factor, almost eroding the parent children boundaries, the more I could see their confidence and desire to earn a living from what they love doing take hold. They have been described by The Guardian as "Four of the most successful creatives in Britain" so I guess you can say the rest is history. For me that meant Joseph and I have been successful in providing a freedom for them to be themselves, creative and happy to just be who they are.
I’ve had a few readers of my book Endless Fortune who come from the same or similar cultural/traditional backgrounds as me contacting me and asking me how it made me feel to live outside of my cultural/traditional box, not just in how I raised my children but also the many other times I mention in my book when I went against the grain or took a gamble. I always tell people that it’s never bothered me. I am proud to be a woman, Black, African and part of the diaspora and most of all I am proud to never be afraid to just be me. The only reason I am part of the diaspora of African women living abroad is because of my gamble to take a chance and go in quest for a better life. A quest being driven by a desire to be free to express everything that I am and that I think and to be happy without bowing to any social constructs. Do I count myself lucky for being able to look back with no regrets? Yes, of course! So many things could have happened to stop me in my tracks along the way and sometimes they did. However, as long as I know that I will always try my best, I will always be happy.
I’d like to end with some words that I begin with in my book in the introduction: “When you take away all that identifies us - our race, the colour of our skin, our gender - I am merely a human trying to figure it all out” (Intro: Endless Fortune 2020)
Endless Fortune is co-published by OWN IT! and BBK | £18.99.