5 Important Life Lessons From A Man From A Sh*thole Country by Doyin Richards
ΩI’ll start by saying that my dad will always be my hero and greatest role model. Sadly, he passed away in early 2019 after a long battle with colon cancer, and my life will never be the same without him. To celebrate his legacy, I penned my latest children’s book titled, WATCH ME: A Story of Immigration and Inspiration, which illustrates how countless people can immigrate to America from “shithole countries” (not my words) and add immense value.
What makes WATCH ME so special, is how it tells a story of following your dreams in spite of incredible adversity along the way. In this particular story, the adversary was racism — but my dad still rose to the occasion to reach his dreams by telling the bigots, haters, and doubters, “Oh, you don’t think I can be successful here? Watch me.” The artwork by award-winning illustrator Joe Cepeda is absolutely breathtaking and makes the story come to life in such a beautiful way. So if you happen to be someone who was told that you’re not good enough for whatever reason and still told everyone, “Watch me” as you achieved your goals, this book is for you.
To give you some background, my dad was born and raised in Sierra Leone (a country on the west coast of Africa), graduated from high school at 15, and moved to the United States in his early 20s once he received a merit scholarship from Northwestern University to obtain his Ph.D. He spent 30 years as a university professor, and died 11 months to the day from his 50th wedding anniversary with my mom.
When it comes to straight-up academic intelligence, my dad was easily the smartest person I’ve ever come across. One day he sent me an email and described me as “truly indefatigable.” Who writes that in an email? Oh, wait — my dad does. I didn’t know if I should be flattered or offended until I logged onto dictionary.com. Although he’s very smart and kept company with many respected scholars, including the iconic late author (and my godfather) Chinua Achebe, my dad understood that intelligence without proper action is no different from being a billionaire stranded alone on a deserted island with no means of communication. What good is all of that money if you don’t use it? Thankfully, he used his knowledge wisely in raising my two brothers and me, and here are a few things I’ve learned from him when it comes to being a good human, and hopefully these tips will help you, too.
- Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
I’ve already established how smart my dad was, but that’s only half the story. He was also an incredibly hard worker who would never settle for “OK” or “good enough.” He demanded that if you’re going to do something, you put your heart and soul into it and do it right. As a kid, it started with making up my bed properly in the morning, cleaning up after myself, always being polite, and studying hard in school. No half-stepping allowed. He was so busy and easily could’ve said, “Meh, I’ll just let their mother handle it,” but he never did. Even if it meant he would be late for appointments, he would make sure that we completed our tasks correctly the first time around. Yes, it’s a very simple lesson, but it’s a damn important one.
- Being kind only when it’s convenient is meaningless.
We all know that person. He’s the one who’s really cool and nice when he wants something from someone, but he won’t give the time of day to anyone who isn’t in a position to help him. Nobody likes that dude. My dad was the kind of man who doesn’t care if you’re a CEO or a homeless person — he will smile, look you in the eye, greet you with a “sir” or “ma’am” and make you feel as if you’re the most important person within a 50-yard radius. Seriously, how hard is it to be nice and respectful to others? Not very. In a world where civility is becoming more uncommon by the day, I pride myself on being a genuinely kind person (sure, I fail in that regard at times, but I still believe I’m about 95% effective).
- Always forgive.
I can’t really get into detail on this one, but suffice it to say that my dad had some bad things happen to him in his life. We all have. The difference is that he always forgave the people who wronged him. Not once did he hold grudges or harbor hate in his heart, because he knew it wouldn’t serve him as a husband and father. To be clear, forgiveness isn’t inviting your enemies over for wine and cheese. In many cases it means simply stating to yourself, “I’m letting it go,” walking away, and not looking back. Is that easy to do? Of course not. It took me almost my entire adult life to master it, but I’ve figured it out now. As parents, we can’t protect our kids from the emotional pain they’ll endure when they’re older, but I’ll do my best to ensure my girls’ hearts are clear of hatred and anger so they can live their best lives.
- Being mentally tough is essential to doing anything meaningful in life.
My grandmother (my dad’s mom) was one of the first women in the history of Sierra Leone to be elected to its House of Representatives. Even though the people votedher in, a pocket of knuckleheads weren’t too thrilled about a woman being a position of power and prestige. Her life was threatened on a regular basis; people threw rocks at her, spit at her, called her names, and tried to make life miserable for her. In spite of that, she kept moving forward with her mission of making Sierra Leone a better country for all of its citizens — including the people who tormented her. Although she passed away many years ago, my dad always talked about how mentally tough my grandmother was and how he wants his sons to be the same way.
You know the term “First World Problems”? Well, my dad didn’t like it when his kids complained about them. The server messed up a meal at the restaurant? The kids had a meltdown at Target? Tired after a long day at the office? His message is simple: vent quickly and then get over it quickly. My dad taught me that nobody likes incessant complaining. Just think about how annoying it is when our children whine. It’s exponentially more annoying when grown men and women do it.
- Celebrate life.
This is was my dad’s motto. He always told me, “No matter what you have going on in your world, you must take time out of your day to celebrate life.” Donate to charity, have tickle fights with your toddler, sing in the shower, start an impromptu dance party, eat ice cream for dinner, whatever. Just do something that makes you happy every single day of your life. No excuses. My dad hammered that fact home even when he was on his death bed. He told me to celebrate every day we have on this earth because we never know when it will be our time to go.
Dad, thank you for being the first man I ever looked up to. Even though you’re no longer here, I still view you as a superhero, and I’m so thankful that you were (and still are, in many ways) always there to be the best example of being a good man. I hope my latest book makes you as proud of me as I am of you. I love you.
Doyin Richards is one of the most respected voices on modern fatherhood today. He’s also founder of Daddy Doin’ Work, author of the picture book I Wonder: Celebrating Daddies Doin’ Work, What’s the Difference, and Daddy Doin’ Work: Empowering Mothers to Evolve Fatherhood. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their two daughters. His debut illustrated picture book, Watch Me, is on sale January 12, 2021.
Thanks to you and your dad for sharing these lessons, Doyin. I sure needed the reminder today. Congratulations on WATCH ME! I’m putting it on the list for my daughter’s school library.
Great post! What a wonderful father. So much wisdom to contemplate. Thank-you for sharing it.
Thanks to you, I’ve added a new word to my vocabulary. These are great life lessons and I plan to share them, as well as Watch Me with my family.
This is the good news for me today, balancing the weariness I feel at the prospect of resuming school online from tomorrow, instead of opening the school year on campus – usually my favourite thing! I’ve also just read ‘Happiness’ by Aminatta Forna, who also has roots in Sierra Leone, and loved it. Africa is our place, our people and I love getting good news about it! Looking forward to stocking you book in our library. Hamba kahle from Johannesburg