Our son, William Riley North, was born in Abilene, Texas on February 22nd, 2007. I was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1974. My father was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa in 1952. No, this isn’t simple genealogy. At no other time in human history has so much change happened in two generations. The world that my father was born into does not exist anymore. 1952 may as well be 500 years ago as far as my son is concerned. In two generations everything has changed - culture, technology, politics, communication, travel, and religion. But here’s the big thing that I’ve really thought about lately. My son was born an American. That may not be a big deal for most of you, but it is for me. I was not born an American. I spent years of my life dreaming about going to America. I went through many hoops to become an American. I only became an American on February 22nd, 2005 – at age 31. This is really a big deal for me! My son’s formative experiences will be radically different from mine in so many ways. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
My son will not know Port Elizabeth, South Africa. This is my hometown. This is where I was born, where my father was born, where his father was born. In fact, my family has lived in Port Elizabeth since 1820. We settled in Port Elizabeth with the earliest British settlers. My great-grandmother’s grandparents (Benjamin and Ann Leach) arrived in Port Elizabeth on Monday, May 15, 1820 on board HMS Weymouth from Portsmouth, England. My son will not have that rich family heritage in terms of a “hometown.” I will take him to Port Elizabeth someday and show him where I grew up.
My son will not know his relatives in South Africa as I know them. People I love dearly and grew up with will be complete strangers to him.
My son will not grow up speaking two languages fluently – English and Afrikaans (Dutch) as I did. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to live in two very different worlds, and feel comfortable in both.
My son will not know or appreciate the heritage of a British colonial education – the School Houses, the discipline, prefects, and uniforms.
My son will not understand rugby and cricket. He’ll play football and baseball.
My son will not know the comforting smell and sound of the ocean. People laugh at me when I say, “The Sea is in my blood.” But it’s true!
My son will not know the sights and smells of Africa. Africa is a world of enchantment that cannot be explained to someone who has never gone there.
My son will not have the stigma of apartheid as I had growing up. When I was a kid white people were only 13% of the population, but we had all the power, and the rest of the world hated us.
My son will think it odd to drive on the left side of the road. I used to find it odd to drive on the right side of the road.
Can you think of anything else?