Stories of Family Togetherness:

Talk delivered at the Rolfe Family Reunion


Chinyere G. Okafor

6:30PM on Saturday, August 5, 2006 at Olive Tree, Wichita


My name is Chinyere Grace Okafor. I am from Nigeria, specifically from the Igbo nation, about 30 million people out of the hundred and thirty million Nigerians. In my place, each family has their salutations or praise names. What are you known for? How do I salute you?

Children of Beauty
The strong ones
All American

I am very happy to be here this evening to meet with an all American family coming from different parts of the county because of one purpose; that is to reunite with their relations. It is therefore important that I thank you all for spending your time, effort, money, and other resources for family, for everyone to affirm their being part of a big extended family.

I was very happy when my colleague in the department, Ms. Carolyn Williams, asked me to be a guest speaker at this occasion, because ‘family’ is a topic, concept, and practice that is very dear to me. I come from a large family, my mother having nine biological children and she and my father adopting many others. My concept of family includes the small family unit but is not limited to it. It is large and I’ll begin to explain it with a story or rather, stories.

First story:

There is an eighty six years old woman who lives in Nigeria, in a city called Enugu. Most of the time, she is a little hard in hearing and you have to shout, and all the time she is blind in one eye and the other one is weak. Her greatest points are her agility and her intellect. This great-great-grandmother spends a lot of time listening to the radio to know what is going on in parts of the world where her children and grandchildren live. Somehow, she nurtured her children and grandchildren to be in touch with her frequently. Before you phone her, you make sure that you prepare for some questions that she will ask you and you can’t lie to her because she will know you’re lying; at least everybody thinks that she knows everything. When she asks you, “did you talk with your sister in England?” You better know the latest information about that sibling and share it with her, even though she knows because they also phone her. In this way, the family links and union go on through the telephone highway. This woman is my mother, Agnes Okafor, simply known as Mama.

Second story:

Another story is about a friend’s father. My friend lives in Houston, Texas. Her seventy eight year old father spends a good part of his retirement time going round visiting his five children and trying to keep the family together. His greatest fear is the threatening break-up of hi son’s marriage. He begs the couple.
“Do you think that life was so rosy for your mother and me? It wasn’t.”
The mention of his dead mother usually draws his son’s attention.
“We were committed to the family and family came before every other thing. This helped us to stay together even when things were too tough.”
Another sentiment that he uses on his son is this:
“If you break up, your mother will think that I have failed her. I will be ashamed to meet your mother when I die. Please allow me to settle this matter in your house.”

Third story:

This is about a couple in Wichita, Kansa. Some of their kids are mothers, fathers, and grandmothers; but I say ‘kids’ because they are still kids to this couple. The couple usually treats the family to a dinner on occasions and also welcomes friends at such occasions. That was how I got to know Leroy and Leodis Rolfe. I feel such empathy at their family dinners, because they remind me of my family’s get-togethers when I was in Nigeria. I remember in one such gathering, my father brought a bundle of sticks and told us to break it. Of course none of us could break the bundle, but when he told us to break the sticks individually, it was so easy to do so. The exercise of course was a lesson in family unity. Later on in life, I saw the parable of the Two sticks in Ezekiel in which God affirmed the strength of the nation that is united (Ezekiel 37: 15-28). I wondered whether my father was inspired by the biblical story, but since he has died, there was no way of finding out. A verse from the book of psalms clinches the beauty of family unity: Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity (Psalm 133:1)

How do we dwell together in unity? I believe that the same bible gives us the key by laying the commandments and I’ll like to emphasize the fourth one – Honor thy father and they mother, which concurs with verse 23 of the Koranic book:

“Be kind to your parents … address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility and say: “My Lord! Bestow on them thy mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.”(17:23 – 24)

Respect is culturally coded and culture specific, so I’m not going to go into details of this for you. However, let me cite examples from my background. Respect includes not calling my parents by their names. It also means that younger siblings should append the sign of seniority when they call my name. Every culture has its own signs of respect. Allow me to emphasize those holy words ‘honor’ ‘respect’ and ‘cherish.’


Family stronghold:   

In our modern life today, the strength of family is not just the people who will lend you money when you are broke or help find you a job. Family is more fundamental that that. The psychological, anti-stress, esteem-value of family has been noted in many studies. Individuals from cultures with strong family ties have been known to withstand more stress than individuals from fragmented family systems (Kellner 2003). This does not mean that family members do not have disagreement, but that the spirit of family or what Igbo people call usokwu (children that were nourished in the same mother’s kitchen) is always paramount. This underscores the importance of what you all are doing today – communion as children of one family.



Every religion acknowledges the importance of family. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam in their holy books – bible, Tora, Koran – hold that the Ultimate Spirit created the first couple, blessed them and told them to maintain their family. Abraham was a devoted family man, doing everything to keep the family that consisted of his wife, Sarah and himself, before God blessed them with Isaac. In the New Testament, the holy family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph is presented as the ideal. In Islam, the family of the prophet Mohammed is used as the example. Let us not forget the family that grows from the organization of worship - the church – which has grown to function as family for many believers who use faith as the bastion that hold them together. Jesus created a large family of apostles and disciples, some of them he renamed to suit the purpose of the new family (Simon renamed Peter (rock) - Mark 3: 7-35).


Sociological family:

Although many of us may feel that we cannot appoint family members like Jesus. This may be true, but let us not forget the larger family that we create as we go through life’s journey. Some of us live in cities where we don’t have any member of our biological family. But we can create a sociological family. I have many sociological families in different places where I have lived – Nigeria, Swaziland, England Italy as well as a number of states here such as Portland ME and Washington DC. I believe that if they nurture the love of family in you, you will find it easy to create family wherever you find yourself and this will help you to navigate the customs of the place. This is how I come to find myself in this family reunion. I am neither a Rolfe nor a Williams, yet I am here at our family reunion, the Rolfe family reunion.

Thank you for inviting me and thank you for listening to me.

Page title: Family
Last update: November 12, 2009
Web page by C. G. Okafor
Copywright © Chinyere G. Okafor