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Authentic Eagles: Owie Agbontaen on the Perfect Family

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working toward being more authentic individuals.

Owie Agbontaen, MCAS '16

Growing up, my family was perfect. Although I came from two different backgrounds–half Chinese, half Nigerian–my life couldn’t have felt more whole.  I had parents who devoted their time and efforts to me and showed me the ropes as a kid, and a younger sister who allowed me to be as good a big brother as she needed. My family was perfect.

But that was in Brooklyn.

At the start of high school, my mom got a job in New England. Just like that, we up and left to Rhode Island to start a new chapter as a family. It didn’t take me too long to realize that this wasn’t the place I wanted to be, and my dad felt the same. Suddenly, my parents’ insignificant arguments became big ones, mostly centered on Rhode Island. You can imagine how I felt when he told me he was going back to Brooklyn for work and I had to finish school in RI. I didn’t know a life without my dad. Seeing him only three times a month during high school forced me to become the man of the house. I struggled between growing up my own person and trying to be just like my dad.

I couldn’t help but think about the time when I first told my dad I wanted to be like him. I was seven, and he had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I told him innocently, “just like you!” His face turned harsh, and he told me to never say that again. That was the end of that conversation. It hurt for a little, but later I realized I couldn’t blame him. He comes from a different country, and this wasn’t the first time he’d expressed something to me in a different way than I was used to. I figured out that what he really meant was that I should want to be better than him. So throughout high school, I strove to be like him and more.

By the time college rolled around, I couldn’t have been happier to leave the place that didn’t even feel like my true home. I found a new home at BC. Like my dad, who I still viewed as my idol, I was running track. Then, at orientation, I saw Sexual Chocolate perform for the first time. I wasn’t blown away originally, but people encouraged me to try out. Despite not getting the time of day at the Student Involvement Fair, I went to tryouts and decided that if I didn’t make it, at least the process would be a great experience.

The next week I found out I made the team, but the captains wanted to know why I was joining SC when I was already a part of the track team. I told them I wanted brothers, and that was it. Besides always wanting brothers as a kid, the fact that my dad wasn’t around while I was in RI made me long for an older male figure. In addition, my dad’s different cultural experiences didn’t really translate into helping me transition at BC. I no longer needed brothers as playmates–I needed brothers to raise my adult self and guide me through uncharted college experiences.

After joining SC, I didn’t talk to my family and friends from home for months. The only interactions I had with my parents were when they checked in on me to make sure I was still alive. I didn’t think much of it because freshman year was perfect. I had both the track team and SC to support me, and socially, and I felt pretty lucky.

Sophomore year was also a breeze, and not talking to my family back home became normal–so normal that I didn’t realize my perfect family was breaking apart. My parents got a divorce and didn’t tell me until it was too late for me to do anything about it.  At this point, they were no longer talking, and my sister and mom argued constantly. I was already out of the loop because I was “too busy” at college. In the aftermath, SC became more than a step team: they were my support system while I dealt with things that were happening outside of the BC bubble. They were there for me through it all, even if they didn’t realize it. I stayed at BC that summer–the only home I could really call my own.  SC became everything to me. After sustaining an injury in track, my SC brothers made the decision to quit track all the easier. Track, of course, was the reason I came to BC, but SC was the reason I stayed.

Now, as captain of Sexual Chocolate, I have learned what it means to be a part of a perfect family. The older guys on the team have raised me through college to be the man I am today. I consider my fellow SC brothers my blood relatives for reasons that some of them still don’t know. My family has grown exponentially because of a group that many people just see as a step team. I took a risk joining SC, quitting track, and losing a piece of my father as I did it, but this new family I gained was something my biological family could be proud of as well. I am not saying that SC is the only thing that can evoke those feelings, but taking the risk of joining the team has granted me a perfect family here at BC, and I couldn’t be more thankful.