The legendary beauty of Soviet women caused one of my Ghanaian classmates in Kyiv to do something that was nothing short of insanity. We were both first-year students and had been in Kyiv less than three months, but the Ghanaian upperclassmen had already taken us to a couple of house parties where we had gotten a sense of how attractive the Soviet ladies really were.

Unbeknownst to us, my classmate, who I will hereon refer to as John Doe for privacy reasons, had decided that he would make a move on the ladies at the next party we went to. He didn’t have to wait long. Less than a week after he hatched his plan, we were invited to another bash. In preparation for his important mission, he went and got the best haircut a man can have.

When we left our dormitory around ten o’clock that night for the party, the air was bone-chilling cold. It was middle of winter in Ukraine after all. We had to change buses twice to get to the venue and at each stop, we were going to wait several minutes for one. Everyone knew that in those temperatures, not an inch of the body should be left uncovered.

Because we had been walking briskly, no one noticed that John wasn’t wearing a hat. We were flabbergasted when we arrived at the first bus stop and it dawned on us. When we asked why, he explained that in the rush to leave for the party, he had forgotten to take his hat. Within two minutes, he was shivering uncontrollably.

Even the natives did not joke with the Soviet winters. Luckily for John, there were no babushkas out and about at that hour. A babushka is an elderly Russian woman, typically a grandmother. Whenever we were out somewhere during daytime and we came across babushkas who thought we were inappropriately dressed for the weather, they berated us. Quite frequently, they demanded that we return to our dormitories to pack on extra layers of clothing. It often felt as if someone had assigned them to mother us.

The cold took a heavy toll on John. He was quite subdued by the time we arrived at the party, but he quickly came alive when he saw the ladies. The beauty on display that night was indeed quite stunning. Within minutes, he was chatting up a couple of women in one corner of the room. As newly arrived first-year students, we had just started to study Russian so none of us had any command of the language. And because almost no one in the Soviet Union spoke anything other than Russian in those days, we wondered how he was carrying on that conversation. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t make much headway; he left the party empty-handed.

We were stunned when, immediately upon exiting the house after the party, John pulled out a hat from his coat and placed it on his head. It was dawn, and the air was even more frigid so we were hugely relieved to see that he had something to protect his skull. He confessed to us that he had the hat with him all along, but had decided not to wear it because he didn’t want to mess up his nicely combed hair. Impressing the ladies was a top priority for him.

John’s ill-judged action that night was one example of the many idiotic things we did as young foreign students in the Soviet Union. I had my share of them. In fact, without my Presbyterian mother’s long shadow that hung over me from thousands of miles away, I perhaps would have courted a lot more trouble than I did. Merely recalling her puritanical nature somehow curbed some of my impulses.

Something happens to us when we become parents. We turn into risk-averse creatures all of a sudden. And we develop a sky-is-falling mentality that heavily influences our relationships with our children.

I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when my son, who is a senior in college, was about to travel to the Dominican Republic for spring break. Although he was going to spend the week there with a group of his friends, I learned a few days before his departure that he was traveling on a separate flight by himself. I was quite unhappy about that because he could have easily arranged to travel with his friends, which, for safety reasons, would have been ideal.

As I was registering my displeasure with his decision, he told me that it was about time he learned to travel independently. That stopped me in my tracks. It reminded me that I was 23 when I left Ghana for the Soviet Union. He turns 22 next month. Relative to the distance between Ghana and the Soviet Union, the Dominican Republic is a stone’s throw away from our home in Pennsylvania. He has a cell phone so I could reach him pretty much whenever I wanted. There were no phones in my village when I left Ghana, and because my parents were both illiterate, I couldn’t exchange letters with them. It took four years for them to see me again on my first return visit to Ghana.

That exchange with my son brought back memories of John’s indiscretion that night in Kyiv, and some of the things we ourselves did in our youth that would have given our parents heart attacks if they had known. It also made me wonder what my parents must have felt when I left Ghana. Going to a place like the Soviet Union from my village at that time was akin to traveling to an exoplanet. I wonder whether they even expected me to come back. Perhaps when you have 14 children as they did, as opposed to the two I have, it is not so nerve-wracking to have one wander off into such an unknown.

I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent. But I have worried unnecessarily many times about things that I should know are quite normal with any child’s growing-up process. I speak frequently with parents of my children’s friends and I know they have similar tendencies. Boomer parents like me should do a better job of remembering our own past. It will help us sleep better at night.