Memories of my father

15 Dec

I remember getting the call that my dad had passed first thing in the morning just days before my sister’s birthday and feeling nothing. No grief, anger or any emotion whatsoever; just a feeling that someone had knocked the stuffing out of me.

I guess it is some sort of defence mechanism that allows me to collect my thoughts before I do or say anything. I remember my wife asking “Are you alright?” and me nodding – what else was I supposed to say.

That was seven years ago now and with my sisters posting messages on Facebook this year, I thought it would be a good time to recollect the ‘best’ bits before I forget it all.

Laughter

The thing I remember most about my dad from the earliest days was his laughter. He had a short laugh that sort of ended in a whinny, guaranteed to make you laugh yourself. I remember him laughing as he posed for my mum who was sketching his portrait on a blackboard in our flat in Plumstead. At three and a half, that sketch looked like a masterpiece to me, especially as my subsequent attempt looked nothing like him. It was the same kind of laugh I’d hear many years later when he beat me at a game of draughts, and then I when I beat the paying customers at our beer parlour in Ondo having picked up his skills.

When you have a strict dad, laughter is a welcome sound which is why I probably remember it so well.

Presents

My first and only present from my dad was on my fifth birthday – an electric organ which must have cost a bit then. Not sure if it was the ‘absent father’ impulse or if it was his way of acknowledging some creative spark he might have noticed in my early years.

I really can’t remember a single present after that but again, when these things are few and far between it makes them more memorable. (Note to self: space out the kids’ presents).

Walks

I remember walking with my dad to Kentucky Fried Chicken in Elephant & Castle to get a Colonel’s meal when I was five. It hadn’t been re-branded as KFC back then.  I watched how his feet didn’t point straight ahead as he walked and tried walking like that myself. I looked like a right penguin and I guess that’s how I got my gait to this day.

I remember walking with him some years later when I was eleven. He used to take me with him to visit people who he’d lent money as he figured I had a good sense of direction and an excellent homing signal (the wife doesn’t agree). That way he could send me to collect at a later date. Who’d turn down a request from a child? We don’t like to lose face in Naija, especially in front of minors. Walking through lamp lit streets from the vendors at Alakoto market and Agboju before the sat nav was born does take some skill.

When I was a young adult, my dad and I would take walks through Ondo when he wanted to visit people. He’d lost his sight by then and I’d have to guide him around pot holes and gullies, skirting wide open drains and the like. I’d often ask what he could see through the cataracts and he’d describe the shadows and low contrast of objects, though he’d man up again like it was no big deal.

Lessons

My dad loved to teach, that’s a talent I got that from him in spades and I’m eternally grateful for it. The two exports you get from Ondo are teachers and farmers, we were both. He taught us Yoruba songs (yeah, I know my Yoruba sucks but it sounds great if I don’t sing out loud). He taught us accountancy, like both volumes of Frank Wood’s accountancy books in two months! He also taught us the value of hard work and healthy eating but the greatest lesson I learnt from him was generosity – the kind where you deny yourself most things so you could give to others.

I didn’t get that at all considering we went without all those school fees whilst others got theirs. At my father’s funeral complete strangers came up to me, some who hadn’t seen my dad since he was in his twenties, and told me what a kind and generous man he was.

I got it then.

Hard times

I could write a book about these memories and maybe someday I will, but the most vivid memory would be my dad sitting at the table in our rooms at Terere Street in Ondo, unable to sleep for worry. Wondering how he was going to find money for my sisters’ university education, pay the rent and feed us.

I remember him once waking me up to talk to me about what he’d been through and my stoic attempts to stay awake and listen (we’re talking 3 a.m. here and I was barely fourteen). I remember the hurt in his eyes when he realised I was dozing off whilst he was sharing the trauma of his break up with my mum. That tears me up to this day; it must have taken some doing for him to open up to me and I wasn’t up to the task.

Later memories

When I went home to visit my dad before he passed I was shocked at his deference to me. I’d spent a lifetime in fear and respect of this man, never being able to question or defy him, not even passive defiance, and now here he was, half a foot shorter than me, wringing his hands and speaking softly when he asked about my health and the family. I didn’t like this new version of my dad but it was a blessing because I could at last speak to him man to man; ask him all those questions I’d been asking myself for years.

I realised then that he was human and the mistakes he made weren’t deliberate or some sort of sadistic way of teaching us a lesson. He simply didn’t have a clue as a single parent in Naija on how to raise the four of us. He was just too stubborn to admit it or accept help that was offered to him.

When I heard the news of his passing that day in December seven years ago, I felt nothing because it had dawned on me that I had finally become a man.

My son bears my father’s name because I don’t want to forget how hard it can be to raise a child so they grow up valuing the things you shared with them.

RIP Dad and thanks for the memories.

 

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One Response to “Memories of my father”

  1. Clara December 15, 2014 at 4:46 pm #

    Interesting reading from my point of view you were the only one who was ever able to speak up to Daddy i was baffled by the way Daddy would let you get away with it, i guess it was because you were a boy alright male 🙂 Hum He was very strict but when he had history to share he became a different person, I remember the story of the war hero who brought Okora to Ondo the women helped pick the seeds out of his hair and they began to grow. The story of St Mathews church Oke padi Ondo on how his Dad Pa Samuel converted to Catholicism and decided to give the church his land to build on, hence all the children of Pa Samuel have a Burial plot there. I guess he must have got his generosity from him. I remember the story of how He My Dad was able to buy his first chicken how he was so content to eat all of it because when he was a child his father was the one who ate all the chicken but for some chicken feet or neck would pass round to the children, despite the chicken was for the kids birthday. I guess i take things like that and pass on stories to my Kids.

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