Every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes.
When I’m Gone
My father was not what my kids refer to as the African dad. By that, I mean he knocked before entering the room I shared with my older brother when we were growing up and he never opened any letters addressed to my siblings or me. He took us out to play football regularly. My father said please before he sent us on errands and thank you when we returned. He called me, young man and all of this made me feel respected.
He was a disciplinarian who stuck to his words. While playing football in the living room one day, I broke a glass frame. He calmly said, “You will not be going with us on the trip tomorrow,” referring to the family trip to Yankari Game Reserve, Bagauda Lake, and Tiga Dam, which I had looked forward to for weeks. Because of his summary judgements, which we could not appeal, we jokingly called him commander-in-chief-with-immediate-effect.
The memories of his many when I’m gone sayings eclipse all others. One time, my mother said, “You keep going on about, when I’m gone, when I’m gone, are you very keen to die?” But so focused was he that he did not relent. He replied, “You all will remember everything I said when I’m gone.” There it was again, another when I’m gone saying! He was right. As I prepared to leave my previous job, a colleague told me, “I will miss you, but I will miss the stories about your dad even more.” I was surprised, as I could not recall saying that much about my dad.
I realize now that my father was not obsessed with death; he cared deeply about his legacy. Like a good leader, he was raising successors to advance what he believed in. At every opportunity, he passed on the baton of leadership.
I do not recall my dad ever calling in sick; he worked hard all the time. I am the same way. Although I have always had jobs I enjoy and never experience Monday morning blues, I wonder if I am just being me or if I inherited his work ethic. Is work my way of saying watch me daddy, I’m being just like you?
I am running my section of the relay race. Sometimes doubts crowd my lane. My father always seemed to know what to do or say in a situation. Am I being a well of wisdom my children can drink from? Am I still holding the baton or have I let it slip as I race through life? I hope my children see me the way I saw my dad. I desire to pass the baton to them too.
Reacting to my pragmatism about life especially material things, my wife once said, “You are just like your dad.” She compared me to a father-in-law she had never met. Like my colleague, she had seen him come alive in the stories I had unconsciously woven into the fabric of my life. It remains the best (unintended) compliment I have ever received.
William Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts, his acts being seven ages.” My father has never left my stage. He has been there all along.
Before he passed on, dad gave us the words he wanted inscribed on his headstone: Here lies M O O, who in his own life, tried to serve humanity and make a part of the world a better place. I pray my family says the same about me, when I’m gone.
Ayo Ogunsanlu makes his home in Essex, UK with his wife and three kids. He enjoys microbiology, running, and housework. On Facebook, he describes himself as a faithful and loyal friend.
©Timi Yeseibo 2016
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