Every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes.
P.S. I Love You
I do not visit my dad often enough. I blame it on the terrible state of the road from Lagos to Ibadan. My dad and mum are sympathetic. “I know, it’s okay,” my dad usually says whenever I call on a public holiday to explain why I did not visit. Sometimes, I can tell from his tone that he is disappointed. When the reconstruction work on the Lagos-Ibadan express road is completed, I will no longer have an excuse. I hope I will not need one.
Last weekend, I made the 140km trip to Ibadan because my dad turned seventy. We had thanksgiving mass at church and a get-together at home afterwards for close friends and family. My dad had insisted he didn’t want a party. He has never been one for extravagance, and he deliberately avoids the spotlight. I watched with disbelieving eyes, his resplendent agbada swaying in the gentle breeze as his deft footwork kept pace with the music. His smiles swallowed the years written on his face. I thought he would stop when my mum tired and left. He didn’t. I realised, at that moment, that we should have ignored him and thrown a big bash anyway.
Like his birthday party, my relationship with my dad has been full of contradictions. Growing up, I didn’t understand why he was so conservative, eschewing little luxuries and why his work was all that seemed to matter to him. We grew apart in my teenage years. I withdrew into my world and shut my dad out of it. He didn’t understand why I was insistent on doing everything my way, why I never shared my dreams with him.
I don’t have any fond childhood memories in which my dad features. He didn’t teach me how to ride a bike. We didn’t spend evenings playing video games together. If he gave me piggyback rides, I must have been too young to remember. My two-year old son often protests when I smother him with hugs and kisses. My wife says I overdo it. I have no intention of tempering it. Am I only clowning about or is the effusive physical affection I display for my son the antidote to the intimacy I have never had with my dad? It is easier to tell my son I love him than to say those same three words to my dad.
Even today, I am unable to reconcile how my dad and I can be so different. But my wife often reminds me that I overstate our differences and that there are more ways in which I am similar to him than I am willing to acknowledge. My dad is a medical doctor. I admire his work ethic and dedication to his patients. His love for God and compassion for others impress me. In these areas, I aspire to do better; I would be proud to equal his accomplishments.
Long after the last guests had left, I sat in the living room with my dad, our conversation laced with restraint. I realised, during the intermittent quiet spells, that I do not need him to be like me or to be the kind of dad I imagine perfect fathers are like, to appreciate that he has been a good dad. There and then, I cherished the opportunity to visit my dad.
The greatest distance between two people is misunderstanding. My dad and I are talking more than we have ever done. We cannot make up for the lost years, but we are finding our peace in the present.
Dad, I am proud to be your son, in other words, I love you.
Olutola Bella is a lawyer. He blogs @ bellanchi.wordpress.com
 Agbada: A long, wide-sleeved flowing gown, often embroidered, worn by men in parts of West Africa, especially Nigeria. [Credit: Oxford dictionary]
©Timi Yeseibo 2016
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