Every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes.
When I look back on my childhood, one word sums the hours spent playing football, riding my bicycle up and down our street, studying for exams, wincing as iodine was dabbed on a grazed knee, wrestling with friends, and fighting with my two brothers and only sister; carefree. My childhood was carefree because my parents, my father in particular, were careful to make it so.
Although he travelled a lot, my father always spent time with us whenever he was home. He was fun, rolling on the carpet with us, not a disciplinarian like my mother. I am the last-born. Deemed my father’s favourite by my siblings, I was the emissary who always obtained from him the favours they made me present to him as my idea. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.
When I was sixteen, I returned from school to find my mother sitting atop a trunk box, as we called those silver rectangular chests with black trimmings, not attempting to hide her tears as she welcomed me home. A couple of my aunts cooed encouragement to her like mourners. My heart raced. Had someone died?
At my prodding, in a moment of weakness I suppose, my mother spilled the details of my father’s affairs. Nearly every family in our neighbourhood lived with the evidence of polygamy or infidelity: half-brothers, half-sisters, second and third wives, and aunties, who were really girlfriends. Although these educated and wealthy families had a veneer of sophistication and cohesiveness, their children, my friends, let me know that the glue that held their blended families together gave often.
I took pride in my family of six, one father and one mother and four children. The glue that held us together did not give way, until that day, that day when my dad stopped being my hero.
My childhood was no longer carefree.
My mother’s belongings were in the trunk box. She had been waiting to say goodbye to my older brother and me, the only children who still lived at home, before she left.
“Who will look after you?” She asked when I insisted that I, her last son, could take care of myself so she should pursue her happiness.
In the end, my mother decided to stay. Life at home was routine again with one change, I stopped talking to my father. I could barely look at him talk less of greeting him. The ball of anger in my heart grew larger and larger. To keep from hitting him, I avoided him altogether.
I felt betrayed by my mother. As she served my father’s food and they laughed at the dining table, I could not understand how she forgave him. But I could not hold a grudge against her for she reached out to me and asked me to forgive her for involving me in something that was not my business. Still I could not do the one thing she wanted from me: forgive my father and reconcile with him.
My father stopped paying my tuition or giving me pocket money because he said that he would not support any child who disrespected him. I still lived at home, and my mum and older siblings picked up where he left off so I was never in need. I grew to resent my father even more.
At nineteen, I met a youth counselor who took an interest in me and we grew close as we talked about various subjects including my father. He nudged me to forgive my father. I said that I could not forgive my dad, the hypocrite. To the charge of hypocrisy, he gently insisted that I was no better, pointing to the evidence in my hostel room of days and nights spent with different girls. I was in the university, changing girlfriends the way I changed my clothes.
“But,” I protested my innocence, “I’m not married to any of them!”
Yet, his words haunted me. Was I no better than my dad? Had I become what I despised?
It took three years of encouragement from the counselor, three years in which I left university and moved out of my parent’s home, for me to forgive my dad and accept that I would have to be the one to reach for reconciliation.
“Yes,” my dad answered, the first time I called him, “who is this?”
Had he forgotten my voice or was he pretending? I told him I just called to say hello and then he said okay. I listened to his breathing, heavy as though he was waiting for something more. Or was it my own breathing? My heart, beating rapidly, obscured my hearing. I hung up, exhaling euphoria like a deflating balloon.
But, the next phone call was easier as was the next one after that. Eventually we settled into a routine without awkwardness, conversing about the present and the future. We do not talk about the past, that five-year window when we became strangers. When you bury something and pack dirt on it, then stamp it with your feet, sometimes plants grow above and you cannot tell where you buried it.
The only reference we have made, if I may call it that, to the past, was when my wife and I needed a babysitter to fill in for our nanny’s three-month absence. My dad, who was visiting at the time, mentioned that his friend’s daughter, just out of secondary school and waiting to gain admission into the university, could help. We welcomed the offer.
My dad said, “Please she’s my friend’s daughter. I don’t want any stories . . .,” his voice trailed off but his eyes did not waver from mine.
I was tempted to share some wisecrack about his philandering days. Instead, I said, “Dad, you don’t have to worry.”
There were no stories three months later.
Discovering that underneath my father’s superman cape lived an ordinary human broke me. Forgiveness mended me.
Broken pieces actin’ like we ain’t cracked
But we all messed up and can’t no one escape that
… Broken hearts inside of a broken soul
… And we all need grace in the face of each other
– Broken, LeCrae feat. Kari Jobe
Broken, is an amalgamation of conversations I had with people who were willing to tell me their stories but reluctant to write for this series.
©Timi Yeseibo 2016
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