A Space Too Little Explored [5] The End

coffee end

Every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes.

The End

Wetin make you cry?” I asked the six foot two gruff security man.

A mattress leaned on its side against one wall and a spare blue uniform hung from a nail on the opposite wall. A small desk and chair on which he sat and lay his head completed the furnishing in the gatehouse.

After prompting him for a while, he replied, “My papa  . . . e die before I fit show am wetin I be.”

When im die?” I asked.

E don tay.”

A tender moment that never repeated itself. It was the second time I had seen a man cry. The second time was like the first. Both men were crying over loss of something that they had never shared with their fathers because death came too soon.

I have wanted to explore the relationship between sons and fathers for a long time. Finding men who were willing to tell their stories was difficult then as it is now although this time, I offered anonymity.

Two years ago when I approached a friend to contribute to a series on fatherhood, he said, “Do you know I live down the street from my parents and I hardly drop by? When I do, it’s because of my mother. My father, too much stuff going on there.” 

When I pressed, he said, “I’m just not ready to go there.” 

He is in his thirties now.

A writer I admire said, “We just discovered we have another brother who is twenty-eight! Don’t ask me about my father right now,” before going AWOL on me.

A recent conversation I had contained elements of estrangement I have come to know.

“I didn’t talk to my father for nine years. Well I wanted to, but he wouldn’t speak to me because I disappointed him.”

“How?”

“All my siblings followed the path he carved out for them based on what he perceived as their strengths. He read me wrong. I tried. I really tried not to waste the money he’d spent on tuition, but flunked the first year of school and then quit to do my thing.”

“Let me tell your story,” I urged. It will help someone.

“Dad and I just started talking again, it’s still too fresh.”

I understood and respected that.

When fathers don’t speak their sons’ love language, internal bleeding occurs on both sides. I am suspect of sons who proclaim that they don’t need their father’s affirmation. Sons, who admit that they need and would love to have their father’s affirmation, but have come to terms with not having it and the man they call father, feel real to me.

However, not all stories are punctuated with grief or trauma. There are many stories of afternoons playing ball at the park, evening conversations about what it means to be a man, and long-distance phone calls seeking advice on pressing matters.

Is every man trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes? I think so. The dots were obvious to me as I read or listened to stories, even when the narrators were oblivious of the sub-plot of their lives.

Maybe one day I will author a coffee-table book with elegant photos of sons and fathers on one page and the story of their relationship on the other. I hope to paint an accurate picture, editorialized through the soft lens of a son who has received grace for his own mistakes and so better understands the shortcomings of his father.

To me, it remains a space too little explored.

 

Forget Batman: when I really thought about what I wanted to be when I grew up, I wanted to be my dad. -Paul Asay

P.s. Special thanks to Ayo, Tola, and A.C. for sharing their stories. I thank everyone who also shared their story by commenting on the series.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Space Too Little Explored [4] Broken

broken

Every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes.

Broken

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

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Space Too Little Explored [3] P.S. I Love You

p.s. i love you

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[1] 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

_____________________

[1] 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

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.