I start with a confession:
I write this with utmost reluctance. This is my greatest act of defiance against my own will. I would have easily wriggled out of this if I could permanently evade this duty without feeling guilty… of disowning you.
I postponed writing about you more times than I can proudly admit. I canalized my grief by writing on distant subjects. I deferred and deferred writing about you because I wasn’t ready to embrace the reality of your earthly end. I wasn’t strong enough to struggle to summarize you.
Going to the morgue every week to see you didn’t bring me any close to closure. Your remains still evinced an aura of life. Your face still beamed love back to me.
I knew deep down in my heart that I had to seek healing in giving expression to the universe of my remembrances of you. I would have to face a white page on my laptop, reach back into the dark eternity of the past and retrieve pieces of the puzzle of your essence. I would have to conjure a fair portrait of you out of a blank space.
I knew, in my head, that I must try to do the word painting. That the cup would not pass over me. That it would serve me better to do it sooner and lighten myself of some weight. But I couldn’t help pushing it farther it and farther into the future.
I procrastinated for respite. I counted other things more urgent and pressing so I could lean on the excuse of my busyness. I was desperately trying to escape the exhaustion of a pilgrimage to an absent presence, the rigor of recall and introspection, the chaos of catharsis and hollowness.
In pushing it away repeatedly, I was also running away from the prospect of doing you grave injustice. I was haunted by the impracticability of conveying my experience of your fatherhood, in its integrity, in understandable language. I feared that presenting anything less than the entire picture of the dad I knew would amount to–to the extent of the missing portion – a betrayal.
You were larger than a poem could sing. You were fuller than an elegy could encapsulate. You were a finer man than the son of your loins could justly describe.
This is an acknowledgement of my eternal indebtedness to you. You were a gift I was blessed to be perpetually in awe of. You were a beautiful mystery that continually excited my sense of wonder.
You sculpted the man I have become in many ways. You were the man I wanted to become when I grow up. You were my model of a man, my exemplar of a father.
When you weren’t away on mission trips, you got me ready for school. You bathed me. You combed my hair and oiled my skin. Your manly hands were tender. Your touches were as soft as your heart.
I owe my appetite for books and reading to you. You modeled a passion for knowledge and learning. You fed your library too frequently and read too devotedly, my impressionable young mind internalized the culture of educating myself as a fun exercise.
I am particularly grateful for your newspaper and magazine habit. As my cognitive skills became more developed, you let me read before you. You would hand them to me and wait for me to read to the last page. You were patient, positive and affirming.
You groomed the writer I have become. You delighted in reading my scraps. You were proud to be your son’s fan. And I was inspired by your admiration.
I remember the first time I was separated from you. You and my uncle, Jonathan, dropped me off at the boarding school located in a bushy village. I remember it was as hard for me to say goodbye as it was for you to leave me behind. You saw the frozen tears in my eyes that I saw in yours.
I remember you intuited my need for regular visits. You pulled me close and said in a lower voice than usual that you would come and see me as often as possible. It was no empty promise. You honoured your word. You visited me as frequently as your itinerary permitted.
When you realized I have become more settled, you lovingly weaned me off your visits. You came less and less often. You were so thoughtful and considerate my now adult mind marvels at you.
I remember my first return from Ihe. Rashes were scattered all over my body like stars on a night sky. I had been drinking dirty water from the village stream a couple of miles away from school.
I remember I told you and showed you. I stripped bare before you. I was naked and not ashamed. You saw the rashes that trespassed even into my secret place.
I was always welcome to be open to you.
I watched you love my mother, Beatrice. The bond you maintained with her was the most solid, unbreakable thing I have ever seen existing between a man and his wife. I loved how you loved her.
You loved your children intensely. The dynamics of your relationship with each of us were different. You knew us individually and specially and you related to us according to the details of our unique specificities.
We were all your favorite kids. We were your kids and your friends. You had an exceptional path to our hearts.
I watched you rejoice in your sacrifice for my siblings and me. You wouldn’t let voices of mockery deter you from fulfilling your vow to prioritize our education. You were content to make us your foremost investment, to pour your modest pastor’s wage into your dream of raising six graduates.
Like Moses, you glimpsed the contours of that Promised Land from a mountaintop before you were taken away. You saw four graduates and two in their penultimate year in the university before you left. You were a faithful, loyal and unselfish family man.
You shot us ‘’like arrows in the hands of a mighty man’’ so that we may transcend the junction where your journey terminated. You, whose education was truncated by the poverty of your parents and the untimely death of your half-brother benefactor, strived to make us better than you had the chance to be. You desired for us to maximize our God-given potentials.
I watched you practice peace in the midst of the storm. You dammed your thoughts and sealed your lips when the most natural thing to do was to scream and rage. You knew how to weaponize silence, how to conquer by calmness.
Other times, I watched you unleash the loin in you. I saw you rise and roar when you needed to defend your family. I watched you dare to fight as our pointman.
You were an alloy of sophistication and simplicity. You were charming and common. You were noble and meek.
There were parts of you I never came around to grasping. Parts of you that I admired but couldn’t describe. Parts of you I craved to embody though I think they made you seem sacred, strange and otherworldly.
I have caught myself wondering if I could have cracked the code of the inscrutable you if you had tarried. If you stayed a few more years, I imagine we might have reached a more intimate bonding. I fancy that I may have taken care to study you in your hoary years, knowing you more and more as you aged nearer to the Pearly Gate.
I regret skipping the last couple of Christmas holidays. I missed private facetime moments with you and the osmotic exchanges that can’t happen over the telephone. I am pained that I will never know what rhapsodies you nursed in your bosom and hoped to share with me when father and son sit down to enjoy the pleasure of each other’s company.
If I had known you would go this early, I would have called more often. I would have lingered a little more on every phone call. I would have accumulated your voice like tangible wealth. I would have teased out older tales from you.
I never imagined my world and the world would be empty of you this soon. You left before three score and ten. You departed nine years before you were ripe for the harvest of the angels, as the scriptures promised.
I was seated in my study when you called that cold, dry Friday morning to assure me you were going to be fine. You slipped into eternity twenty five minutes later. You didn’t leave until you intoned the patriarchal benediction: ‘’God bless you’’.
My ears will ring with those words for the rest of my life.
I am thankful that I didn’t have a different father. I am grateful that you were my daddy. I am grateful that you had me… and that I had you.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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