as you read this, take a deep breath. exhale. remember that you are your father’s daughter. wear a grin on your face, wide enough, just like that of Joker. remember your experiences with your father. your first meal together. your first reading date together. your first adult discussion. your first advice session. your first scolding.
There are many things I remember about Daddy. I remember his smile, how he laughed, how he complained about how big his tummy was becoming, how he loved to tuck his polo in his jeans, how he loved to fry his eggs without whisking and how he would have his bread, pan-fried. I also remember how he wanted to learn to use computers and smartphones with ease and how he would watch Nollywood with so much zeal. I can also never forget how much he hated snakes.
Daddy would never eat a meal without calling me to have a piece of meat or to share in the meal especially when it was our favourite Tapioca and Bonga fish. This did not stop not even when I was sixteen and in senior year. I was his baby. My daddy’s girl. Always have been. Always will be. Mummy always teased me about how I was so much of an Ujevwen girl because I loved Bonga fish and Tapioca just like daddy and I loved to eat Ukodo just as much as he loved to. So now, whenever I have a meal of Ukodo or Bonga and Tapioca, I remember Daddy. I remember him in every bite, in every swallow, and in every taste. I remember how he made me love those meals and I wish I could invite him to eat with me.
Daddy was not a saint. No man on earth is. He had his flaws and weaknesses, like we all do. But they were the reasons why he was my daddy. They were the reasons why he was a man worth remembering. He was a man who would never let his family go through suffering even if he had to do everything including using his last sweat to make them happy. This is cliché but indeed not all heroes wear capes. Daddy was a hero. He did not have a cape. He was no Superman or Batman yet, the strength of a hero, the charisma of one, the zeal of one, these, he had.
The eight-year-old me remembers Daddy coming home with books for me. Lantern. Macmillan. Foreign books, several titles, most of which I cannot remember who the publishers are. As I grew older and maybe wiser, my supply of books metamorphosed to African Writers Series, Pacesetters, and some Charles Dickens. I would not forget ‘stealing’ some his James Hardley Chase.
‘Read the books and write a summary of the story which you’d share with me later,’ my old man would say.
I would smile and take the books with the ready excitement of an eight year old and go read them. Then I would wait for the evening or the day after and listen to Daddy call me to take a piece of meat from his meal and share my experience of the books I read with him. I fell in love for the first time with the help of my father.
Do you remember when you first fell in love and how it felt? I fell in love for the first time with books. With writing. With art. A first love with no regrets, one that lets the hormones of sweetness and peace run through one’s body. It is and will always be credited to daddy.
Sixteen Years of Daddy
as you read this, remember the good times you shared with your father. let Kool & The Gang’s Celebration play in your head. dance to the tune. allow voices to ring in your head. from the times you spoke to your father and he listened. remember the times you shared your dreams with him. try not to feel any form of sadness. sadness is not an emotion for the remembrance of a good man.
‘Miguo, Daddy,’ I greeted him that morning.
‘Vrendo,’ he replied, with an endearing smile on his face.
‘I’m going to school today,’ I reminded.
‘Yes, my dear. Mummy and I would take you after church. How much pocket money would you need?’
I smiled and told him how much would cover till the SSCE were over. I had come home for a brief break and was returning to school for the final papers of my SSCE.
‘Very soon, I’d be a graduate and we’d no longer be destination Oghara,’ I said, giggling.
‘We’d then become destination Ife,’ he said. ‘You would be the reason I would be visiting Ife again after all these years. It’s a good place. I remember when I was in Ife.’
I had heard the story more times than the clock chimed in a day. It was about how he worked for one of the white lecturers in Ife long before he met my mother. Daddy always had those stories to tell. We laughed it off and went for mass.
After our tummies were filled with Sunday rice which I could hardly eat as I was nervous to be going back to school, my brother helped me put my bags in the boot of the car and Daddy drove me to school.
‘I know you’d do well. Good luck in the exams. Call us if you need anything. Don’t forget to say your prayers and be a good girl.’
The last line was usually mummy’s. I bade my family goodbye and wished them a safe journey back home. In a few weeks, the exams would be over and we’d be home to celebrate and Daddy would be so proud of how good I performed and he’d be glad when I finally make into the university of our dreams.
I rarely called home. But when I did, it was always mummy. I would call Daddy where mummy was not reachable. Now, I wish I had made more phone calls and shared more conversations with him in the sixteen years we shared together. And I can’t help but wonder if as I grew into my teens, I forgot what it was like to sit down and talk to my daddy like I used to.
In the sixteen years before the last time I saw my daddy — the day he drove me to school for my finals — I learnt a lot from him. I learnt to be kind to people, to be generous, to be a good Christian, to love family and put them first. To read books. To do and go after what I love — writing. I learnt to be daring. To be smart. To be determined. But I didn’t learn to envision a life without him. Not so soon. Not when it happened. I only learnt that after he left.
A paper to the last, I called home and said I was excited to be coming home soon. That day, I called Daddy, not Mummy. And for the first time calling Daddy instead of Mummy, I could not reach him. So, I called Mummy and she said he was out of town and probably busy. I told her to prepare a grand welcome for me and send some food when coming to pick me as a few friends were still in school writing their last paper.
‘Okay, my baby,’ she said.
‘Greet Daddy for me,’ I said.
‘Okay. Bye-bye. Success,’ she replied.
Maybe I should have known. Maybe I should have heard it in the calmness of her voice. How still and soft it was in place of her usual loud and bubbly dialogues. Maybe I should have felt it when Daddy did not answer the phone. But I didn’t get the feeling — you know that one you get when something bad terrible has happened, like an itching of the mind, or a glass breaking or your toe kicking a stone — until I was at the gate of my house.
My brother had come to pick me up with a friend of Daddy’s. When he came with the man, I still could not figure the situation out. But the moment I was at my gate, I got the eerie feeling. Then, I saw the number of vehicles in the compound and the still of the aura. I got in and I saw them. Visitors. Consolers. I knew what it was but I ignored it and I walked in to my room like nothing was going on. I kept saying no when I already knew. Into the bathroom I went, taking deep breaths, only to come out and wait for the harbinger to give me the news.
There I was, sixteen years old, newly graduated, and bereaved.
as you read this, breathe. do not let the longings for your father’s warmth cause a tear to fall on your cheeks. as you read this, play Luther Vandross’ Dance With My Father. listen to it with your eyes closed. imagine that you are on a stage with your old man, hand in hand, dancing to the music. lotanna; remember your father.
Remembering Daddy is easy. Forgetting him is scary and the hard part. Scary because I cannot imagine not hearing his voice in my head saying how proud he was of me or him telling me to have a piece of meat from his bowl of soup, or to read a new book or encouraging me to write. That was an impossibility. I could never forget the man who brought me forth from his loins, who coached me, tutored me, scolded me, encouraged me and loved me so dearly. It is easy remembering him all the time.
Not having him here is hard. It’s like a constant lump in my throat. It is never easy losing an important part of you. Nothing prepares you for it. You try to forget that it hurts. That things are different now. But, you cannot. Grief does many things to you. The loss of a loved one breaks you in many ways. At sixteen, I had to come to terms with the new normal. A normal that did not include daddy beckoning on me to join him for some tapioca and fish or Ukodo. It was a normal that did not have daddy reading my writing and sharing my ideas proudly with his friends. It was a normal that required my acceptance of the reality that the time I was given with my father was only sixteen years. Since then, I have had to live life knowing and accepting that in a number years, I would not have daddy dancing with me at my wedding, telling me how beautiful I look while the MC cracks some boring dad jokes which I would heartily laugh at because I am in my father’s arms, or that daddy would not be there to critic every work of literature I create, smiling proudly every time I ace something new.
Life without him seems bleak at times, and I wonder what would have been different if he was still here. Would this be this way or would that be that way? There are so many what-ifs that come to play. But, if there is one thing life without daddy has taught me is to learn to pick my battles. I have learnt to not fight over what I cannot control. Loss would always happen. Grief would always come. What matters is how you deal with it. Do you let it break you, or do you let it strengthen you?
For me, I learnt to choose strength.
Sometimes, I think I am forgetting him but I take a deep breath and I remember that I cannot forget him. I stare at his picture on the wall of our living room from time to time. He is wearing a grey suit, and he has a slight smile on his face. Each time I look at that picture, a smile sticks to my face. He was called Urukpe after all, meaning light. And his light still shines radiantly in me. Whenever I fear forgetting him, I open the first page of my book, one I wished he was here to see come to life, and I read the words I addressed to him.
To Dad, for inspiring me to write and for believing in me.
That way, I know I would always miss him and never forget him no matter how many men come into my life; no matter how strong or successful I become and no matter how much his memory seems to fade away.
Daddy did not make it to see me graduate from Secondary school or to see me wear my matriculation gown or my convocation gown. We said our last goodbyes before my finals. I wanted to be angry. Angry that he did not wait to see my results and for us to have our road trip to Ife as we planned but I couldn’t be angry at what no one including daddy could control. The memories of this man in my heart are evergreen. Daddy may not be with me physically but his presence is strong. His name brings pure reminiscence of a happy childhood. His name brings a longing for that home we once shared. But, I have seen it for myself. I have felt it. His presence in our home. The longing for his warmth is not unsatisfied. I live it every day. They don’t tell you what happens when a father dies, no. Nobody has ever rendered a Masterclass with the theme, What to Do When a Father Dies but when it happens—when death comes knocking and takes your patriarch—you learn what to do and how to live.
My daddy has been immortalised in my heart and he can never be taken away from me. His memories are the greatest nostalgia. The best feelings longed for. A lot of time has passed since he left. Yet, in my yearning for what I once knew, I realise that there is really only a thin veil between this world and the world after. This is my consolation.
Can I ever forget you, Daddy?
Featured image courtesy of author.
Ufuoma Bakporhe is a Nigerian short story writer, novelist, developing screenwriter and lawyer. In 2014, she published her debut novel, Lettars From An Imbecile. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming on The Kalahari Review, African Writer, Punocracy, Mbari and The Shallow Tales Review. She is the winner of the 2019 Awele Creative Trust Award. Her other works can be read on her blog. When not writing, she is reading a book, listening to music, watching a movie or plotting the next story.
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