My phone rings, the screen displayed “Dad“.
I had to make a split second decision whether to pick his call or not.
I reached a decision. A very comfortable decision. I pressed the red phone button on my BlackBerry, his call, rejected.
He called back again and again but with guilt and a broken heart, I kept rejecting his calls.
This is a story about a father and a daughter.
It was the 1st day of January, 2015; my father was calling to wish me a Happy New Year. Perhaps, give me unsolicited advice on how to move on from the past. He would even go further and chip in a verse from 2 Corinthians 5:17, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”. Typical!
On this fateful day, like any other day when he phones from Nigeria, I ignored his calls. The odd occasion, when I do answer his phone calls, our conversations are full of awkward silences. Often, I find myself apologising for not calling him which leads me into making unfulfilled promises to call at least once a week.
I love my father very much but I have just come to a realisation that we will never have a father/daughter relationship regardless of how much we both want it. We really do want a relationship. So much unspoken pain and hurt have been swept under the carpet for too long. Now, under that carpet is full; no more space.
My father, like most Nigerian fathers of his generation does not know how to show or talk about his true feelings for his children. His own father never did this too. My father was always right and never wrong, the word “sorry” was hardly uttered. Therefore, he never learnt. Same mistakes were made over and over again.
Growing up, my father was expected to be feared in order to be respected. My father, a hardworking and good man was feared by me – this fear drove me away from him but I respected him. He was a mini-god in our household. As a young woman, fear made me look for love in the wrong places. All I wanted was a dad and not a mini-god.
My father, a proud Yoruba man living in an age where Nigerian parenting style is changing so fast, is still stuck in a mini-god mode. He is still unable to talk about the mess we have all swept under the carpet. I am sure, like me, he wants rid of the mess but he does not know how.
Growing up in Nigeria, Exodus 20:12, “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long…” was a biblical principle thrown at me when I wanted our mess to be talked about. The more it was repeated to me, the more I rebelled. And I rebelled hard.
My three brothers and two sisters were able to cope and are still coping but for me, no more.
Father, we have to talk in order to make things right.
Going back to my childhood, I hardly knew my father as a dad. He was silently in the background but physically present. He was a great provider for his family. My memory of him was a gentle man who hardly spoke but for some reason was feared by his six children.
I can’t remember my father ever telling me off for anything. This wasn’t his department. Caning or flogging and nagging were that of my mum’s.
My father took on the role of father and mother after my mother’s death. I was 11 years old. The cause of death was also swept under the carpet. This information, after so many years of living under the carpet had to be dug out because my GP encouraged me at the age of 35 to find out my mother’s cause of death. With great encouragement from my best friend, also a Nigerian but with a different upbringing, I called my father.
Having children of my own has changed my perspective on a lot of things – especially parenting. I now understand how we can either drive our children away from our lives with fear, or love them to be there.
My poor father did the best he knew how to. I have to take some responsibility too. Was I a good daughter? Of course, I wasn’t. I was a daughter from hell. I remember running away from home and moving to another town. It was my father who came looking for me. He took me back home where I was reprimanded but guess what? The real reason why I ran away in the first place was yet again, swept under the carpet.
Finally, with my father’s blessing, I moved to England 19 years ago. This was the last time I saw him.
Do I want to repair my relationship with him? Yes, more than anything.
The question is what is holding me back? Right now, fear.
(Photo shows my Mum and Dad [seated 2nd & 3rd from right] at a social club, Nigeria, early 70s).