My father had a car when I was a child. It was black; a Volkswagen Beetle, and totally bad-ass. I remember being fascinated by a contraption in it that winked with blue, green, red and yellow lights every time music played on the radio. Now I know that those were woofers. I remember always hearing my father first, before I saw him; or more accurately, the music – as he drove into our small close in Navy Town. He was always playing music. The Commodores, Shalamar, Barry White, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Lionel Ritchie and others. He collected music much the same way he collected books – with reckless, and almost fanatical abandon. He had music in every form – cassettes that he would label “Mixed Grill 01”, “Dero’s JZ 34”, “Motown Mix 02”, and other strange tags, that only he could understand. He had Vinyl records – large collections made up of Sam Cooke, Nat King Cole, Bebe King, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. He also had Fela, Bob Marley, Mike Okri, Shina Peters Michael Franks and Kollington Ayinla. He had very esoteric taste in music.
As a child, I used to think my father was a bit strange. He wore a black signet ring on his right middle finger, and would occasionally smoke the pipe and drink Brigadier’s brandy early in the morning. He would sometimes ask me and my brother to take a sip from his glass: “drink nor dey kill pikin”, he would say to my mother when she complained. In his mind, as Isoko children, we had to learn to hold our liquor. He smelled of tobacco, drank brandy early in the morning, and I loved him fiercely.
Every Saturday, dressed in grease-smudged overalls, he would religiously “service” the Beetle; tinkering with only-God knows what, beneath the engine of the car. He would take short breaks smoking his St. Moritz cigarettes and drinking his favourite Guinness stout (the small ones), straight from the bottle. He hated the big stout bottles. I would loiter quietly around him, observing quietly how he seemed content, and almost joyful doing this complicated messy thing. Without saying anything, we both knew that I used these times as a means of trying to escape from Saturday morning chores, or the excruciatingly stressful task of me helping my mom fry akara; but neither of us would mention it. We were often comfortable just being in each other’s company – silent, without needing to speak. But I learned a great lesson from my father, with the way he pampered and cared for that Beetle. It’s not what you get in life that matters, it’s what you do with it; how you take care of, and nurture it.
Sometimes, he would ask my older brother and me to follow him to the Squash court, just near the Sailing club, so we could watch him play squash. He would allow us sit on high stools at the bar, drinking as many bottles of Fanta as we liked, and eating as many bowls of groundnut and suya as we could possibly manage. His own was: “don’t just vomit when you get home.” The underlying message being: “If una mama catch una, I no dey inside.” That was my father for you, exceedingly liberal and accommodating, but also ready to make you face your mistakes or the consequences of your actions. He didn’t badger or harass us (yes momma, that’s shade for you. *Hahaha*), and he wasn’t a distracted father either; he was just very chilled out.
As I grew older, I began to see my father less and less; he was in the military and was posted out quite frequently. But my mother tried her best to ensure we saw him often; so we made trips during our school holidays, in those famous Peugeot J5s to see him in NDA, Kaduna, or via Bendel Line, the times he was in Port Harcourt. If it was really difficult for me as a child, I can imagine, how it was for my mum, being a military wife. But he always made up for it somehow, whether it involved coming home just for the weekend (without official permission), or writing us individual letters – we always knew, and felt that my father loved and missed us.
My dad wasn’t a perfect man. Not a perfect husband or a perfect father. This was a shock to me – an acclaimed “daddy-can-do-no-wrong-girl.” As I grew from my teenage years, into my early twenties, we began to clash more on any and everything – boys, makeup, school, curfew, my sharp mouth and “rude behaviour” (his words, not mine). We went on for a period of two years; without speaking – those were tough, difficult years for me (and as I would find out later, for him as well). But thankfully, we mended fences and built a stronger, meaningful, more respectful relationship. I learned also, that sometimes, especially for those we love, it is important we disagree with aspects of their lives and certain decisions that they take. It is important to state what you disagree with and why. It will cause temporary hurt, but it will yield mutual respect, and build better human beings. Because of my father, I am not afraid of conflict – it has its good uses.
Today is the first anniversary of my father’s death – he passed away last year from a car accident. It was hard, still is excruciatingly hard, that sometimes I want to howl in rage from the grief. But I am here, living, breathing, and learning to thrive, and must keep upholding his priceless, invaluable legacy.
There are many things I learned from my father – from the way he lived his life; enjoying the things he liked to do, being content with what he had, accepting and enjoying his eccentricities, not being pressured to conform or “feel-among”, and having such a large heart. Those are the things that have become important to me, the things that have set the tone for what I do with the rest of my days.
Happy 2016 people; if you’re not living life intentionally and purposefully, then please start doing so, nothing in this life is promised.