There were several things I asked my father for that he responded to with a resounding “NO” – toys, permission to stay up late and watch television on a school night, tight clothing. Father’s Day has since passed and I know many of you spent that day reminiscing about all the things your fathers gave you. Well, my father’s birthday was a few days ago and I am inspired to go in somewhat of a different direction. I don’t want to tell you all the things he gave me. Instead, I want to share with you 2 things my father did not give me:
He Did Not Give Me An Oyibo Name
I grew up watching a lot of American films with a lot of Caucasian actors/actresses, and I had this obsession with “white names”. I thought “white names” were beautiful. “Ashley” and “Sarah” always sounded so darling to me. I remember desiring as a kid to have a Caucasian name – which I didn’t. When I asked my father why I didn’t have a Caucasian name, he informed me that I didn’t have one because I didn’t need to have one. That answer didn’t sit well with me. A little while after, I started attending an all-girls Catholic boarding school – Regina Pacis (my Abuja folks will know it) – and it was time for me to receive confirmation (a holy sacrament of initiation in Catholic churches). As customary practice in my school, each girl got the chance to pick a new name to be confirmed with by the Bishop during mass. I was thrilled. This meant I could finally have my English name. I told my father and to my dismay, he said he would pick the name and it would be an Igbo name!
Haba! Why? Didn’t I already have enough Igbo names?
Well, I was too stubborn of a nut to take this lying down. When the day of my confirmation came, my father was running late and was not able to make it on time for the ceremony. That was my opportunity to change the plans! It was now or never. When it came time to give my name to the school official, who would then pass it along to the Bishop, I said my name would be “Diana”. Now I picked Diana for two simple reasons: I loved Princess Diana of Wales and one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs was “Dirty Diana”. So, when it was my time to step up to the church altar, the bishop confirmed me with the name “Diana”. I was ecstatic. When my father found out he was not pleased. I couldn’t understand why. You see I didn’t know then what I know now: My father was trying to teach me a beautiful lesson in love and gratitude.
My name is NWANYIBUIFE ADAEZE OBIAKO. My name has meaning and power behind it. Take “Nwanyibuife” for instance – it means “a woman is worth something”. Na serious something o. And then there’s “Adaeze” – which means “the first daughter of a king”. My name has history and importance to those who gave it to me. My name represents my heritage and my culture; a culture and heritage I was failing to appreciate. I was too eager to have “Ashley” or “Sarah” as part of my name. My father was teaching me that copying someone else’s name wouldn’t make me someone I was not. My father was teaching me that love for oneself and one’s heritage was necessary for living an authentic and enjoyable life. God does not make mistakes and I’ve come to realize that my father was trying to help me understand that. Now, I get excited to share my name with folks.
Who would’ve guessed?
I still use “Diana” as part of my name and my dad has never once acknowledged/accepted its existence – I love his dedication against it 🙂
He Did Not Give Me a Lack of Self-worth
I remember when I was about 11; we were living in Abuja and one morning my mother had sent me to a nearby grocery store to quickly pick up something she needed. As I was on my way home from the store, I heard an Hausa man (at least 40 years old) calling out to me as he stood in front of his compound. He was singing a famous song at the time and calling out to me – “Dem go dey pose. Dem go dey denge denge. Dem go dey pose. Dem go dey waka kuru-kere.” I turned and saw him smiling, motioning with his hands for me to come over. Like a naïve child, I went over wondering what he wanted. We stood by his front gate and he told me that he saw me walking in my shorts and I had nice legs. Now I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt at the time and was pretty tall for my age. I told him “ok”, still not sure why he had called me over. Then he went on to ask me where I went to school and like the
mumu naïve child I was, I told him. He then said that he would like to “get to know me” and that we should become pen pals. He said pen pals wrote each other letters and told each other things about themselves and their lives. I started feeling uneasy and told him it was time for me to go back since my mom was expecting me. He said alright and told me to remember our pen pal agreement. I told him ok and hurried back home. When I got back, my mother was with my father in the dining room as he was about to eat his breakfast before heading for work. They both immediately asked me what took so long and I told them everything the man said, word-for-word. My father dropped his toast and stood up enraged.
I was scared.
I had rarely ever seen my dad really angry. He put on his shoes and told me to show him exactly where the man lived. Terrified, I said okay and started walking with my dad to the man’s place. We got to the man’s house and my father banged continuously on the gate. The man opened the gate and my father asked me if that was him and I said yes. My father yelled at the man and told him that if he ever came near me again there would be hell to pay. The man told my father to leave his property but my father ignored him and kept yelling. The man’s security guard came out with a gun and told my father he didn’t know who he was talking to and that the man was a military official. My father said he didn’t care and that the man better heed his warning and never even attempt to look my way again. The man said nothing else and remained silent. My father told me to start walking and we headed back home.
I was stunned.
I mean I knew my father loved me but this showed me another layer of his love that I was not aware of. He was willing to risk his safety for me. He was willing to risk his life for me. The military man never spoke to me again. I will never forget that day. That was the day I understood the courage my dad possessed. That day my father showed me that I was loved and valued by him A LOT.
It would be great to say that I never dealt with insecurities and lack of self-worth after that day but unfortunately that would be a lie. I did. And still find myself battling those pesky feelings on occasion. But, I can confidently say they never came from my father – I’ll give that credit to the faux “friends”, mean schoolmates, and various media channels I encountered growing up.
Now I’m not here to tell you that my father is perfect or that I am a perfect daughter. What I am here to tell you is that my father is undoubtedly one of the greatest gifts I have had the good fortune of receiving in my life.
What I am here to tell you is that Emmanuel Obiako (yes, my dad was given an English name by my grandparents, yet refused to allow me mine!) is the best man that God could have given me as a father and that is exactly why I believe He did. What I am here to tell you is that there are several things my father did not give me growing up.
And for that, I am grateful. 🙂
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Michael Zhang