My Dad passed a few weeks ago and I miss him horribly.
I didn’t realize I would feel this way cos I figured he would live a very long time and we had all the time we would need to have essential conversations.
Because he was born on the 29th of February, I made jokes that he is just a teenager but I regret not spending more time talking with him. Reason being, he was such an intelligent man and he had ideas that were waaaay beyond his time. I remember thinking how he was very different from many fathers I knew and I hated that when I was little but as I grew older and became a parent, I realized how much of a good thing that was.
My earliest memory of him is being proud that he did not have that sticker that said ‘Suze’ on his car when I was a child. That sticker represented the sum of promiscuity to my young mind and I wanted nothing to do with it. I was very thankful that my dad did not have it on his vehicle.
Before he died, we had reached such equilibrium in relating that I was very grateful for. He hardly ever called me during the day unless it was very urgent and he always checked in on the first of the month which was when I sent him an allowance from my sister and I.
But I realize how many adults do not have essential conversations with their teenagers and how many adults do not have essential conversations with their aged parents. I feel robbed and I do not much like the feeling so I hope pointing this out will help others avoid this kind of feeling.
So, the essential conversations I wish I had with him are these:
Ask your parents where they would like to be buried and tell your children this information. It is better to be thought morbid and know than to flounder at deciding when the unthinkable happens. Expand the conversation to include how they would prefer to be preserved. A number of people baulk at being preserved and would rather be buried immediately, I personally would prefer to be cremated but that is me. I am sufficiently aware of the organic nature of the human body to know it’s all just nitrogenous waste but some attach more than its housing value to it and that also is okay.
Ask who they would like to bless with whatever they have acquired. And this is tricky so as not to be seen as grabby. It may appear as being forward so there may be a very important requirement to this. Be self-sufficient when you ask so that your parent is not bewildered at your reasons for wanting to know. As a parent, let the child know what your wishes are about administering your estate or better still, write a will and let your child know who has it. I have written a will for many years on my laptop even though I have not notarized it and I have told my older daughter about it. It may sound morbid but even if it is not legal, it will serve as a guide for my child in any eventuality.
Ask about your parent’s child hood. I was very surprised to realize that I knew very little about my father’s childhood when he passed. It seemed like he was born as a Daddy and I didn’t like it. I even got his age wrong cos I only had one reference year, 1939 which turned out to have been the year his parents got married and not his birthday. It was my Uncle who then gave me the correct information stating that their parents got married in 1939, had a set of twins who passed away before my Dad was then born in 1943.
Tell your child your stories. Let them understand who you are by reason of your history. Spend time telling your stories. As Africans, we already have the culture of storytelling. We do not have to work so hard to do it. The major problem is if we do not cultivate intimacy with our children. It makes sharing inane details difficult.
Tell them what will aid them in areas that you have struggled with. Even if you think they are doing great. Help them decide who they can be in light of who you are.
As I prepare to send my Dad off, I am encouraged to speak of who he was. A classmate asked me to share my thoughts about him on my Class of 95 UI Vet Whatsapp group and I wrote this:
'My dad was a brilliant person who lived life on his own terms and we are more alike than I care to admit. He was an Accountant with the Federal Ministry of Establishments who decided to retire to farm. We lived on the (Lagos) Island till he decided he wanted to be a farmer, so we moved to Badagry when I was 9. He spent all that time till his death being a farmer but he is more well known as a youth educator. He was at one time the National Secretary of the Boys Brigade in Nigeria and helped to get troubled youth off the streets into churches doing one thing or the other. He organized camps and I remember once at the camp where a coup was staged and he was 'imprisoned'. I wept when they took him to the 'guardroom' blissfully unaware that it was for fun. It was after the Dimka coup so I was pretty scared. We have always had our differences but always knew we were very alike so we were very forgiving of each other's idiosyncrasies. He raised my sister and I to question everything and to respect only the deserving. He was faaaar beyond his time and he died like he lived, on his own terms. He was found with a cup of tea in front of him, sitting on his favourite chair in his room'.
I am learning to speak to my daughters more and be less introspective and I hope it will stand them in good stead when the time comes for them to say what their mother meant to them.
Omo rere a gbeyin gbogbo wa o, amin.