My dear ‘Nifesimi, I know you are well. I saw you an hour ago as I sneaked out of the house to get to work. Just yesterday night your mother and I marveled again at how unblemished and glowing your skin is, how stunningly beautiful you are, how terribly your poop smells! Ha ha!
It just struck me that you will be 3 months young in a matter of days! How time flies! All our friends are already nominating their children as potential husband material, ‘Nife. Even the vertically disadvantaged friends whose children are obviously taking after their parents think they are in contention! Can’t they see you are your father’s daughter where height is concerned! I have told them it will take more than being born a few weeks ahead of you to make anyone qualify to take your hand in marriage. Ah! They have to answer to me first! Robert Deniro in Meet The Parents was Mr. Nice Guy!
‘Nifesimi, I have personally attained a new height of respect for the womankind. I wonder now where women find the sustenance and long suffering spirit to absorb all that life hurls at them? How do they endure pregnancy and child delivery not once, but several times? More importantly, why do they? Respect, ‘Nifesimi, I respect women anew. And you should share this respect for all mothers my girl. One day, you will also come to understand what I’m babbling on about. For now, let it be indelibly scratched on your mind that your mother – like all mothers – went to hell and back to grant us the joy and privilege of waking up at dawn to behold your sunshiny face. Mothers make the world go round, ‘Nife. They make it go on.
I have been told stories of men who ran screaming out of the labor room, unable to take it all in. I have heard also of those who passed out on the floor. Well, I did not run and I did not faint. I stood glued to the side of the bed, my eyes popping out of my skull, a “labor partner” at your birth. I was a ringside witness. Brave woman, your mother. She pushed, and in spite of myself, I pushed with her. Okay, it was all in my head, but you should have been there to see the drama! Oh, what am I saying…you did show up a little later! All the drama was to herald your entrance! Welcome!
The day prior to your birth had given the tri-state area the first big snow of 2002 – more than 6″ in most places and the ice was still lying around, blindingly white in the cold sunshine that usually tails a snow storm around these parts. I drove like the sanest guy to get your mother to St. Barnabas Hospital. I was cool. Crazy cool.
Baby, we arrived the hospital by noon on Friday 6, 2002 and your mother was immediately wheeled into the delivery room as she had already dilated 4cm (yeah, I know all the lingo now). The background music to this unfolding movie was the very reassuring sound of your heartbeat coming out of the speakers in the delivery room… Some 6 hours later, you were screaming your way out of the womb. Daddy was in a state of shock at that moment, kid. I couldn’t deduce how in the world such a big baby managed to squeeze her way out of that seemingly tiny canal. I was spellbound, ‘Nifesimi, and running through my mind was the realization that your mother and I now have a responsibility way bigger than the credit card bill, the rent, the car or the Dollars that go to keep the boat afloat in Nigeria. A couple of aliens just had themselves an American citizen! Now, let’s see anyone try to deport me! (Okay, I didn’t mean that last part! Honest, I didn’t!).
No books can express the feeling I had when the doctors lifted you into the air and cleared your nostrils so you could get air into your fluid-filled lungs. You sneezed and sneezed and sneezed…
Your grand parents and uncles and aunties had their own party in Nigeria on the same day we named you. We sent them pictures via the Internet, which they printed out. It is a tough thing to have a child in America, away from the extended care of the extended family. Your mother wondered what kind of soap to use to give you that first bath. Should you be woken at night and fed every 3 hours like the nurses advised or whenever you woke and felt ready like the experienced urged? We’re still standing, ‘Nifesimi. We’re still here.
Now, I have to figure out how those who have gone before me did it. There has to be a transition from Just the two of us to We are family, because the songs have to change with the times. I have to disrobe myself of all the horrible side effects of my humanity, the garments of my weaknesses…and become DADDY. SuperDaddy. I have to become an example, a role model, a man someone as wonderful as you would want to be like…be better than… I have to be worthy of you.
The dreams grow bigger still, ‘Nifesimi. And they are mine alone no more. They must pave the way now for another generation. Welcome to this side of the sun, daughter mine. It is a truly crazy place you have come to. You have come at a time when we have screwed it all up. George Bush is hell-bent on completing his family’s agenda to oust Saddam, a job his father left unfinished when he occupied the White House. The air is polluted. Children can’t be left alone with so-called men of God. We cannot walk the streets without fear some mindless bugger will blow us to bits.
Still, you are one of the reasons why we are in America, ‘Nife. Aside of being handed dual residency on a platter, we thought it would be a good idea to give you a firmer foothold in the coming future by investing you with multi-nationality from birth. Some may think that as wonky-legged though. I don’t intend to argue with them because they have a right to the contrary view. Rather, I will take joy in the fact that you are Nigerian and American, and we intend to give you the best of both worlds to prepare you for the battles to come, the battles you will have to fight on your own when the time comes.
You are a child of two worlds and we intend to fully nurture you along both paths so that someday, with your double vision, you will better appreciate the world. You will know Nigeria, tagged a big blind country by Fela (he was a musician before your time my dear) – that country we all love so fanatically, yet it finds it difficult to love us right back. And you will know America, the current Empire, the self-assigned protector of the world, a braggart to the core, yet a place your parents also call home.
The American in you will make you bold and loud and daring and curious, but it is the Nigerian in you that will teach you respect, humility, adaptability and above all, heart. It is the Nigerian in you that will make it always possible for you to see the other points of view, because there is always another side to everything and fairness urges us to at least try to understand that.
I didn’t think I would recognize you when I entered the nursery for the first time at St. Barnanbas. It was full of tiny arms and legs in glass bassinets kicking and boxing the air and you all looked the same. Well, almost. You were different. You were the only one with the mop of hair so heavy, even adults envied you. People say they have never seen so much hair on a baby’s head before – long and thick and black strands that shine on your pretty head like a crown…A crown for my queen! You see what I’m talking about? You brought your uniqueness with you and you must hold it by the hand as you walk through the high and low roads of this life. You should always be bold to take decisions. You should never be afraid to walk alone. You should never be afraid to stand by your convictions. You should also know when to accept you are wrong, change your mind, take responsibility or retrace your steps to take a different road. You should never be afraid to apologize when the moment calls for it and you should never be afraid to keep your shoulders firm and erect because you are one of a kind. Be yourself because the things that invest you with greatness transcend the petty things the world will sometimes focus on. See farther than that and you will always be in a place of peace.
I already see myself at your graduation from the university, aglow on your wedding day, surrounded by applause as you conquer yet another mountain… All that I wish today that I’d known while growing up, I plan to teach you. I intend to let you know that the world is what you make of it. You must live in the world according to your own rules, even as you ensure consideration for others. Those who say the sky is the limit have been proved wrong too many times. Believe, instead, whoever said, “the sky is the beginning”. It is your beginning.
Here’s my promise to you ‘Nifesimi. I promise to make a place for you, a space that’s all your own, safe from all the evils roaming the edges of this world we live in. I promise to protect that space with all my being, standing watch day and night, a brick wall of invincibility set between you and whatever those filled with unclean aims send your way (they will not even see you. The God I pray to will blind them before they reach you). I promise to stand strong. I promise to put food on the table for as long as you’re hungry. I promise to put a roof over your head. I promise to keep you clothed and shielded from the inclement weather of this life. I promise to nurture your mind as much as your body will be nurtured, for what is a perfect body without a mind equally perfect? I promise to introduce you early to stories that will form character, so that even as you read their Humpty Dumpty, you will also meet Yanrinbo. Barney will not take you away from Cyprian Ekwensi’s masterpieces.
Being a writer, I look at you and I see a blank page that will be filled as the years go by. We will use colored ink, your mother and I – because your world will be more than black and white. We will use pens filled with golden and silver ink. We will draw a map with you, but leave the destination an open door so that you will always know nothing can hold you back but your own mind. Nothing.
I will introduce you to books. There is no knowledge you won’t find in books. We will start with Nigerian and African folktales and books to extend the horizons of your imagination and form a proper foundation for your conscious and subconscious development. After that, we will move higher and deeper into the waters of American discovery. They will know us in all the libraries around the world (oh, they will so know us!), concerts, museums, computer clubs, cultural festivals… You should know the world in your youth because the time will come soon when the world will know you.
I am not perfect, but I am disciplined. Please take that from me. Please take only the handful of quality traits from me. Never go late to an appointment. Let your word be your bond as honor, self respect, humility and a good name can open many doors and they are worth more than gold (but don’t forget to get some gold. Get a whole cave full of it. In this life, it will come in veeeery useful I assure you). Know a little of everything and a lot of some things so that you can proudly hold your own in any gathering or conversation (yes, intimidate with your knowledge even as you attract with your simplicity, self-respect beauty and brilliance). Stand tall, your head raised high, for you are of proud stock. Have a competitive spirit, but know when to defer to a winner. Look down on no man, and let no man convince you into thinking he is better than you. They’re only better if you think they are.
Don’t take negative procrastination from me. Don’t try to do everything. Too many talents can drive anyone crazy. Focus. And act. It isn’t enough to focus. You have to act decisively. And quickly too…Always quicker than the competition. Don’t think like I used to that money isn’t important. That is why today Bill Gates is a multi-billionaire and I don’t even have a million Dollars. It is your talents that will feed you and you should make money from them. Don’t commit energy, talent and time to projects without getting paid for it. People take advantage of it and go make money from the product, without giving you a cut. Donate your efforts only to those who truly deserve it. Give the others a quotation.
Your mother and I have since realized there is no way anyone can prepare for this experience…The joy, confusion, weariness, sleeplessness, bank account draining… There is nothing anyone can tell you ahead that will truly prepare you for it. You have to feel it to know it, as the song says. And here’s where we all in America miss the extended family and friends from home who would have been there like solid rocks of strength if we had had you in Nigeria.
You should be grateful to Dr La Torres, Dr. Chike Onyenso, Dr. Ngozi, Shirley, Petal and many of the people at St. Barnabas. They do good work and certainly have the gratitude of the newest daddy in town. Your mother and I are still reeling from our share of the medical bill… It is a small share, really, as the insurance company that has been taking so much from us in the last few years came through. However, simple folks that we are, it is still a lot. At the current rate of exchange, the cost to welcome you to this wracked up world should build a mid-range house in Nigeria. That is a lot of money, honey. But you’re worth it. You’re worth much more.
Would I change this for anything in the whole world? Not likely. The secret smile you throw my way ever so often makes it worth the while. The way your eyes plug on me as soon as I return from work, and then follow me all over the house saying “howdy stranger” makes it worthwhile. The laughter of your mother and I when you do the big one just when we remove the diapers makes it worthwhile. The way we beg you to “burp” and you simply refuse to, then throw up when we give up and place you in the crib or all over someone dressed ready to go out…That’s worth it. The fun we have looking for a size that will fit you, the look on your doctor’s face when he heard you had gained more than 2 pounds and stretched from 18.3/4′ to 20.5″ in 2 weeks…That’s worth it.
I am daddy to you, honey, not ‘Sola or whatever the kids hereabouts call their father. And you’d better call your mother mommy or there’s going to be a price to pay. I am your daddy and my wife is your mommy, but there is a bigger entity who takes care of all of us, who never sleeps when we doze off from exhaustion, who watches over you when our human strength fail. His name is God and you can never regret getting to know Him. Get to know Him baby.
Happy first Christmas, Nifesimi.
Happy first New Year.
Happy first 3 months, babe.
You’re going to be around this side of the sun long after your mother and I would have departed… But the world is a richer place just because you are born. The sun wears a happier face just because you are here. The wind blows fresher and happier just because you are. I look at you and I see possibilities. I look at you and I see a chance to correct every mistake ever made by everyone that’s ever raised a child. I look at you and I know one good thing has come out of my existence. Hold my hand, daughter…Good girl. Hold your mother’s hand too, hold tight and never let go…Nice! We’re going places we have never been to before, all of us..and we’re going to need to hold on tight to one another. Hold on… The journey is about to start… Hold on, kid…hold on…