The earliest recollection I have of my father’s professional life is talk about the fact that he had started out as a bacteriologist. Nigeria of that time did not value such knowledge, especially when it was possessed by a native son, and therefore the country was unwilling to make room for a Nigerian who acquired such knowledge in the wage-earning world. Consequently, my father went back to school in Dublin to get qualified as a medical doctor, something that the Nigeria of those days could relate to. Given Nigerian adulation of Europeans, at that time, he might have been heralded as a pioneer if and only if he had been white. He was not and he became a doctor.
He became a medical doctor, a general practitioner who had at some point in his life, when he still had some elements of idealism throbbing in his chest, and the hope of entrepreneurship leaping in his soul, produced and merchandised drinks from locally found products with the help of my mother.One of the drinks they produced at that time was “Alade Special”; it was made from palm wine.The other less known drink was a sorrel wine, which was made from, as you can guess, sorrel. My parents had had a cellar built into their home and my mother’s nursing career was merged into her duties as bottle washer (for someone had to prepare the bottles for the drinks), wine maker, mother, wife and all the other roles that she had to fill.
I remember my father’s laughter. It was full and uncontrolled belly laugh that bared his small, pearl-like set of teeth.That laughter used to confuse me as a teenager because I thought him cruel and overly blunt, given the fact that my mother had raised me in a much more conservative environment. I simply could not understand how anyone I perceived as being so cruel could laugh as if he had not a care in the world. Now, with a reasonable part of living behind me, I know that human beings can compartmentalize their emotions and actions and laughter can ring from the depth of any soul, no matter their past actions or those yet to be.
Now I recognize that my father was no different than many men of his time. He was largely practical, somewhat vain and rather archaic in some of his ideas.He was a little quirky in dressing and didn’t much care if he wore the most glamorous party clothes to work. They were his clothes after all! He had to wear them sometime. He had a large appetite for some things – good food, women and cologne among other things. To my knowledge he was legally married twice- first to my mother and finally, many years later, to a much younger woman. Marriage, however, did not interfere with procreation.He and I never had an opportunity to discuss his women at any great lengths during his lifetime. Although I could never completely comprehend his way with women, he honorably acknowledged all his children during his lifetime and at his death.
My father was never much of a drinker but he was very social. I do not recall him drinking at all during the years that I knew him until his death. He smoked cigarettes as a younger man. I have a photograph to that effect. My father loved social gatherings and city life and he worked to maintain his life style. Much as he loved life, he was a hard man when it came to those who, in his opinion, crossed him. He never once denied to methat he frequently beat my mother. He explained those beatings as what a man needed to do when his wife disobeyed him. A woman had no business standing up to a man, whether he was right or wrong. He was consistent in this thinking. As a young married woman, my father perceiving me to be a somewhat independent woman told me that he would ask my husband to “spank” me if I ever misbehaved. This was certainly not what this daughter expected to hear from her father.But that was my father.
His only moment of embarrassment arose when I asked him about a near miss gun shot at my mother. He stated that it was never meant for my mother but rather for a sinister target he thought he observed at that time. My mother thought otherwise. She had at various times over the years told how my father in a fit of temper had shot at her while she was pregnant with my older brother.My mother in her hurt had kept the bullet shell folded in an envelope in a trunk in the house I grew up in for very many years. I chose not to pursue that conversation any further with either parent because it served no purpose. It healed no one.
I never really did spend a lot of time with my father. I was a university bound young woman when I had my first conversation with him. My mother had been my only benefactor both financially and emotionally all of my life.My father and I lived in different towns and there was no contact to be spoken of. The times that my father attempted to make contact with his children included an attempt to take us away from our mother; actually it was an attempt to seize 5 children with the help of a truckload of thugs. It was not the most endearing meeting. The times that I spent with him involved attempts on my part to understand this seemingly complex human being.
It is difficult for any one to know and describe another person completely and in any great detail. It is even much more difficult for me to describe my father in great depth because of our distance in proximity and in thought. I knew him best from what I’d heard about him mostly from my mother, my recollection of the painful and seemingly endless fall out of an extremely bitter custody battle between him and my mother and the rather extended discussions that I had with him about his relationship with my mother.
My discussions with my father over the years did little to erase some of the images that filled my mind about him. In retrospect, I was disappointed that he confirmed the violence that plagued his marriage to my mother and the anger that kept him from financially supporting his children through out the years they needed him most. Somewhere in the depth of my being I wanted him to say that my mother had it wrong and it wasn’t so. That never happened. In his opinion a woman who does not conform to his house rules deserves to be controlled. He did not consider beating ones wife abusive.
I have come to accept that my father was not a bad man. He was simply limited in his ability to look ahead.
In all fairness, my father provided temporary financial aid to my siblings and me for a very brief part of our university years. He also bequeathed property to each of his children upon his death. As with the common view among Nigerians, many people would say he did well. I say he did what he knew. I grew up unsure of the true role of a father and unsure of how to relate to men. I also recognized that I would not want a man like my father for a spouse.