I was born Ka o si so Chukwu Winifred Ugwuede on 10th March 1991, three months earlier than I should have. I guess I was too eager to see the world and I struggled to pay for my impatience for the next couple of months. Or maybe my temporary abode had become too uncomfortable (I am claustrophobic). Maybe that has contributed to my carefulness about certain things, my desire to take my time with things I consider issues of life and death as against my occasional spontaneity. I loved pens and blank sheets a lot. My father never tired of buying them.
I loved to scribble things down and I had the best handwriting out of all of my siblings. I used to write my mother’s notes when she went back to school to get a Master’s degree. I disliked food. It was a tedious chore to get me to eat anything. I loved to move around with my two older siblings. It was just the three of us at that time and we were inseparable.
I loved writing letters to my parents, especially my father. It was my most genuine way of conversing for such a long time. I hid my head in books a lot. I used to be quite confused about what I wanted to do with my life. One day it was being a doctor, the next it was designing clothes. I wanted to play the keyboard at another point.
I know all of these because my father is a repository of childhood memories. For every one of his five children, my father remembers. Not just vague tales of our growing up but specific days, events, incidents, brawls, tantrums, and a host of other things. In a way, it amazed me how he could remember. How he could remember so much in so clear details. It must have been the frequency with which he recounted these stories or the fact that he had observed and felt them with the intent of keeping them eternal in his memory. I loved listening to my father tell tales about my childhood.
You may not realize it, but it is the sort of thing that gives you a sense of self, a root, a self-anchor, an awareness that your 2-year-old self will not think to be conscious of. An awareness that shapes your future and your ability to be in your skin so well and wear it so courageously in the kind of world we live in today.
Like most Nigerian parents, my father was strict in the proper sense of the word. You were flogged when you were unruly. You were expected to be tops in your class. You were to respect your elders; greet them, stand up when an older person had no seat, show whatever it was a stranger gave you to him or my mother, look out for your siblings – this was a huge part of the training we received from my father. You had to keep an eye on the other person. My father could scold you and have you thinking deeply about your future at 13 or 14 – for five to ten minutes either way. I couldn’t go out that much too.
But he was warm. I saw it in the way he welcomed our friends whenever they came to the house. When boys got past the fact that he wasn’t that strict, and picked up the courage to come visiting, he welcomed them with his classic smile and wanted to know if I had refreshments ready for my guests. I saw him sacrifice over and over, bits of himself and his dreams just so we could have better than he ever did.
Much of the strength and resilience I can boast of or show today is a reflection of who I saw my father be. Much of the hard worker I am today is who I saw my father be each day. My father taught me irrepressible hope and showed unhindered support for each person’s desired path.
“I don’t care what you want to read in the University. Even if it’s Suya Science, you have to do it well and you have my full support.”
Suya Science! I remember that day clearly. We were driving home one evening. It was a JAMB period, I think. The second one I was writing. As usual, the dilemma of choosing courses and schools was there at the table and unlike others, I was having a tough time deciding which to choose. I feared to fail. I was terrified of failing as a result of a choice I made and didn’t make right. My father was one to say it didn’t matter what you did as long as you did it well. Somehow, however, he seemed to subconsciously choose what it was that we did especially with regards to academic qualifications like most Nigerian parents do.
I wanted to laugh really hard when he had said that, but we all kept a straight face instead. My relationship with my father had been like that – a little more formal and less fluid. It wasn’t a jolly-molly kind of father-daughter relationship. I held him up this pedestal and related with him in utter respect. He loved me and provided for my needs and that seemed to be enough.
My first feminist tendencies must have been nurtured by my father because having four daughters and one son never was a fact to be contended with in any way. We would learn how to start the generator and lift the heavy stuff because it needed to be done. We were going to get as much as our brother did because we were human beings that deserved a good life.
My father is imperfect. I didn’t think so for the longest time because, in a daughter’s eye, a father does no wrong. I thought he was the most honest, hardworking, sincere and genuine man I had ever met and I was pleased he was my father. My father used to tell me that asides from God, no one else would love me as much as he does. I believe him not because he says these things but because I’ve lived them through his eyes.
Life happened and I see him in a different light now. I see that his infectious hope could be coloured by doubt’s dreadful venom. I see his desire to do and give and bleed for his family but I also see that he can be helpless to intervene in areas where he would have loved to. I see his hunger for joy and happiness but I also see his sorrow compounded by issues beyond his control. And I see him bear all of these conflicting emotions so incredibly well, so patiently, so fatherly.
They say a father is the first example a woman will have of how she should be treated by the men who will come after him. They say a father is the first person who instills a sense of purpose and worth in a woman before she learns to fight or cave in when all of these are questioned. They say a father is a woman’s first hero.
My father is more than just my hero. He is my root, one-half of my core, a vital part of my essence. And I am my father’s daughter.
Happy Fathers’ DAY!