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Father Dearest

This year Father’s Day was celebrated on Sunday, the 19th June. So with the words of Reverend Lynn Cox of the Unitarian Congregation of York in Northeast England at the back of our mind, we look at what Father’s Day was, is or might have been for you or me.

Prayer for a Complicate Father’s Day

‘For a lot of people, Father’s Day brings up feelings of grief for fathers who were lost, or who couldn’t be there, or who chose not to be there,’ writes Lynn Cox in her ‘Prayer for a Complicate Father’s Day’. I do not recall celebrating Father’s Day in my childhood. Neither did I know what Mother’s Day was. Nor am I sure when we started celebrating these events in Nigeria. The nearest thing to Mother’s or Father’s Day in my days was my parent’s birthdays. We, children, contributed from our pocket money to buy card and present for the parent whose birthday was being celebrated. My father used to give us monthly pocket money – mine was five shillings (those were the days before naira and kobo). It was my responsibility to buy the card and present often decided by the amount we managed to contribute. I would go with Bola, my kid sister (if the birthday fell during the holidays because Bola was in a boarding school while I was a day student) to Bhojson’s, Leventis, Kingsway or UTC Stores (please is any of these stores still on the Marina?). We would purchase the appropriate card and present. All the children at home would append their name and signature to the card. The present would be wrapped up and with the signed card presented to the celebrant on the birthday after we would have sung ‘Happy birthday to you’. No we didn’t sing that stanza, ‘How old are you now?’ after the first stanza. We only handed over the present. I really can’t remember who was chosen to give the present. It might have been the youngest, Gbolahan. Good old days!

I agree with the saying that ‘Everyday is a Father’s Day’. I can hear you say, ‘So also is Mother’s Day’. In fact there are some people who believe that the celebration of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is a creation of materialism and commercialism of our present fast-food culture.

Still on ‘Father’s Day’, Rev. Lyn Cox says, ‘Today might be a day of divided loyalties for people who may have called more than one person “Father” or “Dad” in the course of their lives’. In the African spirit of extended family where every elderly man is Papa, we should celebrate those men – uncles, older friends, acquaintances and even some colleagues – who have brought significant and positive changes to our lives on Father’s Day. In my own life, there have been numerous people who fit in that position. In the prime position is my father and I almost fell out with a friend who after listening to my fond memories of Papa told me, ‘You should be glad he died young’.

After smarting from her cruel and insensitive remark, I asked, ‘Why?’

She replied, ‘If he had lived longer, he wouldn’t have been this wonderful person you hold high in your esteem.’

What’s this lippy daughter of Eve talking about? I wondered.

‘If he outlived your Ma, he might have had a string of mistresses or …’

I did not wait for her to finish the sentence before I cut in, ‘If your own Pa became a delinquent along the way, that doesn’t mean mine would’ve turned out the same way.’

I am protective of my father’s memories. In his lifetime, I was very protective of him. I never wanted anyone to notice or mention his shortcomings. I agree with Lyn Cox who writes that, ‘Even the best dads fall short sometimes. Some fathers who struggle still have their shining moments. Nothing is simple.’

A young friend who recently lost her father regretted not showing him much affection when he was with her. She only realised how much he meant to her after he was gone. She sounded like Luther Vandross who wished he ‘could get another chance to dance with’ his father again. There’s this other person who wouldn’t join the congregation to sing ’For all the Saints who from their labour rest’ during his uncle’s funeral. He said his uncle was no saint during his sojourn on earth. He claimed the man was a devil in disguise. I prefer to give the departed man the benefit of doubt and put him in the group of those who had been unable ‘to be the fathers they wanted to be …’
‘Father’s Day can be joyful and sweet, remembering the times when dads or granddads or role models were there for us. For people who have a positive relationship with a living father figure …’ I lost my father when I was in my teens but memories of him are celebrated every day. He could have been many things to many people, to me he was and will always be ‘Father Dearest’. As new fathers spring up every day to join the existing ones and many more are on the way, we shouldn’t allow this year’s Father’s Day celebration to end yet. That’s why I join Lyn Cox to pray that, ‘May we be grateful for the nurturing we have received in our lives, from sources both hidden and obvious. May we heal from the losses highlighted by Father’s Day. May we nurture each other and the generations to come. May the friendship and love we have in our lives today ease the pain and amplify the positive memories of our past. May this be a day of reconciliation and peace.’

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