Kilonshele my people, this post will be of a very personal nature.
Praise be to Allah, my father was 77 years yesterday may he continue to be blessed with longevity and good health. The reason I am dedicating this post to my father is because it was not till a few years ago that I truly began to appreciate him as a father. One of the reasons being, I have a couple of friends who have lost their own father’s, them sharing the pain of not have them around galvanized me to forge a closer relationship with my own father. The primary reason being that, I did not realise the impact my father had on shaping my outlook on life until I completed my book “Memoirs of a Young African” (MOAYA). Many have said that the stories relating to my father were probably funniest (especially the Methodist Grammar School incident). Alahaji is a proud Egba man who was very protective of his children as one teacher found out. Writing, MOAYA unleashed a flood of memories about my childhood interaction with my father. I didn’t begin to truly appreciate him until I read the completed manuscript. Sadly, the appreciation was twinged with some regret. Firstly because I didn’t not dedicate the book to both my parents. (I promise to dedicate my next novel to him). The boALok was dedicated to my mother because she was the inspiration for writing it. Her sacrifice has been well documented and shall never be forgotten. The second reason for the feelings of regret was because I don’t feel that I sufficiently acknowledge the sacrifices my father made and I wished I could have added a couple more stories about Alhaji.
For every boy, his father (good father’s) will always be his hero and it the same for me. My childhood memories of my father were mostly that of a disciplinarian but it’s the rare moments of softness that will always stay with me. He was bigger than life, there was nothing he couldn’t do, I always felt safe around him and not once did I ever go hungry. As some of you may know, my mother travelled abroad to work when I was about seven or eight years old. This was the period when Nigeria was going through the throes of an economic down turn due to but not exclusively the structural adjustment programme (SAP). For a few years, Alhaji was a single father. He had lost his job at a multinational organisation and had turned to farming. Some of the memories are of hearing Alhaji leaving the house at 5am to go the farm, coming back by 7am to pick us up for school, going back to the farm, picking us up from school at 2pm, making sure that we were fed before going back to the farm, before returning home around 9pm, 6 days a week. To me, as a child, that was just my father working, but looking back now as a man, my father looked gaunt. Times were hard but he took on the role of mother and father, roles he performed admirably. While my mother was away, he was more gentle and softer than usual. He cooked often when we didn’t have a maid, took us the amusement park and Ibadan country club to soften the blow of not having our mother around. Alhaji instilled in all his four children a strong work ethic, although we had maids sometimes while growing up, we still had chores that had to be completed regularly, promptly and efficiently. There were not traditional gender roles in our house; everybody did everything (I am sure my future wife will be very grateful). One of the stories I wish had made it into the book was with regards to an event which occurred when I was about ten years old. My dad instructed me to make him some eba. I felt honoured and I put the water on the stove. I was inpatient and didn’t let the water heat up to the right temperature before I put the gari into the pot. The outcome was less than impressive (it was quite cold, but my father ate it like as if it was gourmet meal prepared by a world class chef. That was my father’s way of showing his love; I have never told him about how I felt as I watched him put each lump of cold eba in his mouth. So I just want to use this opportunity to say, thank you.
It has not been until I reached manhood, that I began to appreciate the words of wisdom and discipline Alhaji instilled in me. As a youngster, my love for television was insatiable. I can still remember my father pleading with me “Kabir, please please go and read your books. The programme you are watching now, they will repeat it and you will be able to watch it a hundred times, please please go and read your books”. The man was a visionary; this was 20 years before the advent of YouTube. If I had listened to him, you never know, I may have been the one to invent YouTube. But kids will be kids. There are many more examples of how my father’s words in childhood have come to fruition in adulthood. As a kid, my thoughts ran along the lines of “it’s just this old man talking again, he is always talking about something”. As an adult, it’s more of “ahhh, so this is what this old man was talking about, now it makes sense”. As alluded to in the book, Alhaji constantly reminded us to never forget that we were African (this advice will form a major part of the Q4IS series- stay tuned).
Although MOAYA was about the effects of immigration on me, I have begun to appreciate the effects of the transition on my father. He sacrificed a lot so that his children can have a shot a better life. Before the economic collapse in Nigeria, he was an experienced accountant who had worked for various multinationals and was in charge of major departments. It must have taken a lot of humility and courage to come to the UK and to do jobs which he was woefully overqualified. There were periods were he would work 20 hours a day. In Nigeria, he was a man of importance and prestige, respected in the neighbourhood and across the city; he had built his own house, he was a successful business man, and head of the Kareem-Bello family. He left a society where his age, education and position commanded instant respect to a place where a pimple faced kid could tell him to shut up without facing any consequences. Not once did I hear my dad voice regret at coming to the UK, but I am sure it must have been difficult for him to adjust. Additionally, he is a man who believes in traditional African values. So it was big risk to take his four children to a foreign land where they may lose their sense of identity, heritage, religion and language. He worked hard to ensure those element were maintained and we will be forever grateful. At an age where most of his enjoying retirement or suffering the effects of old age, Alhaji is still running a successful business and planning to establish more. He is still as sharp as ever. For me, the greatest quality about Alhaji Kareem is his perseverance. He has faced many challenges in life but he never gives up. There is no such word as failure in his vocabulary; a trait which he has passed on to his children and many others.
Any man can get a woman pregnant and have a child, but a father is one who puts his child’s needs above his own and does his best to give that child the tools to make it in the world. My father showed me his love through his words and actions (I am now grateful for those ass whooping’s), the discipline gave me boundaries, and his words have helped me to chart the course through to manhood. I could not understand the words as a boy; those words now hold immeasurable value to me as a man. He instilled in us principles and ethics that will pass on for generations to come. I will be forever grateful for the sacrifices and words you used to nurture me, it has made me the man I am today.
Alhaji Olanrewaju Kareem- KKB Honors you.
Till next week, KKB out.
Till next week, KKB out.