My father did not die and the relief is indescribable. For as long as I can remember, whenever my father and I see each other, we always find something to talk about and each conversation takes hours.
When I moved away for work, we both started to look forward to the few days in the year we would spend together. The routine was similar every time — I usually come home for a surprise visit, ambush him wherever he is and then get the tightest hug of my life and a barrage of questions.
The best ones are our early morning meetings when I meet him having his quiet time and he says, “Sit down now, let us gist.” Gist is one thing my father does so well. He expertly moves from topic to topic during conversation that you find yourself fighting an internal battle. You are asking yourself if you should stay on and forget your chore or do the chore and listen to gist at the same time.
The way my father talks, it is with so much energy. He describes, he uses tone inflections, he explains, he narrates and where need be, he takes volunteers to dramatize. He brings you into the world of the event he is reporting such that you feel as though you witnessed it first-hand.
By all account, he is a very active person with a presence that lets you know he has arrived. Growing up, this left me in awe because he is not the tallest person neither is he at all flashy. Yet, you immediately know once he walks into a space and you always want to hear what he has to say.
In July, I had gone home hoping to get my knowledge tank replenished by the gist master but life had other plans. I got to the house and it was unusually calm. No one was in a jolly mood and everyone looked at each other when I asked where my parents were.
“They are in the hospital,” someone eventually volunteered. You see, two days before, my father and I had argued over something foolish. He bought some materials and wanted my sisters and me to make the same style of dresses from them.
My parents wedding anniversary was coming up and per-COVID, celebrations had been cancelled but he really wanted us to dress at home. I argued over the relevance but sent my measurement anyways. The argument was nothing new.
My father and I use it to gauge how much compromise the other person is willing to make. It is our game and nothing serious. But this one was quite different. For some reason, he was too insistent and other issues started to spring from that tiny one. It was not what I bargained for but I had resolved that it was old age. There was no need to bicker since my siblings and I had an anniversary surprise for them.
We talk everyday but I decided not to call him the next day because I wanted to give him time to calm down. Usually he would call and we would gist over it. He didn’t and I felt he was still playing the compromise game.
But my people, na who dey alive dey celebrate anniversary. I made my way to the hospital and found his room. My mother, the quiet warrior was sitting close to him. She had not slept for about two nights. I was finally ambushing my father but there was no hug.
He laid almost lifeless on the hospital bed, supported by medical equipment. The man had shrunk and was unrecognizable. He didn’t move so no hug for me. He couldn’t talk, so no gist for me. The world suddenly lacked colour. Not just for me, but for all of us. Everyone automatically fell into their roles, playing their part to make sure he gets better.
This man, who would follow any of the six of us to the ends of the earth as long as he saw the value, was lying useless with no voice. By his bed, we started sharing the things that were abnormal without him there, in his full form.
One of my siblings asked, “Who will send me on errands now?” It was a really genuine question that made us all laugh. You don’t get it — my father is the king of errands. When people ask my siblings and I how we can be so productive, they don’t realize who raised us.
My father designs your errands based on your skills. One of my siblings does things fast so he gets the errands that require speed, another is domesticated and so that person is the lead messenger for that. If you drive well, your job will be to do every single thing that requires movement from place to place. I am better skilled at opening and peeling snacks when a person is driving so he/she doesn’t have to, and so he made me chief passenger.
The way he does it is not random because he sends you on ten different errands at the same time. All must be delivered on time and well done. Of course, we hated it most times but nobody dared grumble. You had to do everything with a smile on your face if not, you will face the inquiry.
The worst one is when he is alone and he asks, “Who is there?” When we were younger, we used to scamper away when we heard that because it meant he forgot the name he wanted to call so anybody close by who answered was in for a long ride of errands.
Our errand master could no longer speak. We all suddenly craved errands. This was not the first time they had felt this way. I used ‘they’ because although I was distraught when he was kidnapped about three years ago, I was too involved in getting him out that I had no time to process it.
This time, we all took turns in watching my father, looking for signs of recovery. No, it wasn’t COVID-19, it was a simple health issue that a hospital had mismanaged and turned into a big problem (story for another day).
In what seemed like forever, he became conscious enough to recognize me. First thing he asked was, “when did you come back?” I knew he wanted to ask if I had any gist for him but he couldn’t. We sat in silence. No gist and no hug.
In the silence and that of the days that followed, I realized that I might have been taking the man for granted. Not in the way you think. We all respect him and we are a very very close knit family but my parents carry parenting on their heads.
They both come from dysfunctional families and have been very intentional in doing better with their children. This meant crazy sacrifices and learning things neither grandparent taught them, on the job with six children. Each of us have different personalities and skills but were raised in a part of the country where the biggest dream is to get married.
My parents taught us to dream. While my mother moves around like a quiet force, making sure we find balance, my father’s boldness and passion gives you audacity.
When we go to school in the morning, we return in the afternoon for my father to teach Life 101. You progressed through the class as you aged. He helped each of us find our skill and tasked himself and my mother to help us build them.
They taught you about God and as a child, you read the bible and books to help you find your salvation. My parents did not hand it to you. They wanted you to find God and know him personally. My father would say that God takes care of all us and entrusts families to parents. They must hold their own end.
As a child, I thought everyone joked and talked at length with their parents like we did with ours. Because of this, it was hard to appreciate the depth of intention they have. As an adult, seeing the dysfunction in several family units and absentee dads, I realize the sacrifice.
My father turned down two hefty job offers so he wouldn’t have to travel a lot. His father was not exactly present (for interesting reasons that are another story) and he wanted to bridge that. Every time spent with my father is like being in a classroom. You just want to jot and jot. We were raised, by parents who wanted children and never hid it.
Yesterday, as he talked to all of us on the importance of balance, I zoned out of the conversation and just watched him. For months in this year, we weren’t sure he was going to ever walk on his feet or regain this much strength. It has been a roller-coaster of emotions and I am more than grateful to friends, bosses and colleagues who have been there.
The man is still trying to get better. He is not there yet but we have hope now. At least now he can say, “Who is there? Someone should get my glasses” while medication is being pumped into his system. About two people jumped up yesterday to get the glasses. The errand master is more important than the errand.
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Thank you for reading.