My dad has been gone exactly four years now, buried in the hard earth on a bitterly cold day in February, I nearly fell to my knees as I watched that plain pine box getting lowered into the ground.
You see, he was the smartest man I’ve ever met; his brain working at the speed of light to compute numbers and figures. He was always reading and absorbing information; talking (or shouting) to his friends and family members when discussing policies, politics, and statistics. I feared him as much as I was enchanted by him. I was born the year my father turned forty-two. He had a whole big life before I even took one breath in this world.
At nineteen he was saying goodbye to his friends and loved ones in Lagos, Nigeria, bound for Howard University. Before he could return to his house and embark on his voyage to America, my grandfather collapsed and died; my daddy never got to say goodbye.
He never spoke to me much about his childhood and adolescence. I knew that school came easily to him as it often did for me. (Though his love for mathematics was something he neglected to pass down to his children.) Instead of attending classes at HU, he often made the journey from D.C. to New York to party with friends; returning to class only to ace his midterms and final exams. I found his diploma for his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering folded and stuffed into dusty filing cabinet the summer my sister and I sold our childhood home.
He moved to Chicago at some point, and lived in a pristine apartment on the north side; at least that’s what my mother told me he was doing when they met. Though he was always a practicing Muslim, he became more devout as I got older; beer disappeared from our fridge, and his prayers, coming from our TV room often comforted me on early mornings or late nights when I tossed and turned in my double bed. To this day, the music and sounds from the five daily prayers coming from the mosques in Harlem often put me at ease on warm summer days when my windows are cracked, and my anxiety threatens to get the best of me. It’s as if my dad is there holding my hand.
We got along mostly he and I, until we didn’t, having major blow up fights once every other year or so, his stubbornness and my disdain for authority clashing viciously; threatening to set our home ablaze. (When I was 12, he drilled the door to my room close; my punishment for lying. When I was 14, he tried to spank me for defying him. When I was 21, I told him I would never forgive him for how he treated my mother, her loss, so painfully crippling and raw even now. Her final diagnosis was perhaps the one time I ever saw my daddy cry.
He was so grand, and so big, at only 5 foot 9 or 10 (though he swore he stood six feet tall). Like me he often retreated into himself, thinking and observing; his calm scrutiny running parallel to my frantic energy.
Born in the late ‘40s, daddy had his work cut out for him raising two little girls on the South Side of Chicago during the ‘90s. Education was his top priority, and during the week, it was all about books. However, many Friday nights during my adolescence were spent perusing the shelves at Hollywood Video store; arguing with my sister about what films we’d rent for the weekend. My daddy sparked my love of film, one that has shaped and transformed my life.
He was and still is perhaps one of the most God-fearing people that I’ve ever met. He painstakingly taught himself how to read Arabic and took The Hajj in the fall of 2010; the same year my mother drew her last breath.
He didn’t become as US citizen until 2008, grasping on to his Nigerian roots despite his forty long years in America. His roots and story are things I know too little about. The two times he voted in a US Presidential election were for a man who looked like him, a man whose name Barack, feels as foreign to many as Segun did and as Aramide does.
Though I’ve known what it means to be Black in this country for well over two decades now, I have never been more disgusted than I am with the US as I’ve been in the past year. As the election results rolled in on November 9th, my stomach rolled in horror; that sinking filthy feeling has not yet left my body, but at that moment, I did thank God, Allah, and Jesus that my father was not here to witness such an atrocity.
He was 64 years old when he died, colon cancer shrinking his body down, taking him peacefully in the dead of a wintery night, his mind sharp until the very end.
He was not a perfect man, he was hard and unyielding often, but he was my friend and my teacher, he taught me how to pray and he gave so much, though sometimes it was not enough. He was not simply just a man, or a father, or a Muslim, or Black or Nigerian and he deserved much more than what this place has become.
On the First Anniversary of My Father’s Death