BY CHRIS IHIDERO
It’s been over a month since my dad’s passing and I still haven’t cried because I don’t know how to cry, because I saw my father cry only twice all his life: when his only sister’s only child, Aunty Nosa, died and when, early this year, he told about the night his mother died. But the tears will come, and when they come I will let them fall freely for I don’t want to be strong, I do not want to be a ‘man’ about this. I just want to be your son.
As I climbed the stage to read from my book, Wanderings of a Rapidly Degenerating Mind, at Nigerian Entertainment Conference on April 22, 2015, I knew that in a hospital not too far away from Lagos my father lay dying. We had rushed him to the hospital a week earlier and, after chatting with my sister that morning, it was clear things weren’t looking good. I couldn’t make it to Abeokuta that day so I said a quick prayer to God: ‘Please let him live long enough for me to see him one last time.’ I made plans to go see him first thing the next day.
That night at 9.05pm, my father, William Izekor Ihidero, passed on.
How do I begin to tell you about my father, my friend, my confidant, my hero, my greatest inspiration…the one after whom I modeled my life?
Two days earlier I had wrapped one of the most challenging jobs of my career, producing MTV Shuga Series 4. I couldn’t wait to talk to him about it, like I talked to him about everything else. I talked to my father a lot, about any and everything. A lot of people talked to him a lot: he was forever the quintessential quiet listener who never judged you. He also never told you what to do. If you have ever noticed those traits in me, now you know where they came from.
As my father lay dying, memories flooded my whole essence. I remembered clearly how he struggled to give his children quality education, the one thing he believed he owed them. Sometimes he wouldn’t have enough money to pay the fees of his 6 children who were in boarding school at the same time. So he’ll write a long letter to the school authorities, asking for a little more time. The letters were always written on foolscap sheets of paper, carefully torn from Onward Exercise Books.
At other times, he’ll turn his Peugeot 504 car (RPA 7321) into a cab. It was embarrassing for him to do but Williams Ihidero didn’t mind a little embarrassment where his children were concerned. I witnessed one such embarrassment. I couldn’t have been older than 13 at the time. It was once again time to go back to school and popsie didn’t have enough money to pay for all of us. We were coming from his workshop at Oshodi so he picked up some passengers going to Ikeja. I was sitting in front and all passengers on the back seat. The last passenger to alight was a woman and she didn’t have the exact fare. Popsie told her he didn’t have ‘change’. She said it was his business to have ‘change’ and dragged a long hiss. Popsie smiled and asked her not to worry about the fare. William Ihidero wasn’t going to embarrass his child by fighting in public.
It was in my father’s nature to sacrifice himself for others. For every N10 he made he spent N9 on his children. His children were his life’s mission.
The pedestrian gate that leads into my father’s house was never locked during the day. As kids, we worried about the security implications of leaving the gate unlocked from about 7.30am till 7pm. Dad would shrug and say: “I have never stolen a kobo from anybody or earned an undeserved penny. No thief can come into my house.” Truly, no thief ever came into his house but all other kinds of people thronged in constantly, seeking a listening ear, a comforting shoulder to cry on, sage advice or counseling, and my father gave of himself abundantly. Some did get verbal spanking though. When you push him, dad’s words could sting.
Until his death, we teased my father that we will only know the number of children he truly has when he dies, since everybody called him daddy.
April has been unkind to me. Last April I lost my teacher and boss, Amaka Igwe. There’s an emptiness that still abides. She was the other person apart from my father that I ran to when life’s raging storms come my way. When my father heard of her passing he called me and quietly said: “Things will never be the same again. Oju oloju ko le dabi oju eni. Ikubolaje. She has finished her work with you, now be a man and carry on from where she stopped.”
Now my father is gone and I feel naked. Over the past few weeks, I have often asked myself in my quiet moments: ‘When life’s raging storms come my way again, to whom will I turn?’ Then I hear my father’s voice as he often prays: ‘Our hopes and aspirations, our dreams and desires are vested in you dear Lord, put us not to shame.’ When next life’s raging storms come I will remember your prayer dad, and I will find strength. You did not raise a faithless child dad, you did not.
I’m a writer and filmmaker. My father was a furniture maker. But every time closed his eyes and touched, more like caressed, a finished piece of furniture he helped me horn my artistry. When he refused to use particleboard instead of plywood to make those classroom furniture for schools in Lagos state, as advised by government officials, he taught me to be forthright. When he returned home in the evening after work and approached the cages of the rabbits we reared at home, the rabbits would rush to the wire mesh at the door of their cages and my father would give each one a head rub. It was an amazing sight to behold. Every time he did that, he taught me to care. Our dogs ate what we ate, yeah, including pounded yam. And if you prepared food in my father’s house and forgot his dogs, your portion went into the dogs’ plates. See, every life mattered to my father.
Long before he lay dying on that hospital bed in Abeokuta I began to prepare myself for my father’s death. Eight years of illness had ravaged his body and sometimes, his spirit, and I knew that safe for a miracle, death was imminent. So I tried to prepare. It is the kind of practical approach that my father had instilled in his children. Still, when it came the blow was not lessened by my ‘practical’ preparations. The effects of the death of a man like William Ihidero cannot be diminished by practical preparations. I remember sitting quietly in my hotel room the next morning as confirmation of his passing was made, desperate for tears but unable to cry.
It’s been over a month since dad’s passing and I still haven’t cried because I don’t know how to cry, because I saw my father cry only twice all his life: when his only sister’s only child, Aunty Nosa, died and when, early this year, he told about the night his mother died. But the tears will come, and when they come I will let them fall freely for I don’t want to be strong, I do not want to be a ‘man’ about this. I just want to be your son.
Who knows what tomorrow brings? Maybe I will be a famous writer. Maybe I will be a famous filmmaker. Maybe those things matter, maybe not; but they shall be inconsequential in comparison with being a father to my children as William Izekor Ihidero was to me. If I am able to do that, then I would be able to say I have lived a worthy life even if I fail at everything else.
So, go on then, dear father, friend, hero, and greatest inspiration. You have lived well. Thank you for being my light bearer, for being the example your children are happy to hold on to. Thank you for your many sacrifices, and memories to cherish forever.
My brothers, your only daughter and I bow in eternal gratitude.
Sun re o, baba rere.