I started writing this the day before our birthday but got swept up in celebratory shenanigans and so didn’t get around to finishing this until last night.
21 years ago, you beckoned me into your lap from my place in the darkened doorway of the living room of our first house on the Isle. I can’t remember the specifics of what had jarred me from sleep and propelled me downstairs in search of you – a bad dream or perhaps a tummy ache – but it doesn’t really matter. You wrapped wool-clad arms around me and rocked me until I fell asleep; whispering into my hair all the while.
21 days ago, I dialled you at 3AM with shaking fingers. You picked up on the second ring and shook off sleep to talk me down from a panic attack brought on by nausea and an all-too-familiar pain low in my belly. “It’s alright, darling,” you said in response to my tearful apologies, “don’t you dare apologise.” I sat on my bed and stared at my sock while you spoke and even when I said I felt better, you stayed on the phone until my eyes were heavy.
So you see nothing much has changed.
Mum says that when I was two, I cried for you on Christmas Eve because I missed you; not knowing that you were at the hospital dressed as Santa and visiting kids in their sickbeds and expectant mother missing their own families. And when that was done, you’d stick around to carve chicken to serve to the nurses and only then would you come home to wrap gifts for us, hang tinsel from our bedframes and drop kisses on our sleeping heads.
This is what you are at your very core: kind, generous, humble, more loving than is comprehensible.
It makes sense then, that for as long as I can remember, I have been told that you are wonderful; that you are special and that you are one-of-a-kind and it might have taken the best part of 20 or so years for me to fully appreciate the truth of this but now that I do, I will extol your virtues with unapologetic zeal to anyone willing to listen.
Let us not forget the sheer depth of your patience. With three bull-headed children, one of whom shares your birthday, your nose and lip shape and your penchant for asparagus, you have had to keep patience tucked firmly in your belt ready to whip out whenever one of us demonstrates immense stupidity or the haughty air of “I know it all despite my short time walking this earth.” I have given you grief and caused you untold heartache. My early teen years were an exercise in stubbornness and idiocy. Even as a child, I defied your carefully explained rules and climbed onto kitchen tables to touch things I was not meant to.
I have thrown tantrums and chilled the entire house with my resolute silences of rage. And all the while you have persevered; never throwing your hands up in exasperated contempt (as is my particular wont) but sometimes pleading with me and others, eyeing me with amusement or resignation. Sometimes you even ignored me and let my moodiness play itself out. You have loved me throughout.
You have dispensed the soundest advice about boys and toys, food and friendship and, through your profession, even lady’s problems while I have sat and squirmed with the horror and awkwardness of it all. You have taken me to the side once, twice, a thousand times to calm me down and put me in check and even when you have been met with this expression…
“What? WHAT? Can’t you see I am doing very important small person things? Bothering me with your affection.”
…you have not been deterred. I have learned a lifetime of valuable lessons from you and have immortalised so many of your words in a battered leather notebook that I hide in my room. Such gems include:
- “It’s none of your business what other people think of you.”
- “Where words are many, regret is but a sentence away.”
- “Everything in moderation.”
- “Nobody will remember you for the culottes you’re wearing right now but because you’re brilliant in so many other ways.”
You have taught me that anger is a valid emotion but shouldn’t be allowed to fester. That health should always be prioritised over money. That faith is something you should never justify to anyone and that only you can wear a shirt adorned with roses (bought for you by Big Bro) and look like a complete Curator of Awesome.
You sing while you iron. You throw in Igbo colloquialisms and random made up words in all of our conversations. You announce “peace be unto this house” whenever you walk in through a front door and every single time I ask how you are, you respond with “I’m challa walla, right on top of the tree,” and while it would sound ridiculous if anybody else said it, it fits you perfectly.
You are a study in positivity, in gratitude and in joy and I am so lucky to be your daughter, evidenced by the fact that on our birthday a few days ago, while friends gathered in the house to wish you well, you took my hand and led me around and made sure each of them wished me happy returns too. You brandished this photo at them and told them to “look at my daughter, hasn’t she always been beautiful?”
This is the photo. And can you blame him. Look at my tiny little baby ‘fro.
When people ask me if we are close, I pause for a moment before telling them the truth: that after 27 years, we are the best of friends and that every tear, tantrum, stretch of silent treatment and uncomfortable yet necessary conversation has brought us here. I am the very definition of a daddy’s girl in this respect and I wear the label with pride.
Sharing the same birthday as you, Papa, is my claim to fame. I am honoured. And you; you are the brightest star in my sky. I love you.
On our birthday this year, moments before we cut the cake.
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Stereo. 20-something aspiring bon vivant. London based. Exceptionally Nigerian. Partial to snark. My default setting is "wry". Jeans and blazers are my uniform. Landlady. Speed reader, tuneless singer, hoarder of words, drinker of Schloer; I am suspicious of most people, have zero tolerance for tomfoolery, have a vast DVD collection, worship at the altar of Al Green, own too many bottles of nail polish, have small eyes, small ears and giant hair and owe approximately 86% of my awesome to the Parents Typewriter.
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