In My Father’s Robe (Remembrances of a Beloved Father…) by Juliet ‘Kego
A day before that, I had launched an organization I co-founded with a friend.
More than anyone on the planet, he knew why this was an important new path for me to walk. I knew I had his unwavering support. During his burial, I had to wear his chieftaincy robe and carry his customized fan. The honour! I really do love certain parts of our culture (not the oppressive, patriarchal, limiting parts…Yes, I said it! Lol)❤
In that sublime moment, wearing my father’s robe, I realized it was a metaphor for the mystery of our spiritual inter-connectedness; the communion of the living and dead. All tears ceased. And a smile bloomed. With a deep knowing, I knew he’d live on. Always. He was a man of swag and class, my dad. He was not perfect. He was real and he lives in me.
He was an officer and a gentleman. He loved a good debate. About philosophy, politics, faith and life. He was more spiritual than religious. He’d often referred to himself as a liberal catholic 🙂 He’d rather walk his faith by treating everyone around him with love than judge, ‘talk-talk’, ‘preach’ and do ‘religious effizy.’
He taught me about contentment. And hard work. To love exploring new frontiers of knowledge through books and travels. And about dignity. And respect. And the power of truth, silence, minding my business 🙂 and speaking up. And the beauty of LOVE and compassion and dreams. He kept every scrap of musings, poetry and stuff I ever wrote. He introduced me to the classics like Quo Vadis, St Augustine’s collections et al. He loved culture, history and the idea that we could trace our roots to understand ourselves better. Every Sunday after mass, even after I got married and started my family, I would drive to visit my father, and we’d resume our conversations, – about life, love, politics, dreams, world religion, books, movies, etc. He taught me the power of meaningful connections and conversations. And the joy of true friendships and sisterhoods/brotherhoods.
I could ask him questions about everything I was curious about: sex, faith, traditions (Oh I questioned and still question a lot of things) and I could share my big, (often whimsical), bold ambitions and choices….We didn’t always agree on everything and yet, there was always respect. I was given room to be stubborn, to dare and to make sense of my world, with guidance but with conscious freedom. I was allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. That sense of being trusted more than anything kept me away from a lot of bad choices.
He talked about the Biafran war with such nostalgia about the glory of the Igbos pre-war. He felt the war broke down something in our collective psyche and created this relentless (sometimes unethical) craze for money, a disregard for true scholarship, a sense of insecurity/rootlessness often masked as ego, the arbitrariness and lack of process in how we work, live, interact with self and others. He believed that integrity/honour, quality education, the art of reading deeply/widely in a journey of enlightenment, a sense of adventure/exploration, critical thinking and financial independence, long-term planning, communal solidarity/unity, handwork and focus on excellence/meritocracy were traits Igbos needed to imbibe again in order to rise. He spoke about what he lost during the war….and they were not just limited to properties and the tangible.
No, he wasn’t perfect. And he never pretended to be. He would chuckle and expressly point out his own short-comings to anyone who cared to listen. He had a good eye. For beautiful things, women and yet he was a great officer and often a gentleman. He simply tried. Each day, to do better, to evolve his perspectives. He was human. In the most amazing ways. With my father, I always felt I mattered. That I could achieve anything I set my mind to. He taught me that my voice was important. That I could simply be me. That I was worthy and enough as I am.
I never doubted that I was loved; beloved. I learned from him that a woman could strive and thrive to incredible heights if she chose a spouse who was secure in his own life purpose and who’d not be intimidated by her dreams but support it. Unflinchingly. And that it was very important for women to have clarity about and fight for their own dreams….That it was okay to see the world differently, in my own way. I did not need permission to be me, for better or worse. Did I mention that he kept every scrap of random musing and poetry or short stories I ever wrote?
He taught me about being loyal to the person who’s not in the room. The beauty of trusting, loyal, honest and abiding friendships. He revelled in the power of his alumni (St Patrick’s College – SPC Calabar) and taught me to value all my alma mater and alumni networks. And he had zero tolerance for those who pretend to people’s faces but murder their characters behind their backs. He loved those who spoke without equivocation, or need for political correctness, but he also valued wisdom, empathy, and the art of skillful negotiations. He taught me about focusing on solutions/new ideas/new pathways and not on problems. And reiterated to me, the freedom in authenticity/being-ness/formlessness, the lack of attachment to form or possessions, the joy in being present, and the sense of identity that comes with not following the crowd, any crowd…
Over the years, I have seen first hand that the relationship between fathers and daughters is so sacred and important. Often, a girl’s sense of value and worth and confidence flows from this. HOW she sees herself and her place in the world. It shapes her internal compass, her boundaries and deal-breakers, what she expects, will settle for or tolerate. I think it is important for all fathers to spend quality time with their children, especially their daughters.
It is important for fathers to rise and take on their roles, to be responsible, to be leaders, providers and protectors. Most importantly to treat all the mothers of their children with dignity, honour and respect, no matter what. (The same holds true for how women should treat the fathers of their children). Beyond personal wrangling and drama, the sacred bonds of parenting can always be nurtured. It’s a choice.
It roots something beautiful, unshakeable and fundamental in them. It strengthens their core in a world where women are sometimes told or treated as if they are ‘Less than’. I think that fathers are here to remind us that at a fundamental level, we are ALL children of a loving God. Different in our roles, yet EQUAL and each deserving of love, respect and honour. Till I moved to Canada, on most Sundays, after my husband and the kids finished at church, I would visit him and we’d catch up on everything; politics, religion, sports, work , my poetry and life. I miss those days. Some Sundays are still somewhat bitter-sweet. In particular, when I see something topical on the news. I wonder what he’d make of Trump? 🙂
And for all those like me who have lost their fathers, please know that you carry them with you wherever you go, with every breath you take. And if your father is still alive, let go of whatever negative ‘stuff’ is holding you back from enjoying the fullness of that relationship. Before you know it they’re gone. And that is a finality that we can never reverse.
Today I remember my father. In his robes. Washed in his memories and stories and smiles. Over the past few months, I got to perform in the award-winning play written by Eve Ensler: The Vagina Monologues, with a fantastic cast of kick-ass Sister-Friends. Women who make a positive difference in our community. Th play raises awareness about domestic violence, healthy & loving relationships, rape and sexual abuse 9especially in war-torn areas), finding one’s voice, FGM, etc.
Angel Freedman (the director), I say a big thank you for this opportunity. It is an honour to be a part of a community that uses the Arts to transform lives. Funds will support the Yellow Brick House Shelters for Women And Children. And also, the North York Women’s Shelter.
I enjoin you to support these and/or other causes close to your heart in your own communities. So far we’ve performed in Markham and downtown Toronto. Richmond Hill and Las Vegas are on the cards for next year. And most likely and encore in Markham. I love the awareness the play generates. Nobody deserves a life of violence, abuse or intimidation, especially from loved ones. NO ONE, period! It was something my father abhorred. Brutish force can never be a measure of one’s manliness. Respect for all lives was something he espoused and lived.
A life of freedom and safety are fundamental gifts from God. We must provide safe spaces for everyone, especially women, children, youth, those with disability or are vulnerable in any way, to thrive and SOAR! I know my dad would get a kick out of my role in the play, hehehehe 🙂 🙂 🙂. I celebrate this experience as I imagine him shaking his head and saying: Do – Do – Do!!! Hahahahaha ❤
Love, Light & Truth!
Juliet ‘Kego Ume-Onyido
Make everyday a “Happy Father’s Day” y’all!
You may also find me here: Whole WoMan Network
Since I wrote this piece, I have also lost my one and only beloved sister -Justina Nkiruka Okeke. And honestly? I am still in flux, still finding my way. Nothing prepares you for the loss of a beloved sibling. Be patient with me, sometimes I still forget that she’s gone and it hits me randomly, often a crippling sort of searing pain, an emptiness..but I know deep down, that she’s finally at peace with my dad, and both watch over all of us. I just wish…sometimes, I just wish. But life goes on.
Thank you for reading this.