A Chip of the Old Block

Tuesday, September 21st was my dad's birthday. I had rehearsed a heartfelt speech but I ended up calling in the evening to say “Happy Birthday Daddy, hope you enjoyed your day?” I may have also asked him to take a break from work to rest but that's not the point. Those were regular conversations that could be had any other day. On this special occasion of his birthday, I thought I could give up my uptightness but I failed.

So since I couldn't talk to him, I decided to write about him. I find that I am more expressive when I do not have to face people directly.

To most people, I resemble my mom in character. While there are elements of truth in that, what I've observed for myself is that my dad and I share the same personality and all my efforts at imitating mom are futile. I could never be as competent, hardworking and resilient as my mom. There can only be one Nelo Ude-Akpeh. At best, I am low budget Nelo.

But you see my dad, I am exactly like him even in ways I do not want to be. We are both not that into people (introverted), can't be bothered with strenuous work (a bit lazy... maybe a lot lazy for me lol), and share a unique love for books and serving humanity.

I am not the favourite child (my brother, Chiagozie is) but my dad has this fondness for me that is translated to the privilege of allowing me live on my own terms. I call it a privilege because I've not seen such extended to my siblings. Maybe it's the pressure and expectations that come with being first child and only son for them and the soft life of a middle child for me. Or maybe not.

Here's my own theory. My dad was very fond of his mother when she was alive and her death at an early age was not easy for him. Therefore, he finds ways to keep her memory preserved as much as he can. He has her black and white picture permanently on his phone as screensaver and sets alarms for her birth and death anniversary annually. He named his business and first child after her. And then came the second child, me, who looks exactly like his mother. I imagine that I remind him of her often, hence his fondness with me. He would leave me to live life on my own terms because he trusts that I would make the right decisions. I wouldn't do what his mother wouldn't, I suppose.

One of my favourite childhood memories is walking down the aisle of Joeson Bookshop, DMGS roundabout Onitsha, picking as many books as possible and running back to the counter for my dad to pay for them. I may have slowed down reading, but not my dad. Having a book to read at leisure, in between work schedules or while on the road is a necessity for him. One Monday morning recently, he woke up a bit under the weather and couldn't bring himself to prepare for work. I was home alone with him but didn't notice. When it occurred to me that it was getting to noon and he hadn't left the house yet, I ran to his room to check on him. I saw him on his bed reading a novel and knew that this person could not be bothered. And as for work, anything that wanted to happen that day should happen because he's not doing. I smiled and left. I knew I had such tendencies too. I was reminded of where I got my 'I cannot come and kill myself' attitude.

Funny story, on this particular day, my dad's driver wasn't available. So my dad took some paper towels cleaned his car a bit, threw the waste into the 'uncompleted building' next to our house and drove off. I saw what happened and became furious. "How could he?", " He should know better than disposing waste carelessly, so annoying", "destroying the environment"... Oshey environment messiah, Awka Greta Thunberg... I was still murmuring when I noticed that my mom's plants were growing weeds so I went and uprooted them and reflexly threw them into the same compound. At that point, I caught myself like "Toby, you were saying? Who's the annoying one now?"

And it happens like this all the time, I would complain of how terribly terrible my dad would donate all his money to Rotary for charity instead of sending money (or more money) to his children. But when a friend of mine needed money for his son's surgery, I literally gave all my money and even raised funds from other people for him. I'm complaining that my dad didn't give me money, me did I give myself money? The more I complain about him, the more I realize that I'm exactly like him and remember that he is only human and perhaps I should extend some grace and patience towards him.

One of my dad's best qualities is his act of not imposing or pushing his will on people (me). When my paternal grandfather died, I decided I was not going to attend the burial. I felt it was an unnecessary, expensive party that was not worth leaving school for, plus my exams were a week away and I was not going to spend my revision week in some village instead of reading. My mom wasn't having it, there was no way I will not show up for my grandfather's burial and allow those nosy village people to accuse her of keeping their daughter away from seeing them. Guess who saved the day? Daddy. He said, “you don't have to come if you don't want to”

Another hilarious story. Recently, my sister told me of how my dad placed a bounty on my head... Lol. So when we entered the university and my dad wanted us to join, the Rotaract club. My sister found and joined the Rotaract club in her school. I wasn't interested so I didn't bother searching. My dad would often but gently ask me if I found the club in my school and I would say no. He would ask if I was even searching and I will boldly say no that I wasn't interested. He really wanted his children to be members of the Club but he wasn't going to push me. So he found some Rotaractors in my school and told them that he had a daughter in their school and they should find her and convince her to join the school club. Whoever did would be sponsored by him to be a Paul Harris Fellow (a sort of rank one attains by making a donation of $1,000 to the Rotary Foundation). They tried, I couldn't care less about their Rotaract club, I didn't know about the bounty, nobody won it and my dad pushed no further.

My dad is quite the influencer. People have so many stories about him, numerous adjectives to describe him with. Different encounters and experiences with him. But I prefer to tell these ones because no one else has them, they are my unique experiences with him, and the world needs to know that beyond a Pharmacist, Rotarian, Mentor, public servant, humanitarian, colleague, friend, acquaintance or maybe even enemy, Emma Ude-Akpeh is also into the dad business and he is pretty badass at it and I love him.

From Toby, With Love ❤️

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