My birthday is not mine... Its's May 3rd, but I don't own it. It belongs to a few other people...
In African cinema, Nollywood, where I have a small, but fond following, I share that day with arguable the most famous Nigerian actress, in Africa. The very talented (worked opposite her in 2004 on the movie 30 Days) and extremely popular (over 838K twitter followers and counting), Genevieve Nnaji.
And if that wasn't enough, one of the most popular (185K followers) actress and TV host in Ghana, Ama Abebrese, also shares the same born day with us. So every May 3rd, the African media concentrates on wishing these two beautiful women happy birthday. As both are friends of mine, they try to post return "Same to you" tweets to my "Happy Birthday, birthday mates" one. So far my followers have failed to show any sizable increase from these interactions.
But the kicker is my ex-wife. Yes, she has the same birthday also. We once thought this was some sort of great omen, indicating our compatibility. Well, you can tell how accurate that was. Now because our birthday falls in the same month as Mother's day, I told our two daughters to concentrate on Mommy. Don't worry about Daddy. Make May Mommy's month. Mine will be June. I want to celebrate father's day.
To be fair, my lovely wife does not heed this advice. Every year she makes sure she celebrates my birthday, and even helps the girls give me something small. But they all know, the day I want, the day I chose, is Father's Day.
Being a father, along with being a husband and partner, is the most important thing in my life. And so far, so good. For all accounts, I'm not bad at it. I am deeply loved by all my children. They don't wait till 3rd Sunday in June to show it, they show it everyday and I am blessed it is so.
But what does father's day mean to me and my father?
Well here, it is more complicated than I would have ever wished.
My parents separated when I was 11. It was a terrible, semi violent separation. One which has several events deserving of their own posts. Including how my mother and I planned how she would kidnap, me and my 3 brothers, from my father house in Lagos, and go back to the United States... A clandestine event, that I was a full participant. Yeah another post , another day.
There was a lot of wrong on both sides. To be fair, a 60-40 split is against my mother, whose own past and history caused her to be destructive and burn every bridge she has ever crossed. She will one day garner multiple posts... Today, we are talking about Father's day.
My relationship with my father has always been a complicated one. I was not an easy son to raise. Angry, rebellious and underachieving, in the cultural sense. I was so American, but I was the first son, of the first son, of the first son and much was expected of me in Igbo culture. But as my mother's son, I went down the path she chose, which was always opposite of what he wanted. The moment we abandoned my father that fateful day in Lagos, he and I never found the same track.
We found each again, years later, after we had returned to Nigeria, when I left college, without telling my Mom, to find him. He was remarried and I had new siblings. His face was familiar, but I didn't know who he was. I was 17. He had missed the 6 most formative years of ones life, he didn't know me either.
I admired him. He was brilliant. Top of the class in CKC Enugu, top high school in Nigeria, getting full government scholarships to both Purdue and Columbia universities, in the US, for undergrad and masters respectively, where he graduated with honors. Worked for IBM in the states, and then Nigeria. When IBM left Nigeria he started his own very successful business. He was a deeply religious, logical and reasonable man, still is. Never truly letting his emotions overtake him or his faith. He is greatly admired by everyone who has ever met him.
But as a child, raised by a passionate mother, who either showered you with love, affection, support when she was happy, or anger, hate and disdain when she wasn't, he seemed to give us the structure we needed but lacked the emotion to deliver it. Our relationship struggled.
We never truly found each other emotionally. We tried, but I don't think we ever succeed. I don't think he ever forgave me to plotting with my mother to steal away from Nigeria. (I actually woke my youngest brother up, and snuck out of the house to a waiting car). And I don't think I had ever truly gotten over his annulment of the marriage to my mother, thus essentially bastardizing me and my 3 brothers, so he could remarry in the catholic church.
But he did what he had to do, to regain the pieces of his life my mother had blown to smithereens. Her high emotion and toxic anger, assaulted his logical sensibilities. He was unable to function in that environment. My step-mother healed him and supported him more than my mother could have ever. So while we were in the States, he rebuilt his life, without us. We came back, and he had a new family. But that decision ensured that my half brother and sisters got a stable amazing father. One we missed out on.
Many years later, we found some common ground. I was an adult with my own family, and I would at times, reach out to him for advice. I never became the first son, he had hoped for or wanted. And his paternal strengths were of little use for me by that time. We were playing catch up, when the game had long since finished..
He is sick now, and has been for many years, and lives in the states. I try to visit him as often as I can, as he is unable to speak on the phone with regularity. Sometimes I wish we were closer. That I had not let him down for all those years. That he had been strong enough to fight for us. Even in divorce, fight my mother to be there for us. Not to just give up and simply replace us.
But he is here inside me, no matter what. When I look in the mirror and see his eyes. When my sisters always say how much I look like him. When I told a co-worker that my father had worked for IBM and she said "Oh, that's where you get it from". One of the best compliments I have ever received.
We are planning to take my newest son, Bashari, to see him soon. He can't vocalize much anymore, but I know he will like that.
I will take the best of him, improve on the worst, and hopefully Bashari will be a better son to me, than I was to him...
- Chet Bashari Anekwe -