Day 17 - Father the Fatherless

I was five when I stopped crying.

I remember the day I stopped crying. I was five.

One of my earliest memories of adolescence was at the end of day in elementary school. As usual, beyond the hustle and bustle in the conclusion of school, our teacher patiently waited to see each child off for their departure home.

I waited on the curb, familiar with the routine. My mother often juggled multiple jobs, so it was not uncommon for her to be late or send a friend to pick me up. On this particular day, my third-grade teacher had taken on the role of chaperone, and her concern began to show. "Are you certain someone is coming to get you?" she asked, a touch of worry in her voice. I responded confidently, offering a reassuring smile. However, as time ticked by, all the buses departed, and everyone else left the premises. Only my teacher and I remained.

Sitting beside me, my teacher-turned-guardian checked in, attempting to ease my growing anxiety. "It’s okay, my dad is on his way to pick me up," I hastily assured her, reaching into my backpack. With a sense of urgency, I revealed a collection of drawings—a series of images depicting a tall, dark figure, alongside depictions of my mother and sister.

My teacher looked concerned, not because of the photos, but because my father had been brutally shot down three years prior. She tentatively placed her arm around me.

Unbeknownst to my teacher, I had been drawing my fathers picture every day, harboring the hope that one day he would come to pick me up from school. Regrettably, that day never arrived. When I felt my teacher’s embrace, I sensed her desire to console me, yet simultaneously, something within me also perished. Deep down, I instinctively knew that I would never lay eyes on him again. In the aftermath, chaos consumed my days—trouble brewed at school, I became resistant to completing assignments, and most distressing of all, I lost my voice and ceased to speak for months.

This is a rarely shared moment for me, and it brings tears to my eyes as I write about it. However, I believe it is my duty to convey this story. Throughout my previous career as an athlete, I had the privilege of being surrounded by men who achieved remarkable feats and displayed unwavering determination on the field. Yet, the origins of such relentless drive are often rooted in deep personal pain, a fact not widely known or understood by many. A pain which comes from abusive or absent fathers.

In my adult years, I found the courage to ask my mother why she had withheld the truth of his passing from us, keeping such conversations until my teenage years. Shame? Or perhaps she feared how my sister and I would react. I sensed her deep-seated fear, as if she had never fully accepted the reality herself. As I try to comprehend her motives, I observe my oldest son, nearing the age I was when I confronted the truth, and I find myself reflecting on the weight of such decisions.

Until more recently, I still felt a deep void, unable to fully express myself or connect emotionally in real time. I challenged myself to mentally go back to that moment in elementary school. I wanted to say goodbye to my father as I felt that it would be the proper thing to do. Coincidentally, my grandmother on my father’s side passed away. I did not know her at all but word was she would be buried next to my father’s plot in our tribal village all the way in Mbokpu, South-East Nigeria.

It was time.

Time to see my father, but now, as a man. The person, I imagine, he wanted to see me grow up to be. Successful, stable, and a servant for people. It was time to say goodbye. So I traveled, braved the elements of harsh roads and the bush to stand in his presence. And for all those pent up years, I finally released, with tears rolling down my face barely able to stand and cried out in the loudest voice “Abba”!

Russell Okpe Okpe, son of Victor Bassey Bazi, son of Chief O.B. Okung, son of Bassey Okung also known as Awah.

Not a medical professional, my advice should not replace medical advice or treatment. Seek professional medical advice if you have specific health concerns, especially when planning to fast. Any fasting advice I provide is general and should be followed alongside personal health guidelines and consultation with a healthcare provider.

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