MY FATHER FRIEND
During a visit to my native Nigeria in January 1993 I saw signs that some dreadful illness had crept into my father. His spare body had filled out in a way that did not seem to spell well being. His face had become rounder, paler, a little sadder. When he hugged me, I missed the sinewy strength that, in the past, his arms easily commanded. His gait, once brisk, had slowed to the cautious pace of somebody plagued canada goose outlet parka by aches. His clear ringing voice was gone; there was, instead, a slightly enfeebled pattern to his speech, as if his body was no longer able to support the generousness of his spirits.
In June, I received news that he had been diagnosed with renal disease. Thus began my version of a son’s worst nightmare. The most graceful man I knew was beginning his final somber dance. In my adolescent days, I had often looked upon my father, first as stronger than canada goose outlet in usa everybody else’s father; then as simply immortal.
Christopher Ndibe was a genial man of noble bearing, and quietly brave. His own father’s fame lay in two simple facts. In his day, he had been an invincible traditional wrestler, one of the best in his village, Amawbia. The story is still told there of his wrestling exploits, especially a comical incident during one communal festival. Cowed by my grandfather’s wrestling prowess, his opponent had lost his nerve and pleaded, “May we wrestle tomorrow instead?” To which my grandfather responded, “What then shall we do about today?” Till my father’s death, villagers saluted him with the statement, “May it be tomorrow,” a paraphrase of those plaintive words spoken by his father’s canada goose uk shop opponent.
My grandfather’s other claim to fame had to do with white men. When the first white men appeared in Amawbia, my grandfather had been one of the few men to go away with them, drawn by the economic possibilities promised by the nascent world, complete with a new cash nexus. He had hired himself out to the Europeans as a hewer of timber around the canada goose outlet toronto factory delta of Warri, in Nigeria’s midwest region, some canada goose outlet 200 miles from his village. In those days, modern highways were nonexistent, and so canada goose outlet reviews travelers trekked long distances.
When, several years later, my grandfather had not returned, his relatives, presuming him dead, performed his funeral. Soon after, my grandfather reappeared in uk canada goose the village. His relatives, though much relieved, were bound by tradition not to touch him or welcome him back into Canada Goose Online the community of the living until the funeral rites were reversed. Until that was done, he remained for the villagers a dead man, a spirit.
My father married my mother in 1958, when she was 33 and he was 36. At the time, any woman past 20 was considered an unviable spouse, dangerously close to a museum piece. In fact, many of his relatives canada goose outlet online had opposed the marriage, certain that age must have weakened my mother’s womb, rendering her incapable of bearing children. He had countered their plaint with the simple point that this was the woman he loved. To his scandalized relatives this was not a simple matter; theirs was, after all, a world in which the romantic notion of love was hardly a ranking consideration in taking a wife. Having children was by far more important.
Poor for most of his life, my father nevertheless carried himself with an assured nobility. He labored at his postmaster’s job with the cheery spirit of one determined that dignity would never be foreign to him. He never raised his voice against his fellows, never became surly, never bore his circumstance, however hard and trying, on his face.
The news of his ailment stabbed me with sharp anxiety attacks. A large part of it owed to the fact that I resided in the United States, separated from my father by 7,000 miles. Besides, I was aware that his illness amounted to a death sentence, slowly, painfully, executed; Nigerian hospitals, like much else in that oil producing country that has been misruled by a succession of military dictators, are little more than ghastly caricatures of medical care. Dialysis machines are unavailable in most hospitals. The few that have the equipment are flooded by rows upon rows of patients lying in shattering anguish, hoping their turn might come faster than death.
The greater source of my anxiety lay in realizing how much I didn’t know about my father. I knew little about his life before he became my father, before he and my mother married and had five children, four sons and one daughter, myself as the second child.
They had told us, their children, many stories: about their own childhood, about their parents, and about that distant time of their own youth. I had not paid much attention. The reason was simple: The stories were often told in the context of rebuking shameful conduct. I was the rebellious child in the canada goose black friday sale family. I was drawn to smoking, all night parties, truancy, and, worst of all (in the opinion of my parents), sex. Callow and self absorbed, I felt affronted, diminished by my parents’ stories. I quickly learned a way to distract myself during those storytelling sessions. I would focus on some cheeky fantasy, daydreaming about some girl with whom I was infatuated, or thinking about the day when I would be grown and wealthy, able to live my dream life of prurient liberty. The particular fantasy changed, but never the objective to block out the lessons contained in the personal histories my parents shared.
I did an effective job of it. For, as I tried to grapple with the news of my father’s illness, I was struck by the paltriness of the memories I had of him. It suddenly dawned on me how sorely I missed the treasure of stories I had once spurned.
Visiting Nigeria in 1994 a more or less annual ritual for me I made sure I spent long hours with my father, asking him questions. There was so much ground we could never hope to cover, but that hardly blunted my joy that, in the race against time, I had reduced my https://www.georg-godorr.de margin of loss, however fractionally.
The first blurry persona I asked about was the Reverend John Tucker, an Englishman who had cheap canada goose been my father’s regular correspondent for as long as I could canada goose outlet remember.
For many years, Tucker had been an alluringly misty figure. All I knew was that he wrote to my father once or twice each year, but unfailingly at Christmas. As a child, when my parents were away, I would pilfer his letter and run off to a quiet spot to read it. Many of Tucker’s letters were mundane affairs: a quick statement about his pastoral work, a report canada goose outlet black friday of the progress in school of his three children, something about his wife’s job, an expression of delight at the news from my father that his own wife and children were also doing quite nicely. There was nothing in the letters that could lift the cloak of mystery that surrounded the Englishman in my mind. Nothing explained who he was and why he and my father had become friends. There was little in the letters to reward the punishment I surely would have received had my parents found out.
In a way, the absence of clues suited me quite well in those youthful days. It enabled me to invent a place for Tucker in what I saw as my impoverished life. My parents were lower middle class, and I wanted for symbols to bolster my social standing among my high school friends, some of whom spent summer vacations with their parents in England. I made my father’s English friend serve as my own claim to status; he became my peculiar fashion of visiting England, a country linked in my juvenile mind with idyllic beauty. If my father had an English friend, I reasoned, then what edge could my friends from wealthier homes possibly have over me? In time I outgrew this quaint fantasy, but not my curiosity about canadian goose jacket where or how my father’s story with Reverend Tucker had begun.
They had met in Burma, my father told me, a few months after World War II ended. Tucker, a lieutenant in the British Army, had been detailed as the officer in charge of the Signals platoon where my father had served for a good part of the war. My father was a non commissioned officer with the rank of canada goose coats lance corporal.
My father was not one to rhapsodize about war, but he took unmistakable pride cheap canada goose uk in the four medals he had earned. Among the few of his memorabilia that survived Nigeria’s political crisis a crisis that culminated in the Biafran civil war of 1967 70 are one of those medals, as well as his discharge certificate, dated Dec. 31, 1946, from the Royal West African Frontier Force. The document notes “one small scar on the belly” as my father’s only wartime injury. Its final testimonial captured the essence of the man WHOwould become, years later, my father. “Honest, sober and trustworthy. Used to handling men. Works efficiently without supervision. Gives great support to his superiors,” wrote his officers in the discharge certificate. Educated only up to elementary school level, my father was able to acquire from the war the necessary skills for his postwar employment with Nigeria’s Posts and Telegraphs Department.
I remember, canada goose jacket outlet too, the day when, visited by two Nigerian veterans of the war, my father brought out his lone surviving medal from the box where it was kept, like a rare totem. Though too young to make much sense of what was said, I was impressed by the passion with which they shared their experiences, how they recounted their gallantry in such and such a campaign, recalling the number of enemy forces they had in their own words “wiped out.”
I was always proud that my father took part in World War II, the most meaningful conflict of the modern era. I found myself awed by the war’s moral dimensions, the strange configurations of alliances it engendered, its geopolitical consequences, the sheer scale of its prosecution, and its gargantuan cost in lives. It was not until I became a serious student of African history especially, the history of Africans’ struggle to reclaim their autonomy from several centuries of European derogation and control that I began to see the war in an entirely broad light.
I was shocked almost incredulous when I learned that some 100,000 Nigerians had fought in the war. Other African countries, most of them under the colonial tutelage of Britain or France, also sent several hundred thousand combatants. Why was this fact glossed over in the major books on the war that I read? Why were Africans consigned to the margins when the drama of this war was narrated?
Discussing the war with my father, I came close to grasping a sense of how the African combatants felt as they fought a war that was, in an important respect, the logical culmination of a species of racism with which Europe had yoked Africa.
In Burma, my father was a budding nationalist. “I was constantly disgusted at the way European officers treated African soldiers,” he said. Tucker was not as haughty as some, but could not help carrying himself, much to my father’s detestation, with that very British of airs, a mixture of detachment and purse lipped confidence, the carriage of a man secure in his place in the world, affecting an easy swagger.
Silently, my father seethed. He considered himself far more adept than his superior officer at using the signalling equipment. Tucker and the other goose outlet canada British officers, by their presence and attitude, reminded my father of his wretched place, as an African, in the world. They reminded him that, though fighting side by side with Europeans (and for the same cause), he was a conquered man, subject to the whim of his British conquerors, his life less prized, a man whose world had been turned upside down by the English. Deep down, however, my father saw himself differently; he saw himself as better than some of his British subjugators where it counted. The thinker of such thoughts is a dangerous man. My father was constantly on the verge of explosion.
“One day, I angrily told Tucker that he had his rank because he was British, not because he knew signalling as well as some of the African soldiers,” said my father.
My father’s brusque manner alarmed his African compatriots. “Many of them dropped their jaws in shock,” recalled my father. “They were sure I would be court martialed for insubordination. Some of them even feared I would be shot.” But my father remained indifferent to whatever fate awaited him.
As Canada Goose Jackets it turned out, Tucker chose not to pursue the incident. Instead, recognizing that his less than respectful subordinate burned with nationalist ideas, Tucker went out of his way to befriend him. The two began to hold long discussions, often touching on the likely developments in British colonial possessions. Tucker assured my father that Nigeria, like other British colonies in Africa, would regain political autonomy soon after the war. It was a view other officers mocked, convinced as they were that Africans were little more than bumbling children who would profit by submitting to many more years canada goose outlet jackets of stern guidance by their European masters.
Tucker’s generosity began to make a good impression on my father. He began to reassess the Englishman. As he did, his mistrust of all people British soon thawed where Tucker was concerned. The two men, defying the gulf of history that separated them, began to build a new relationship that even in the uncertain time and turf of war worn Burma could be called friendship. The British officer and the African soldier, in deciding to meet on an even ground, were saying, in effect, that the arrangements of history were subordinate to the call of friendship. Their friendship was, therefore, at once beautiful and, yes, subversive.
As my father spoke, I could see that his fiery outburst against Tucker had drawn on an uncommon depth of courage from within him, to say nothing of his disregard for the imperative of personal safety. The world of 1946 was one in which my father’s kind were meant to be seen, not heard. Not heard, at any rate, speaking in irreverent terms to any British citizen, much less an officer. For in 1946 Britain owned Nigeria, and Tucker was military ranks aside literally my father’s master. Improbable as my father’s conduct was in a sense because of it the two men would go ahead to become lifelong friends.
Back from Nigeria in the spring of 1994 I canada goose uk outlet kept thinking about the meaning of my father’s friendship with the Englishman. Still excited from listening to my father recreate his Burmese encounter with Tucker, I decided to arrange a telephone conversation between the two friends. I called my father in Nigeria and linked him up, in a conference call, with Tucker in England. It was the first time they would have heard each other’s voice in nearly 50 years. I pictured them exploding in uproarious excitement, perhaps too choked with joy to find words. How wrong I was.