Ode To Daddy Mo By Chika Yagazie Chukwumerije

imageChika Yagazie Chukwumerije, son of the late Senator Uche Chukwumerije, recalls some fond memories and intimate moments with his father who he described as the ‘best father in the whole world’.

Fewer pictures paint a more vivid picture of my dad than this one – ‘Comrade’ in his study room with his head bowed to work, surrounded by a legion of books. As I look at this picture, images forcefully float upstream of my memory’s endless database. I see myself again as I stand in front of his study room, back home after a long day of training or from a competition in some faraway land.
I knock gently on the door, and stay still as I wait a few moments to hear a bass-voice boom “Yes???” from the other side. Sometimes, the wait could last as long as five minutes, and one knew at that instant that there were a flurry of thoughts being furiously scribbled down on notes of paper behind the brown mahogany door.
I opened the door, and without fail, almost always came face-to-face with this familiar scene – Daddy hunched over his table, writing furiously on whatever he was working on, with mountains of files and papers on all sides of his table, and walls of books all around him. His bald head seemingly reflected the white fluorescent light of his study room as he would remain fixated on the work before him.
“Yes” he would growl again as he lifted up his eyes to see who had dared break his hollowed thoughts, the irritation in his voice unmistakably clear from having his work interrupted. His eyes would soften, and his writing hands, which still firmly held the pen poised on the paper, would relax as he saw it was one of his children. He would stay silent, and allow his eyes repeat his question, waiting patiently for me to state my case. At this moment, I knew he was trying to hold together his train of thought, while at the same time attempting to wrap up our discussion as quickly as possible so he could get back to his work.
“Daddy Mo, I know you are very busy, but I need to talk to you about something. Can you please spare me five minutes?” I would gently ask.
At that moment, there a mild inner struggle as he battled to choose between retaining his current thoughts or dispersing them temporarily in order to wholly focus on those I was about to introduce. More often than not, the latter choice won, and I watched as he let go and settled for ‘family first’, ‘work second’.
“Alright then, Go on!” His deep voice will resonate in resigned anticipation. “I am very busy, but if it would take just five minutes as you say, it is ok. So what is it?” he would grumble under his breath, reconciled to his fate of playing his fatherly role.
I would then use the next 15 minutes to pour out all my worries, issues, requests, demands or opinions to his poor ears, but he would patiently hear me out, never breaking my flow for even a second. As I talked and he intently listened, one was never uncertain that Daddy had heard every single word that had been spoken.
At times, he would lean back on the broad black swiveling chair, throw back his head and close his eyes, as he stroked his beard while listening. At other times, if it was a very serious subject matter that needed further reflection, he would take off his glasses and use one of its hands to scratch his bald head as he kept listening, as if that very act was carefully parting the million thoughts running through his ever occupied head.
Finally, I will be done, grateful that I had not been cut short 10 minutes ago. He would stay in his reflective position for a few seconds before opening his eyes to look at me. At that moment, I knew he had dissected all I had said, made careful analysis of the information. I had just given him, and was pondering the most effective way to deliver his response to me.
He would begin by summarising all I said to him in 30 seconds, noting the major points.
No matter what the talk was about – a request, an opinion or an advice – his response was always clinical, analytical and precise. If I had follow-up questions or opinions on the matter, he would again listen patiently before engaging in a brisk discussion until we had arrived at a logical conclusion. Ifit was something he needed to act on, he would promptly write it down in his notepad which was always by his side. It never took longer than 24 hours for him to act on it, and this he did for everything he inscribed into that notepad with his red pen.
I walked into his study after he passed on, and it just hit me that I would never speak with this brilliant mind again. I will never be able to tap into that vast knowledge, and experience, that bottomless pit of patience, love and support again. It was in this same study room that I had gleaned so much advice, strength, will-power and vision that formed a vital part of the man I am now.
He would say to me, “You need to read about great men and be inspired by their stories, and learn from their mistakes,” waving his hands at all the books around him, and glancing around as he gave this advice, as if to drive home the point that one should not waste too much time on frivolities when one has all these resources within reach at one’s beck and call.
He would say to me, “Go do your PHD and be the best student. You must always strive to be in the first position.”
He would say to me; “Win the World Championships. Win the Olympics. You can if you put your heart and mind to it. But to win it, you must train very hard, morning and night and at no time must you lose sight of the goal, or be distracted by side-attractions. Quoting the bible, he would remind me that, often only one wins the race, but one must run in such a way as to win the prize, subjecting one’s body and mind to the set task”
He would say to me, “You must always finish what you start and never give up,no matter how long it takes and the challenges you meet along the way”
He would say to me, “Be disciplined and astute. Remain humble and meek, hardworking and committed, loyal and diligent, and God will elevate you from the lowly back seat to the high table at the very front.”
He would say to me, “Be very careful about women; they could help you attain great heights, but could also be the end of you, and help you plunge from those lofty heights much faster than you had reached there.” He would look mildly embarrassed and avoid my eyes as he broached this topic with me, more at ease with topics in his comfort zone like politics, economics, religion and sports.
He would say to me, “Hard work never kills. There is no shortcut to success.”
He would say to me, “Your mates are struggling and working very hard. You must not depend on Daddy Mo or on what he has, but work even harder than your peers, so they would not rule over you tomorrow.”
He would say to me, “You have many talents and abilities, but you need to be more patient Chika. You are at times very impatient and at other times a bit too over-confident for your own good.”
He would say to me, “Anytime your things are all over your room, it is only a reflection of your state of mind. At times like this, you need to do a lot more self-reflection drills and keep the focus.”
He would say to me, “Never procrastinate. There is no better time to do it than now. Time waits for no one, and though it seems to stand still, it runs faster than you can ever imagine. One minute, you are doing guy-man all over the place and fussing over your looks; then you will wake up one day and find out that you are an old man whom life has left behind. You will also discover that those your classmates who were at your level at some point are now far far far ahead of you.” His lips would be hard-pressed together as the words squeezed through, burrows will form on his forehead, he would dust both hands off each other, and then one of his hands will be thrust into the air like a plane taking off to better illustrate how far ahead your peers would be.
He would say to me, “sometimes it seems to me that you pursue too many causes at the same time, thereby dissipating energy in too many directions. This reduces your overall effectiveness as well as efficiency in reaching major milestones of the individual causes. It is better to focus on your energy on one thing, but you must first prioritize to decide what that cause is.”
He will say to me, “Be a good listener and keep developing a keen sense of perception of everyone around you, every one you meet or whatever situation you encounter. Remember not to form hasty opinions or make quick decisions, as it is unwise to judge a book by its cover. Be patient, listen a lot, watch a lot, and talk a little until you get a complete understanding of the content and context of the person or situation. Only and only then should you make your decision, after you have pieced together as complete a picture as is possible.”
He would say to me, “Chika, when you decide to do something with all your heart,no one does it better. But when it is not in your heart, oh my goodness!” he would exclaim exasperated, and I would see his frustration as he remembered those moments when I was laid-back and non-committal to things that were to have been done. “You need to be more consistent” he would further admonish. He would say to me, “If I knew God in my younger days as I do now, I would perhaps have become President of this country.” With even more seriousness than his usual serious self, he would strongly urge me yet again, “take your fellowship with God very seriously. It is the master key that will unlock the hidden secrets of this world for you.”
He would say to me, “The greatest protection or security that a man could have in this world is his relationship with God. You must never seize to pray and be on your knees.”
He would say to me, “Failure is an orphan,and success has many friends” [a popular adage], “but never be afraid of being alone, especially when you fight for a cause you believe in.”
He would say to me, “You cannot hijack a plane if you are not in it. So despite the state of the system, the only way to try and change it is if you are within and part of the system. Do not shy away from that responsibility”
He would say to me, “Do not help people because you want anything back. Let it be between you and your God”.
He would say to me, “You need to eat more vegetables, “especially when he was passing by the parlour and I was munching sticks of suya, or eating a meal without any veggies. “A healthy lifestyle now will keep the doctors and huge medical bills away later in life. O well!,you can force a horse to the stream, but you cannot force it to drink,” hewould conclude with a sigh, apparently noting the passive look on my face as I gleefully stormed through my ‘unhealthy’ delicacies.
He would say to me, “Bloody hell! I can afford to go and buy the biggest cars and houses, party all night long and make ‘ha-ha’all over the place, as I do big man all over town. But what then happens to all the school fees I have to pay for, the electricity and house bills that need to be attended to, the projects to be invested in? What happens to the hundreds of people dependent on me being responsible from day-to-day so that I would help create opportunities for them? What happens to the tomorrow, which as our people say, is pregnant, if today I make a one-time piecemeal of the seed corn to be planted? You need to sacrifice your today for tomorrow! Or do you think that if I had squandered all I made yesterday, you would have had this roof over your head today? You have to always live responsibly today with a keen eye on the uncertainties of tomorrow,” he would warn.
He would say to me, “my own dad was a big and rich man of his own during those days, but I did not depend on one kobo of his money or influence to make it in those days. I wanted to go out there and carve out my own niche.” He will then challenge me to, “go and make your own destiny, which surely lies in your hands.”
He would say to me, “I was so driven to succeed in those days that I would stay back in school to study during the holidays, while my mates were holidaying and partying. I would burn so many candles all through the night just because I could not bear the thought of coming 2nd position in class, or not being relevant in my generation later in life. He would then repeat one of his favourite Henry Wadesworth Longfellow quotes – “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upwards in the night.” This one he repeated to me all my life.
He would say to me, “There is a difference between loneliness and aloneness. Aloneness is the preserve of the successful man”. You must work hard and work hard and work hard, and not a soul could possibly ever know the sheer amount of hard work, effort and sweat you have put in, they would only see the benefits.
He would say to me, “there are two main kinds of conventional power – politicaland economic. Most times, you need one or the other, or a combination of theboth to make a difference in society that you so desire to do.”
He would say to me, “Know your roots. You need to know where you come from, asnothing builds your self-confidence more than knowing your roots and genealogy.”
He would say to me, after I had asked him how financial stability and prosperity could be attained, “You know I am not a capitalist. Perhaps this is a question for your brother Chaka who is becoming quite a good business hand,” he would add,effectively deflecting the question. “But I can tell you this. There are two kinds of people – the first are those who have the ability, passion, and knowledge to do business and make money; the other kind are those who have ‘causes’ that they believe in and want to use their lifetime to fight for, but need finances to pursue these ‘causes’. I belong to these second group of people. I do not know how to make money, so I just give my savings to those who know how to make money so they make money for me while I focus on the ‘causes’ I believe in.You should first carefully think to which of these two groups you belong to.”
He would say to me, “You must cut your coat according to your size. Do not spend more than you earn, but rather spend less so that what you save during rainy times can sustain you when the drought comes”
He would say to me, “a good name is better than riches”. Then using an open palm, he would repeatedly beat his chest and, with a deep sense of pride, declare”Go and ask anywhere about Uche Chukwumerije; I have never taken a kobo of anybody’s money.”
He would say to me, “One day you will come back home and find out that I am gone;there will be no Daddy Mo waiting for you, and then everything I have told you will come back to you”

Through all these, I would listen and nod, appreciating his philosophies but never really allowing it replay in my head because Daddy was always there to play it over and over again. The sheer potency of his presence, energy and aura was such that it was impossible to imagine him not around for at least one more decade. Now, he is gone, and I hear him more clearly than ever. Counsel ingrained into me over my thirty-one odd years on earth, and hidden somewhere in my sub-conscious, seemed to have broken their chains from the innermost depth of my soul and emptied all its loaded content into my conscious being. Now I understand and appreciate even more all he had said to me, his words turning into bright lamp posts placing themselves one after the other on the dark, long and slippery pathways ahead of me.
I see him everywhere – in the music he listened to in his last days; in the faces of my beloved brothers [Che, Dike,Chaka, Uche, Kelechi], sister [Azuka] and mother [Princess Nwoyibo]; in the peculiar smell of his perfume pervading his entire bedroom; in the vast swathes of white French suits that lined his wardrobe; in the competition venue where he often cut an animated figure in the crowd at that distance, and bridged the seeming gap with his distinct voice hurtling through space to urge me on without ceasing; in the multitude of his handwritten notes left behind; in dredged-up memories of his blunt and stern voice as he drove his house staff, work staff, family, friends, colleagues, opponents to work as hard as he did; in the dozen orphaned children that were the first to pay a condolence visit just hours after he passed away; in the tens of hundreds of people that sent me messages on what he had done for them at one point or the other; in the wrinkly tormented faces of the widows [he periodically assists] who came to pay their respects at the family house.
When his brother [Authur] passed on last year in 2014, one of the things Daddy said to Uncle Arthur’s sons [my cousins] – Bosah and Chuka – were, “You are now men. This is life – it goes on – but you must now carry and shoulder all the responsibilities, and do it with such clarity of purpose, strength of will and personified dignity that would make your father proud whenever he is”. At the time, as he spoke these words, my insides shivered because I knew these very words would wrap itself around me one day. Now it has!
DaddyMo! Dike-Ogu! Isi karaka!
I asked you for fish, but you gave me a fishing-net. I asked you to walk a mile with me because I was afraid, but you held my hand and walked with me to my destination. I asked that you be my father, whenever I needed you, but you went one step ahead and became my friend. When I was in pain, just looking at you brought comfort because you made my pain yours, and you did everything to make it go away.
This ache and tightness that has gripped my heart slowing down its rhythmic beat; this pain and discomfort that ravages through my chest leaving it eerily empty; this heaviness and tiredness that has wrapped itself around my legs causing it to be strangely numb; this banging and fuzziness that has made a home in my head refusing to go away; these salty miserable tears that gushes from eyes hindering my vision; who will take it away now? Where is Daddy Mo? Where can I find him?

I went to the hospital, where he lay a lot these past couple of months, hoping that perchance, I would catch a glimpse of him. But he was not there. I came home looking out in cars passing by, just in case, I had missed him along the way. But he was not to be found. I got home, went through the front door, up the stairs to look for him in his study room, where he must surely be. Yet again, he was not there. I looked in the bedroom, straining my eyes to peek into the blue fluorescent-lit chambers hoping that he possibly still lay on his bed,tired after all those hours of writing in his study room. Behold, he was not there. Aha! He must be at the back of the house. He had asked me to train hard for the World Championships, even though I told him I might not be ready. Thus I went hastily to the garden at the back of the house, where he often sat and watched me in his last days as I trained hard on the basketball court. Perhaps, I would find him there, but sadly he was not there also. Alas! I could not find him anywhere. A ma ka mmiri si were baa n’opiugboguru?

So I just sat on the front porch, staring blankly at the Prado Jeep I had carried him into just a few days ago en route to the hospital days before he passed on.My heart asked again where I could find Daddy Mo, but my head told my heart to allow reality embrace its excruciating anguish. Thus I closed my eyes and let the memories play – recollections of childhood, of teenage years, or adulthood;at each stage, the boy in me smiled back at a father who had always been there for him every step of the way. I felt the tears squeeze freely out the corners of my eyes, as reality beckoned my heart to embrace her.

“N’eziokwu, oge adighi eche mmadu. Anyammiri juru na anya m, kama m ga-ekele Jehova; n’ihi na ? di nma. N’ihi na rue mb?e ebighi-ebi kaebere-Ya di. Anamahu Gi n’anya nke-uku, Jehova, bú ikem. Gi, Jehova, kam’nebuliri nkpuru-obim. Cheta obi-ebere-Gi nile, Jehova, ha na ebere-Gi nile;M’geji obim nile kele Jehova; M’gag?zi Jehova na mb?e nile: Mb?e nile kaotuto-Ya gadi n’?num. Jehova ka nkpuru-obim geji nyaisi: Ndi di ume-ala n’obi ganu ya, we ?uria ??u. Sonum me kaJehova di uku, Ka ayi buli kwa aha-Ya elu n’otù. M’gak? kwa akuk? oké ?lu-Gi nile. M’ga?uri ??u, obim gat?kwam ut?, nime Gi: M’gabùku aha-Gi abù ?ma, Gi Onye kachasi ihe nile elu.” O ga di mma.

DaddyMo! Comrade! Dike-Ogu! Isi karaka! Olu Ndigbo! My Father! My Friend! My Mentor! My Inspiration! My Fan! My Patron! My Pillar! My Teacher! My Conscience! My Hero! My Counsellor! My Compass!

“O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory”

OnyeIsi’m, la n’udo.

It is well!

One thought on “Ode To Daddy Mo By Chika Yagazie Chukwumerije

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *