Now a father in-law and awaiting grandpa
Parents have a way of thinking that their children have not grown. Every child to the father or mother was born yesterday! I had also thought that Ophie was born yesterday, until she walked into my room one early morning to say something a bit winding, but ended on a striking note: “daddy, he is asking my hand in marriage.” My mind flashed back to that morning at a private hospital somewhere in Ejigbo, Lagos, where I was pacing about the reception area waiting to be told something from the labour room by the midwives.
This was three years after Abiola’s June 12 and as I did a mental recreation of the circumstances, it did appear to me as if the birth of Ophie was truly only yesterday! “Daddie!” she called to regain my attention. I returned to her. “Okay; I have heard you but I want to see the boy.” It was just to meet all protocols regarding the matter on the table. While it is natural for a father to worry about the girl child as she weathers through the turbulence of adolescence into adulthood, it wasn’t quite so between Ophie and I.
She is endowed with attributes that put her a notch or two ahead of her pack. Almost from day one, she exhibited a capacity for self-defence. She combines simplicity with complexity to create a personality that attracts and checkmates at the same time. She could outwit any adventurer with her friendly disposition which conceals a great deal of inner strength. Simply, she has power of control, and as a father, I had only worried about her basic needs.
But it still seems as if it was yesterday that I took Ophie to Mrs. Ifeoma Essel at the SOS Children Village Isolo to begin school. Indeed it was only yesterday that I would be left alone in the house with Ophie on some days after her two elder brothers had gone to school and the mother to market and she would not let me be and I would be racking my brain to create activities to engage her. I learnt by all means possible to sing lullabies and tell fairy tales to put her to sleep, especially at night.
I still feel it was only yesterday that Ophie was taken to St Francis Catholic Secondary Idimu, to begin the next lap of her education journey after the starting point at SOS Village School. Initially, her mother did the school runs morning and afternoon but two or so years after, Ophie proclaimed: “daddy, I am now a big girl and I can go to school and return all by myself.” That changed the terms of engagement. She was put on a weekly transport budget which she called “my salary.” She walked to me with gusto every Sunday evening to demand her ‘salary’ against the succeeding week.
Ophie is the last of three children and the only girl. She arrived 10 years after my second son, which made her the real baby of everybody. Also, she came two years after the death of my grandmother and because I had lived with my grandma instead of my mother, my father concluded that my grandmother had returned through me. On the side line, she became known as Mama r’ode, meaning Big Mama. By whatever coincidences, her attitudes even as an infant aligned with that of elder mama. For instance, she wasn’t too keen on candies or biscuits except UAC ‘gala.’ She could even eat bitter kola and feel cool. Her best soup was oghwo, the Urhobo oil soup that is prepared with potash (ukaun). Without any elaborate efforts on our part, she picked the Urhobo language as she grew up in Lagos.
Things had relatively eased up when Ophie arrived and she didn’t face some of the challenges that her elder brothers faced. She was just cool growing up. For instance, she didn’t have to be reminded in school that her school fees were due and threatened with suspension from classes before I made payment. Given her position in the family, she had tutors both at school and at home in her two elder brothers. She grew to meet, at least, relative material ease in the house. In fact her full name, Ophieroghene, which means the shelter of God is a description of the family’s circumstances at her birth.
But she was very conscious. She never took things for granted and understood as she conquered time and space that there could be other sociological realities. This might have informed her current disposition toward charity and subtle gender activism. In a few instances that I had to query her high spending in school, she came straight to say: “Daddy, I used part of my money to help some of my friends.” I didn’t probe further because it all sounded good and in agreement with my own world view.
Her friendship with others is determined by character and not class even as she maintains the capacity to flow across board. I was surprised when in her year two and without letting me know, she mobilised students behind her bid for the vice presidency of the Association of Philosophy Students at the University of Ibadan. “How did you do it?” I asked. “Aaaah Daddy! Dey there naah! I got my friends to work for me and I did so well on the manifesto night.”
I understood perfectly what happened. To dispatch Ophie in a debate could be difficult. She speaks the English Language as if she was raised in Buckingham Palace. Even between us, I usually invoked my higher powers to overrule her. While I may sometimes reason in Urhobo and take time to rearrange my thoughts in English, Ophie reasons better in English and skips the rigour of transliteration. She comes straight and faster with her points.
And debates between us were always coming because like other young people, Ophie is perpetually angry with the system and thinks the older generation, including me is to blame for the poor state of affairs in the country. She didn’t even want to do her university education in Nigeria but this was one of the instances she was overruled by me. I had decreed that education up to first degree must happen in Nigeria and it was not to be negotiated. Ophie advanced good reasons, chief of which was the incessant disruptions in the University system occasioned by strike actions by academic and non-academic workers, to have it outside the country.
I was unmoved. I only offered the option of a private university here in Nigeria, but because she had become familiar with the setting in UI, having spent a session at the UI International School for her advanced level, she insisted it must be UI. There was even an ugly build-up to her being at the International School Ibadan that got her all the more disenchanted with the Nigerian system. She came out with A’s in her Senior School Certificate Examination and was set to resume at the Mass Communication Department of the University of Benin, but for some reasons I have not been able to fathom till date, her result in the Joint Admission and Matriculation Examination was withheld.
It was a most challenging moment for both of us. She wanted to be in school and here I was faced with the prospect of managing an out-of-school bubbling female teen for one year before she could be fully engaged again in academics. Her A-level pursuit at the International School was therefore a stop gap to amicably settle the matter. It turned out a wise decision. She spent only a session there and made 8 points. When she fell just two marks (60 instead of 62) short of the post-JAMB test cut-off for admission into the UI Law Faculty, I thought her little exploits at the International School could come as a remediation.
The university however felt otherwise. I persuaded Ophie to settle for her second choice of course, Philosophy, and explained further that with a background in philosophy, she would be the lawyer to beat in town. She agreed. We had another agreement, which was that she must make a first class. She agreed too. She returned after the UI journey that was burdened with ASUU and NASUU strikes to explain a little constraint. “I am sorry daddy; I had some shortfalls in my first year, which I could not fully redress in spite of my best efforts. I made an excellent 2:1, maybe 5.5; I have not seen my transcripts though.”
I was proud. I made her a little happy with a gift. Her next serious conversation with me was: “he is asking my hand in marriage!” Again, I was very proud. When Obina came with his elder brother Ifeanyi to see me, I was not disappointed. I told them to go and bring their father. When Chief Ignatius came, the direction became clearer. In the course of the conversation, I discovered that I had been a stranger in my own house for about four years. I started piecing together the puzzles. I could understand why sometimes Ophie would break our conversation with “excuse me daddy” and walk into her room to answer a telephone call. And why she was visiting Festac Town more often than other places in town to “see my friend.”
I will not say her mother didn’t know more than I knew before matters became official. For instance, when I threatened to impound Ophie’s iphone5 until she explained how she got it, my wife was a ready advocate. “It was a birthday gift from her friends” she explained. Kindly note the plural in the last noun, which came in place of the singular to conceal something. Instead of saying ‘friend’, she said ‘friends’ which could have been calculated to remove focus on a likely male friend – Obina – for the time being.
Now the hide and seek game between Ophie and Obina is over. I told the in-laws from Awka, Anambra State, that Ophie’s grand parents from both ends are alive and kicking and the business of wine-carrying cannot happen in Lagos. And as proposed and disposed to by God, it was an open business penultimate Saturday (November 3) at my place in Oghara Agbarha-Otor.
The long and short of it is that by His Grace, I am now a proud father in-law and an awaiting-grandpa. And that is official.