A living memoir of my father



I have stared at this photograph of me and Dad (below) for more than five months. The picture was found in Mum’s drawer. After some calculations and contemplations, Mum said I was three years old in the photo. How incredible. I could not place my mind on the fact that I was once three, neither was I able to dig out all that happened to me at that age. How much can I remember from age three? How far back in time can I go? What I could only do was stare, imagine, and ask questions.  

Photo (supplied)

I have had several thoughts run through my mind since the photo got to me, and most of them, so far, have bordered on my dad: what were his personal dreams and aspirations at that age? What was his worldview then? What mental picture of the future was he carrying for himself, for his wife, for his children, and even for his country, Nigeria?

At this point I must rely on Mum’s memory. I need stories to fill in the gap, to fill in the ‘negative’ space I am seeing and eagerly wanting to experience. I need to listen to mum; I need to hold on to something from the past. Because the past is sitting right in front of me in a photograph taken ages ago.

Mum is barraged with questions. She herself has to dig up her own time, has to go into closets of her mind, if stories will be told. It is no easy task going down and up memory lanes. I can imagine there are both pleasant and unpalatable bits of the past that would surface. So, I have no expectations. I am just a curious son. A poet and researcher asking to know the past.

Dad was a teacher in Rubochi, a small town in Abuja. His subjects were geography, mathematics, further mathematics, chemistry and physics. He would leave teaching to focus fulltime on geology, which was what he trained for at the University of Jos. He would rise through the ranks in his department to become a director, the promotion and position he saw on paper but did not live to assume. He died a month before his assumption of office as a director at the engineering department of FCDA (Federal Capital Development Authority).

When I think of my father, I always speculate on his career in soil science, geology, geography. It was a known fact in the house that dad really wanted to do more, to expand his professional base. He talked about moving across states, countries, establishing his laboratories, researching, and developing stuff. My father was not a mediocre geologist. He was a head full of ideas. He also had a huge interest in architecture, city design and management. I ask these questions all the time: what difference would it have made today, or would it make tomorrow if he were alive? Would it have been different if he went on and stuck with his architectural ambitions? What geological feat might he have accomplished today?


'It has been six years since our father passed, but someone came asking genuinely about how he is doing: I nodded my head, smiled, and said: daddy is doing fine, he is well.'


Six years is not a tiny piece of existence or history. Every span of time records its events and impact. Flash memories, flash wishes come and go.

I do not know if I miss my dad. I am still digging out my feelings. But I know for sure that I wish he were alive today. I was taking a walk once at the neighbourhood playground, and I bumped into two men walking side by side. The image of them walking, holding hands at intervals, looking into each other’s eyes, smiling, nodding, saying things only them could hear or say; that image has stayed with me forever. They looked like father and son; age and facial resemblance told their differences and similarities. I could not help myself at that point but wish that my dad were alive so we could have such time together. I was wishing I got affectionate moments with dad, taking long walks and drives. I was imagining myself aging with him. I projected words he might say about love, sex, science, cities, roast potatoes, carrots and cabbage. I painted pictures of him feeling proud of his daughter, his sons and his wife.

It's not illogical to think that this continuous thread of thoughts about Dad is a way of mourning; and that grief is nonlinear, with probably no end.

Once, my brother hung his shirt a certain way, and right there it struck me: this is how our dad used to hang his shirts. A way that was only my dad’s. My younger brother is doing what dad used to do, I mused. Was it learnt or was it unconscious? Is it history repeating itself? Is it history and the future meeting at a point — a unified point — in a shirt? Like memory coming back in form of a shirt. A dead father coming back to his sons in cotton clothing.

This is the nonlinearity of time; how reality slants toward perceptions, multidimensionality and variedness of existence. It has been six years since our father passed, but someone came asking genuinely about how he is doing: I nodded my head, smiled, and said: daddy is doing fine, he is well. I didn’t want to pass the shocking news to the guy. He probably does not need anything to ruin his good moods, so I spared him the shock. I have bumped into people who asked after my dad; some even ask me to extend their greetings to him.

I posted the photo of dad and me on my Facebook wall, and the comments said the same thing: resemblance. One person said, ‘Your dad looks so much more like you now that you look like yourself in that picture’. ‘You look so much like your dad. My God, the resemblance is uncanny,’ another said. One said: ‘My first thought was that older person in the picture was you’. Another added, ‘you are now your father.’ It went on. I am a splitting image of my dad. I am a living memoir of my dad.

As a young writer expanding my craft, I have a dream to write a full-length memoir or make a documentary about my father; about his career, his life, and to find out more about him. I have an endless number of questions about the different facets of him. About who he was in the city of Abuja and who he was to his friends and family. About who he was to me. And maybe then I could reach the roots of being a living memoir of my dad.



David Ishaya OsuDavid Ishaya Osu is a Nigerian poet. His poems have appeared in: Atlas Poetica: A Journal of World Tanka, Birmingham Arts Journal, Tipton Poetry Journal, Watershed Review, The Missing Slate and elsewhere.

Main image credit: Photo (supplied)

Topic tags: David Ishaya Osu, father, anniversary, memory



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Existing comments

Plain is the implication that theism provides a closure that atheism cannot, because not all baggage can be resolved on this side of the divide.
roy chen yee | 16 December 2020

Thank you for sharing this lovely memory of your father. He and you were/are very intelligent, very curious people. These are my people, the ones who seek to further humanity.
Hannah D | 20 December 2020


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