I wish he were here



I saw my mother in pain several times. I witnessed many episodes of her in physical distress, in emotional distress. I have been with friends and lovers and have seen them in difficult times, emotionally and physically. The same way people have seen me in distress, seen me cry. But I never saw my dad in tears, not as a kid growing up, nor much later as a young adult.

Side view view of man with dark brown skin (Photo by Olu Famule on Unsplash)

It’s probable that he wasn’t the crying-type or was the type who had to hold it back and let it out in private. I cannot be so sure. I, however, knew how to read his face and invisible emotions, and knew when he wasn’t at peace and when he was angry. You always knew when he was happy.

Did dad hide his tears? Were there any reasons? Was there ever a time he wished he could just be himself and let out hidden emotions? His fears, tears. Or even his secret joys? Was there a need to be strong, to be a man, to not show other faces of his?

I am here asking questions to my dad in his absence. Asking a man who’s been away for over six years. Asking a man who will never return. Asking a dad who is now physically nonexistent in my life and that of my siblings and my mum, his wife. Asking a man who died at age fifty-two. Asking a man whose death certificate read cardiac arrest and many other medical terms that I have now erased from my brain.

As I write this essay, I am playing a song by Lyta featuring Davido. It’s titled, Monalisa. This is my first time listening to this song. Before I came to my laptop to start this piece, the song came up on the TV and it hit me. This is what I need right now, said my melancholy. A song. A song to walk me through blue ruminations.

A line in the song reads: ‘my love for you is sure’. Here is a simple declaration, yet weighty. While the song appears to me as a projection of unrequited love, or perhaps the longings of a new lover wet with emotions, it strikes chords beyond the lover-lover line of communication.


'I have yet to wrap my head around the fact that someone told me, to my face, in the thickness of my pain, to not cry because I am a man.'


I imagine a father saying to his son, my love for you is sure. I imagine a son saying the same to his father. I imagine a mother saying the same. I imagine a daughter, a husband, a friend, a teacher, even a stranger, saying the same: my love for you is sure. And as I imagine, as I let my mind go through several pictures and declarations of love, I plunge into a fact: the fact that I do not remember my father telling me he loved me; the fact that I do not remember me telling my father I loved him; the fact that I do not remember my parents saying to each other that their love for each other was sure.

It is a heavy realisation, and I am tempted to run away from the fact. The fact that I grew up in a house that rarely declared love verbally nor showed it in hugs or kisses. I throw no faults to my parents for this, nonetheless. I just wonder what the dynamics would have been had I verbally expressed my love to my dad and him to me. But I can only have that in my imagination.

I must mention the prompts for this essay: I wasn’t feeling emotionally settled one evening and was sharing that with my friend. I told her I felt like crying. This was over the phone. And she said: let it out. It’s okay. Maybe that’s what you need to move through it. And to find what’s on the other side. But I couldn’t let it out; couldn’t break my cry. I was with my sister and brother. I didn’t want a sudden shift of my emotion to spoil the atmosphere. We were watching TV. How was it that I had to hold back my tears?

The other prompt was unconscious: I woke up with fragments of memory. Though they came in my sleep — what I initially called dreams — it occurred to me that they were true, lived experiences. They were flashes of the past coming back. I remembered an evening that wasn’t at all kind to my mother. I remembered how she cried and lost her voice to the ache she was feeling in her stomach. It was so scary that it has lasted these many years — years after she’s been relieved.

I then remembered a road safety officer telling me to not cry. You’re a man, he said. I had just survived a vehicular crash, had just watched my life escape death, had just witnessed how fatally breakable the human body can be. My left arm dangling, I couldn’t hold myself but cry and call out sounds from my belly. The X-ray showed a comminute fracture in my left arm.

I have yet to wrap my head around the fact that someone told me, to my face, in the thickness of my pain, to not cry because I am a man. An excruciating pain that didn’t only make me cry, but completely distorted my flow of thought and aliveness. The pain wasn’t only tangible — as I could roughly put my fingertips to it — it cycled my entire body. Though the damage was in my left arm, I felt the pain in my head, in my legs, in my stomach, everywhere. The pain went everywhere inside me.

These flashes take me back in time, back to things I remember about dad, one of which is his tears. His nonexistent tears. I might have had an encounter with dad’s tears, maybe during my first days, years, or probably have completely forgotten. Perhaps he was living with the rebuke that men do not cry. Maybe not. I wish he were here, alive; I would kindly ask him these questions, and those I hid in my stomach. I wish he were here, alive; I would wait to hear his reasons, his secret joys. I would ask him in between jokes and laughter: what do you think of men and tears?



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: Side view view of man (Photo by Olu Famule on Unsplash)

Topic tags: David Ishaya Osu, masculinity, fatherhood



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Existing comments

How lyrical and moving. A poignant piece of writing.
Suzanne Hemming | 07 May 2020

I too come from a family where emotions were not really expressed. My parents were children of the depression. My father was born the year it started. he was a true stoic and believed that you simply had to get on with life and make the most of what came your way. I do wonder how different our lives would have been if it had been otherwise but don't doubt his ability to love. I reflected at the time of his death at 85 years of age that the only time I saw him cry was at the loss of his dogs. Each time one of them died he shed many visible tears. I understand. While some people might feel envious that he should have expressed himself toward them in that way, I am thankful that he felt that way and know that he loved us just as much even if it didn't result in tears
geoff duke | 08 May 2020

This is lovely and subtly moving. More, please.
Maura Alia Badji | 16 May 2020

I enjoy your flash memoir pieces so much, David. They feel like a prose/poetry hybrid. About men and tears---I was fortunate to see my mother's father, my Papa, cry when I was a child. He cried tears of happiness when we came to visit, and tears of sorrow when we parted. My brothers and I surrounded him with hugs and kisses. Not to stop his tears, but to witness them and give him the balm of our love. Let men cry, I say. I've never stopped my son, despite the idiotic ramblings of others afraid that tears will signal weakness. In my experience, strong men cry. I see more weakness in those who rage to push down their tears. Bravo, David. Lovely work.
MAURA ALIA BADJI | 19 August 2020


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