On the morning of Monday 7th April 2003, Femi Daniel, 40, kissed his two boys goodbye as he set out for work. While he was about to step out of the door, his youngest son, Promise, called out to him and said “adijo”.
Adijo is the Ebira word for “goodbye”.
Femi paused at the door, taken aback. He had groomed his children with English and that was the language with which they interacted with him. Until that moment, he had never heard Promise speak Ebira to him. Femi smiled, went back and rubbed his little boy’s head, and told the older one to take care of his little brother.
Adijo, he said to Promise and left for work.
At the time, he was a federal civil service employee stationed in Ogori, a quiet town towards the outskirts of Kogi central. His family — his wife and two sons — lived in Ihima, his hometown where he built his first home. Ogori was a 45-minute drive away from home.
When he got to work that morning, he was overwhelmed by an inexplicable feeling of unease. He didn’t sit at his desk for long before getting up to seek out the company of his friend, Ayo Mosugu. They spent the best part of the morning introspecting together about random things. Femi told Mosugu about the eeriness of Promise’s goodbye. Mosuguru told him not to sweat on it. It’s just one of those things, he reassured.
At around 1 pm, just as Femi was preparing for lunch, a message came through that someone wanted to see him. Who? He asked. The messenger did not know, so Femi followed him to the reception. It was Akin, his best friend who had never been to this office before. As soon as Femi saw Akin, he knew. He just knew.
Years later, Femi would recall this very moment over and over again. As soon as he saw Akin, he found an explanation for how he had been feeling throughout the day. It was a premonition of a cruel fate waiting to happen.
For a brief moment, Akin and Femi just stood there, looking at themselves. Akin, who drove all the way from Ihima to break the news delicately, could not say the words, so Femi helped him out.
“It’s Promise, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Akin replied.
You see, Promise, who was just 6 at the time, was the apple of Femi’s eyes. When his wife Kike, who was pregnant with their second child, was due for delivery in December 1996, she had jokingly promised him that the new boy would be his birthday gift, by God’s grace. Through some really great fortune, on the 10th of December 1996, on the same day as Femi’s 34th birthday, Kike was delivered a beautiful son. He was beautiful and his eyes were dreamy, just like his father’s. He was named Promise, an embodiment of his mother’s promise to his father.
But on that Monday morning in April 2003, Promise told his father Adijo, and a few hours later, succumbed to a lifelong battle with pneumonia. The crushing depression that hung over Femi throughout the day finally made sense when he saw Akin at his office.
“It’s Promise, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Akin replied.
And without another word, Femi packed his bags and went home to bury his beloved son. As the mason laid the plaster over Promise’s grave, he asked Femi what the epitaph should read as.
“Adijo”, Femi said, his arms around the shoulders of his wife and the only child he had left, Victor, who is writing this story.
In my first memory of my father, he’d just gotten back from the farm. His chest was bare and sweaty and hairy. He had, on one hand, a machete, and on the other hand, a bucket that had crickets he caught for me. The full picture is hazy now, but if there was any point in my life I ever saw him in the fullness of his masculinity, it was on that day. His physical strength would wane quickly as he spent the latter part of his 40s bouncing off one physical infirmity after the other, and what’s left now is a frail, delicate frame. But if the strength of his spirit could be physically manifested, there’s not a figure in the world who would have more biceps.
I think about how he managed to live through all of what he lived through, how he must have felt that evening Promise died; after all the well-wishers had left and it was just him in the quiet of his room. I think about how he dragged himself through life even after his wife, my mother, died a year and a half later.
He has, on many occasions, told me that I was the foundation upon which he built his will to live. But I know that even I couldn’t save him from himself on the days he was really going through it. Once, he was contemplating a trip to Ilorin. He got a call from his very spiritual older sister about a terrible dream she had where he had an accident and died on his way to Ilorin. What did my father say in response to this?
“Oh, that would be great!” And off he went to Ilorin, hoping to die on that road trip. He didn’t. But he had lost four children and a wife in the space of 15 years. What other surprises did life have for him?
But before the grand cynicism of those years, he was such a romantic. He would tell me and Promise to stand behind the seats and cling to the headrests while he drove us around because he saw a family that behaved like this in a Hollywood film and liked it. He and my mother called themselves “mine” until the end, and while she lay in the coffin at the morgue, wearing her wedding dress, he knelt down and kissed her on her dry cheek. I’ve bared witness to how tragedy reduces a man to rubles, stripping him of all his vulnerabilities till he becomes hollow.
In the years that followed my mother’s death, we shuffled around the house awkwardly — father and son trying to fit into each other’s lives for the first time. I endured his terrible cooking and he endured my adolescent petulance. At our lowest point, he got so ill that he became confined to the hospital bed while I idled away in a boarding house, waiting on visiting days for someone, anyone, to come around for me and no one came. But there were also times he sneaked me out of the school for road trips to Abuja to watch the Super Eagles play. Those were some of the highlights.
We used to duel over big and small decisions. Should we buy sliced bread or a loaf? Should we watch the Arsenal match or the news? Should I quit Divine Academy and move to Faith Academy as he wanted?
Should he be considering marrying again when I’d not finished healing from the wound of my mother’s passing?
On this last item, we had a lot of friction. There were never any direct confrontations, but I always made sure to give obvious hints of my disapproval of his relationships with other women, no matter how platonic they were. The gift of retrospection has made me understand that I was being an asshole. But I was 11, 12, and 13.
For someone who has put me first for most of his life, I am happy he put his happiness over my sense of vicarious possession. 16 years ago, he attended Shiloh and fell in love all over again, and about a year later he got married again to the woman I now call “mother”. I don’t know if he thinks about it this way, but I consider his ability to start over his greatest miracle.
I see a lot of my father in me, in the way life has always taken people from me. I have shared some losses with him, like Winner — who was born after Promise and died a year after her birth — and Promise and my mother. I’ve had to nurse private losses too. Chioma and Lizzy are sores that have refused to heal. But ultimately my biggest fear is that should I be tested in the manner that my father was, would I be able to stubbornly trudge through life, starting over again and again as he has always done?
But the miracle of Femi’s life is interwoven with so much loss; So many battles, that I now understand that the grand purpose of life is to learn to navigate through these battles for as long as you can until you die. Hopefully, someone will pick the lessons.
Other than the shared gift of writing and eloquence, I have picked from my father lessons that he may not have deliberately set out to teach me. I learned vulnerability — to accept the gifts and curses of life with such damning grace. From him, I learned early what it meant for a man to be broken into many fragments. I saw what these losses did to him, how they compromised his emotional core and made him extra sensitive to anything that threatened to harm anyone around him.
I learned how to stand up for family against external pressure. He taught me how to love and protect a woman, shielding her from the malice of the world. He did this for my birth mother. He did this for my foster mother.
But ultimately, I learned from him the power of imperfection, being a first-hand witness to all the mistakes he made; giving me the grace to understand failure and how to live with it.
Road trips have always been a portal through which we navigated most of our most significant interactions. It didn’t matter how far he was travelling or how close the destination of his evening cruise was, I was the guy in the passenger seat. Some of his most impulsive actions were taken while he was behind the wheel. Once, he drove my mother to the park from where she was supposed to join a bus going to Kano. He had only brushed his teeth that morning when he dropped her off. Getting to the park and realising that they had missed the Kano bus, he just shrugged and drove her to Kano. It was a 10-hour trip.
It was in one such moment of impulse that on Sunday the 18th of June, 2006, we made a random detour into Living Faith Church, Okene. All our lives, we’d been Anglicans, and until that day we attended St. Paul’s Anglican Church — the church of his baptism. But on that Sunday, we were driving to St. Paul’s when he suddenly said his spirit was nudging him towards something else. Without any destination in mind, we shopped around for churches until we found ourselves at LFC Okene. 6 months later, he was at Shiloh, and that was where the second chance at life came through.
He’d always had such big plans for his 60th birthday. It was also his retirement month. By the grace of God, I would also be having my wedding around that time. Although by the start of 2022 it became evident that I wasn’t any closer to marriage, plans for a big celebration were still underway. I had scheduled a trip down to Lokoja to join the party when he called me last week to say that he wanted to be at Shiloh for his birthday. Of course, it made total sense.
16 years ago he met a woman at Shiloh with whom he found a new life. Since then the family has grown much bigger and I have new sisters. I may have strayed far away from belief but not Femi, whose entire life is a testimony of redemption and second chances. Yesterday, he marched out to the altar at Faith Tabernacle to share his testimony to over a million watching eyes, but they will only know a glimpse of it.
Sometimes I look at my little sisters and wonder if they know what part of the story they’re cast in — an entire generation away from the ones who came before them. I think about Promise, who would have turned 26 today. I wonder how much alike we would have been. While we were kids, I envied him a lot because of all the things he could do that I couldn’t. He knew how to whistle with his lips; I couldn’t. Now I can, and sometimes I catch myself whistling away at the most inappropriate places and wondering if this would have meant anything to him.
All of that does not matter now. At midnight, Oluwaferanmi “Femi” Adeku Daniel, turned 60. Unbelievable. He still has a family to call his own, and he has children who are thriving. Everyone from my family thinks I’m a miracle baby; the Kike’s child who made it out alive. But the real miracle is that my father made it to 60.
(Originally published on the 10th of December on Which Way’s Home?)