Iwas very young when I started asking about my father. We lived in a compound house. Every household had a man in it. A man who was in control of the affairs of the household. We had none. All I had was my mother. I saw her going to the market early in the morning and coming back late in the night. In the afternoon when I returned from school, I would join her in the market. That’s where I would have my lunch and also do my homework. In the evening, I would help her pack all the things into the warehouse before we set off from the market to the house. Whatever I needed, she provided. We were a two-man band—me and my mother.
But I wasn’t fulfilled. I looked at what went on in the households around us and wanted the same thing. I wanted a man in our house. In school, people talked about their fathers; “My father bought me this and that.” My father took me to this place and that place.” “My father…” “My father…” When it got to my turn to speak, I said, “My mother…” At some point, my friends turned on me; “Why is it always your mother? Don’t you have a father who does something for you?”
So I came home with questions for my mother; “Where’s dad? Everyone has a father so where’s mine?”
When I was very young the answer was, “He has traveled. When he comes you would see him. When anyone asks you, tell them your dad has traveled.”
When I reached mid-age—ten or twelve, the answer changed. “I don’t know where your father is. He traveled and never came back. I don’t know where he went and I haven’t heard from him. When one day he comes around, you’ll see him.”
And then it turned into a threat. I was a teenager then; “You’ll never ask me about your father again, do you hear me? Do you lack anything around here? The next time you mention your father again, I will throw you out so you go and look for him yourself. And when you leave, you’ll never come back here again.”
So I stopped asking and learned to live with the reality that I didn’t have a father. If I did, he wasn’t ever coming back to me. One day we went to our hometown. I was sixteen I think. When I was alone with my mother’s elder sister. I whispered into her ears, “Do you know anything about my father? Mom said he traveled. These days when I ask her she gets angry. Do you know where he is?” She whispered back, “Yes I know where he is. He’s around town. I know where we can find him but promise me when we go there, you won’t mention it to your mother.”
The next morning she held my hand and took me to a street close to the main market. She said, “Let’s sit here and wait.” Minutes later she pointed at a shop and said, “Look over there. You see that man opening the shop? Look at him very well. That’s your father. He owns that shop so he’s always around. Someday when you grow up and want to meet him, you know where to find him.” I pleaded with her to take me to him but she didn’t. She said it wasn’t in her place to introduce me to my father. We stood there for a while and looked at him until he opened the shop and entered. My aunt held my hand and pulled me along. While leaving, I looked back and stare at the shop until it got tiny and vanished from view. The only thing I got and kept in my mind was the inscription in front of my father’s shop; “Adɔfo asa,” which loosely translates as “There are no more lovers.”
I got home and wrote it behind my books. I never forgot the way my father looked. Tall like me. Dark like the skin that clothes my body and lanky just the way I am. I thought of him a lot and wondered why my mother won’t let me see him. When I got to the boarding house in senior high school, I sneaked out of campus and traveled to our hometown to meet him. Guess what, he recognized me when he saw me. He asked, “What are you doing here? Who brought you here and how did you know my shop?” I answered only one question from the lot; “My aunt showed me here.”
He took me home and met his wife and his three children. The first was way older than me. The second, Raymond was around my age and the third was a girl. It was Raymond I built a connection with. I spent the night with them and the following day, he took me to the station, gave me money, and bade me goodbye. Something in me rested that day. The curiosity. The empty feeling of the unknown. The inadequacies of my younger days were gone. I had seen my father. I had touched him. I knew he was alive. I knew he was a person. My spirit rested and I never looked for him again but somehow, I was always talking to Raymond, asking him how dad was doing and all.
Eleven years later, I went into my messenger and saw a message from Raymond. Somehow we lost contact so he dropped his number and asked me to give him a call. I called him that very moment and we talked. I asked about dad and he said, “Your man is dying slowly. I don’t know how long he has left but any man at his age who gets a stroke mostly doesn’t survive it. His left side is gone. He’s gradually losing his speech. He asked of you recently. That’s the main reason why I sent you the message. Come and see him before he finally goes away.”
I’d wanted to travel the next day to see him but something told me to speak to my mom about it first. It was my conscience. It kept pricking me; “Mom has a reason she didn’t want me to see my father. If I go now, won’t it be a betrayal on my part?” So I traveled to my mom and spoke to her about it.
“Do you know that I met my father so many years ago? I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
“I know you met him. I intentionally didn’t ask you about it.”
“How did you know? Aunt told you about it?”
“So it’s your aunt who took you to him, right? Thanks for letting me know. I will deal with her.”
“Wait, you mean she didn’t tell you? So how did you know?”
“Your books. I saw what you’ve written behind them. Adɔfo asa. That’s your father’s Nickname. The day I saw it written on all your exercise and textbooks, I knew you had met him.”
“Are you angry?”
“Yes, I’m angry. It’s the reason why I didn’t talk about it but now I know where to channel that anger.”
“But why didn’t you want me to see my father?”
“The day you make peace with that man, it’s over between us. You cease to be my son. I won’t tell you my reasons now.”
That’s how the conversation ended. I didn’t dare tell her about my father’s condition and the need to go and see him. I abandoned the mission right there. But Raymond never stopped calling. “Do you want to wait until he dies before you come and see his dead body? Don’t you want to hear his side of the story? He mentioned your name. It only means he has something to tell you.” I told him, “Ray, I would come when the time is right. Work gets tough sometimes. Soon I would be less busy and visit him.” He answered, “I hope he’ll still have his speech by the time you come around else it would be pointless.”
So this is what keeps me awake at night. I planned to secretly go and visit him during Xmas but I couldn’t. The loudness of my conscience broke my resolve to go and visit him. Instead, I spent Xmas with my mother. I said I would go and see him in the new year. I didn’t. Mom’s word kept echoing in my head; “The day you make peace with that man, it’s over between us.” Yes, I can go and see him secretly but I know someday she would know that I went there. If I don’t tell her, something or someone would and that would make my life a living hell. I didn’t have a father figure in my life. I can’t afford to lose the mother I’ve had all my days just because of this.
I sleep and think of Adɔfo Asa and what it is that he wants to tell me. I’m writing this at dawn. My time reads 2:17am. I should be sleeping by now but the thoughts of my father and my mother keep me awake each night. Should I risk it? Maybe not. Raymond said something recently that had worsened my state of mind. He said, “What if you’re the reason why he’s still alive and in pain? He has hope of seeing you that’s why he’s still keeping on. It may be the hope that’s keeping him alive but trust me, he’s suffering. Won’t you see him if you were the reason?”
It’s the reason I’m sharing my story here. Would you risk it? Visit the dying just to piss off the living? Would you? If you were in my shoes, what would you have done differently? I don’t know the sins he committed against my mother so I can’t weigh it against him and say he is a bad man. Mom is not ready to talk about it. Her siblings, two of them have told me it’s not their story to tell. I’m in the middle of A and B. Where to go now is my problem. Please advise.