PAPA. This is what we called him in his late years. Well we had no choice, we had been forced to call him that out of the blue. He suddenly came to Ghana on one of his trips from Ethiopia and insisted we call him that. Not sure if it was a late life crisis because he was well over 60 years then. We refused to at first…because it was weird suddenly making that switch from “Daddy” (which is what I had called him for over 20 years ) to “Papa”. However, soon it stuck.
Now let’s start from the very beginning…
I was born into a pretty large family. I had five brothers and I was the only girl. I was my dad’s obvious favourite. I could sit by him at dinner and talk his ear off and also listen to him talk about his hard upbringing and how we have it easy compared to him. He would talk about his determination to go to school even though they were poor and the obstacles he had to face to achieve his dreams. Being the son of a kente weaver, education wasn’t the first option, kente weaving was. He said his biggest motivation was watching some of the older kids in Secondary school in their uniforms and shoes (yes owning shoes was a big deal ) come back home on a break, walking around confidently around the village. He was in awe of them and said he would be just like them one day.
Listening to his stories about selling food, pounding fufu at chop bars as a child to earn income for himself just to go to school was remarkable. He was also the first of 14 kids so he had a lot of responsibility ahead of him.
Papa managed to defy all odds in the little village he grew up in selling, schooling, farming etc to get admitted into the University of Ghana after completing Prempeh College. He would later complete his bachelor’s degree, earn a full scholarship to Canada to complete his Master’s and then another full scholarship for his Doctorate in the US.
I remember the day he came home one day and announced that he was now a full professor.
“Huh? A full professor? What was that?” I thought.
He had been called Prof for a while now so I had no idea he was an associate professor and had been working all this while to become a full prof. So anyway, we attended his Inaugural Lecture which seemed like a big deal judging by the number of people in the auditorium who were present to listen to his speech. I must have been about 10 years old and I had no clue what was going on. I did enjoy the party we had after at the house. That was fun.
He kept rising through the ranks holding various positions throughout his life, some public office positions, some private till suddenly he was pretty well known. One thing I found remarkable about him was his integrity. I remember some of the perks that came with one of his roles was basically every bill in the house was free. Free electricity, water, phone etc. He would STILL insist we don’t waste anything. He was strict about the phone usage, he would punish anyone who made calls past 10 minutes, he would go round turning off the lights if we accidentally left it on, complained if we showered too long…..the list goes on, it was exhausting. We just didn’t get it. Why won’t he just allow us to enjoy?!
He went through his own challenges in life but God always saw him through. I have never seen a more blessed person. I watched people try to tear him down and he would still walk up to them and greet them at public functions and I always wondered why. I certainly don’t have that level of emotional maturity. But he always said
“Once you have a good heart, God will continue to bless you and your enemies will see you flourish while they stay stagnant.”
This was very true.
In his retirement, he got an offer to head an Agricultural research institute for their Eastern and southern Africa division, so he had to move to Ethiopia. I was in secondary school then, my mom and brothers and I would visit him every long vacation and he would be in Ghana for Christmas and as often as he could. Visiting my dad in Ethiopia was eye opening because I saw another side of him. Based on his stories, I knew he could cook and fend for himself but I never saw it growing up because my mother did it all. I don’t remember ever seeing him in the kitchen. I don’t even think he knew where his mug was if he ever wanted to make tea for himself. But here he was, even though he had a cook and housekeeper, actively cooking in the kitchen, doing things for himself. It was refreshing and different to see. We would play board games (he and my mom would end up arguing because they were both so competitive! Also note that monopoly can break up families.) but it was so much fun. We would go for trips around the country and I realised as he was ageing he was loosening up even more.
There were few things he was bad at. One was dancing. That man couldn’t dance to save his life! The second was smartphones. He was very good with computers but just couldn’t seem to grasp the mechanics of a smartphone. He always used a “yam”. He said
“Phones are solely made for receiving and making calls. If I want to take a picture, I will use an actual camera not my phone.”
LOL! It was in his later years, he finally figured out text messaging. However, watching him type was hilarious. He would poke the buttons while squinting as if he was operating a complicated machinery. He also couldn’t seem to watch tv for more than 30 minutes without dozing off and yet would insist on watching it in the living room and hoard the remote! I would calmly slip the remote out of his grasp and immediately I change the channel..
“Eno I was watching CNN. Why did you change it?!”
“But Papa, you had fal…..”
Before I even finish my sentence, he would’ve dozed off. Yet he would always deny this. Lol
Growing up, my dad was very strict. He was overprotective of me to a disturbing degree. He would always say
“Girls should be friends with girls and boys should be friends with boys. You can’t have male friends”.
Boys were not allowed to visit so having a boyfriend was definitely out of the question. Good thing he wasn’t always in the country because boys did visit and I did have a boyfriend but my more lenient mother didn’t mind.
My dad’s strictness was confusing because he was against boys coming near me but didn’t mind me wearing short dresses/skirts or hanging out with my girl friends late or even drinking alcohol. In fact, he would offer some of my friends wine whenever they came over because he would say, it was better we drunk in front of him than behind his back.
Anyone who knows my dad, knows that he loved his red wine! I remember one Sunday afternoon after church, he had finished a left over wine bottle from the day before and asked me to hide it in the back because he had a visitor coming in.
“Hide it before he thinks I drunk all this by myself ”
I burst out in laughter.
“Who really cares? You’re in your own house, drinking your own wine.” I thought.
I remember all the days he would come into our bedrooms to wake my brothers and I up at 6am for no reason. He would say
“Wake up and find something to do. Once I am up, you should also be up doing something productive. “
We would all be so upset! That behaviour got worse with age because he couldn’t sleep too long.
Papa is one of the most hardworking, intelligent and humble people I’ve ever known. He was so down to earth and friendly. I remember all the trips we took to our hometown. He always said he didn’t want us to forget our roots and he also wanted us to have a feel of authentic “village life”. Almost every single road trip, we would park by a “spot” where he would order a chilled beer for himself and malt with kebabs for us. We would literally have to fight off flies even though we had clean home-cooked meals my mom had laboured to make in an ice chest waiting in the car. He said it was important to experience the “other side of life.” Whatever that meant. I even remember drinking palm wine on one of the trips when I was quite young and thinking it tasted really good.
Almost every single time, we would meet some people who knew him and it was always the same reaction
“Wow Prof! I didn’t expect to meet you here”.
He secretly loved getting that reaction. He would always say in Twi
“It’s the jeans and sneakers I’m wearing. I’m sure they think I look young”
Ermm no. They just don’t expect YOU to be in the middle of nowhere drinking palm wine with your kids. LOL!
In 2013, he finally returned home for good. He didn’t stop working entirely though. He was still consulting and working on his own personal projects. One of his projects was his life long dream of building a Catholic church in his hometown which he had embarked on years ago. The people there were still in the same small hut he worshipped in as a child and it was sad.
In February 2014, he finally completed the church and said that one day he would want to be buried right beside it.
Two months later, on 25th April 2014, I called my dad from school to check up on him. It was mostly due to my guilty conscience because just the week prior (which was Easter) I had declined his offer to spend Easter in our hometown with him. My brothers also refused to go, leaving him to go with just my mom. We had all grown tired of going to the village and he was becoming more and more obsessed with going there as he grew older. Now that the church was complete, we could tell he was gradually trying to make celebrating Easter in the village the new tradition and we were not into it.
He had even started making plans of building another home there so he could eventually relocate there in his old age. We all decided to “brown” and find an excuse not to go. Also, I was in a new relationship (with Kobby) and I was in that phase where I wanted to spend every second with him. I knew my dad didn’t buy my excuse (don’t even remember what I said) but he just went with it.
So that Friday when I called, I was calling to “test the waters” and make sure he wasn’t still mad at me. I was also planning on coming home the next day to do my laundry and I didn’t want to run into him and have an awkward encounter. Surprisingly, he wasn’t mad. He was actually in a good mood, telling me he was going on a research mission to Ulan bator, Mongolia the next day.
“Ei, that sounds far and a strange place to visit.”
That was the first time I was hearing anyone I knew, visiting that country. He had gone on many research trips in different countries but this one somehow seemed strange to me for some reason. I packed my things and came home the next day. My mother and I helped pack his stuff and then I listened to him brief me on the agricultural research he was going to be doing for the next two weeks. It didn’t sound fun at all but he seemed excited. His flight was later that evening and in true Papa fashion, he checked his bags in that afternoon and sat at home to chat till it was close to his flight. (I’m surprised he has only missed a flight once in his life because the only place he’s never early to is the airport. Imagine!). For some strange reason, my brothers also came home early that evening and we were all gathered around him listening to him, something we hadn’t done in a looong while. Who knew that would be the last time we would see him? God knew.
We said our byes and waved him as he sat in his car and was driven to the airport by my mom. Once he arrived, he called. A week passed by and everything was fine. The following week, on the 4th of May he called my last brother to wish him a happy birthday . He even told him he was celebrating the birthday over there with a bottle wine. He was there with another Ghanaian colleague of his so he seemed very relaxed.
On the 9th of May , the day before his return, his research was complete and he and his colleague went to a restaurant to dine. According to his colleague, he seemed very normal, happy and they talked and laughed while having dinner. The waiter brought in his food and he (my dad) complained that it was too much and the food would go to waste so he insisted on sharing his meal with his colleague. They started to eat and just as my dad went in for another bite he leaned in and dropped his head in his bowl. Just like that, he was gone.
His colleague quickly yelled for help and fortunately there was a doctor present in the restaurant who tried to resuscitate him using CPR. They called the ambulance and they arrived shortly and tried several times to revive him but to no avail. His heartbeat had stopped. He was declared dead on 9th May 2014. The cause was a heart attack.
The restaurant was investigated for food poisoning but that wasn’t the cause, if it had been , his colleague would’ve also been poisoned. Papa had heart issues for a while, had high blood pressure but he always tried to eat healthy majority of the time. He avoided hard liquor (hence his love for red wine which he was told was good for the heart) and exercised regularly. He didn’t even look his age, with people suspecting he had even been dyeing his hair (which he hadn’t) because he had very little grey. I never expected him to die at 68. I thought he had at least 30 more years to go.
I remember the next day 10th May, we all had no clue what had happened the day before and were checking his flight details to know what time to pick him up from the airport. I had some rounds to do and I was called on the phone and told to come home immediately. I don’t even remember exactly who called because that day is still a blur but the tone of the voice made me panic. I arrived and saw the security man in tears with so many cars parked outside. I had this sinking feeling but I didn’t want to believe what I was thinking. I saw my mom and a group of people seated outside with our catholic priest. As I started walking towards them, she exclaimed
“ENO! YOUR FATHER IS DEAD!”
I remember dropping to the ground in confusion. I can’t remember anything else after that. We mourned and mourned and cried and cried and the house was packed every single day with friends and family and colleagues and neighbours and priests etc. That period was dark and unlike anything I had ever experienced before because I had never lost anyone so close. Sure, I had lost my grandma and a couple of uncles and aunts but I was way too young to remember. Eventually, we got through it all, through the funeral, the thanksgiving, everything and just like he had wished, he was buried right beside his beloved church.
I remember just the year before, he suddenly insisted we do morning devotion together as a family, so we did. It was different but in a good way and definitely helped us bond even further. I guess he finally had a good excuse to wake us up early in the morning.
One day, I walked into him working in the study, sweating in the heat and refusing to turn on the ac. I said to him
“Papa you need to live a little. You need to learn to enjoy what you have.”
He laughed and asked me to turn it on then. The next day, during our morning devotion, he mentioned our encounter from the previous day and said he had decided to live a lot more now and stop stressing. I was glad.
I also asked him if he wished he could go back in time and redo certain things and start all over and he told me
“ Hoh Eno paa, I have achieved all that I ever wanted, there is no way I would go back”
Remembering all this, made me feel at peace. After all, he always did say that if he died, he didn’t want to be admitted in the hospital and run up bills, he wanted to die on the spot. That sounded harsh especially for the rest of us who would have to live with his absence but it was what he always wanted and words are truly life. I am sad he never got to walk me down the aisle or meet his grandkids DJ and Drew but I always know he’s with us. I can just feel it and I know he’s happy.
To a mentor, an achiever, my inspiration and my dad, Papa I miss you and may your soul rest in perfect peace! Love you.