Fatherhood (Part 3)
“Take your pregnant wife, son, and sister to the airport and put them on a plane to Lagos.”
I looked around the bathroom to see who had spoken, but I was alone in the shower. The instruction made no sense. Two weeks earlier, my family and I had left the hustle and bustle of Lagos, Nigeria in our new red Land Rover Discovery SUV for Accra, Ghana to spend our Christmas vacation and enjoy a mini family and friends’ reunion. At that time, I was travelling forty out of fifty-two weeks of the year for work as an investment banker. With a second child on the way, I patted myself on the back for being able to take time off to focus exclusively on my family. Since we had driven to Accra together, why would we return separately? Again, I heard the voice or maybe it was an impression in my heart, “Take your pregnant wife, son, and sister to the airport and put them on a plane to Lagos.”
After dropping off my puzzled wife (I did not tell her about the shower incident), wailing son, and sister at the airport, a friend joined my nephew and me on the long trip back to Lagos. I tossed my friend the car keys when he requested to test out the new wheels. About an hour later, we heard a loud explosion. Then the car lost control as we hit a curb and fell off a small bridge, landing upside down on a bed of rocks, which shattered the sunroof glass. In that instant, I saw the faces of my wife, son, and mother, and I thought about my unborn child. I remember thinking; God is this how it ends?
That singular experience was a wake-up call to begin the journey of reprioritizing my life with faith and family taking a focal point. While recovering at home in Lagos, thankful that my nephew and friend also survived relatively unscathed, I received flowers and a note from a client. The note said, “We were very sorry to hear about your accident and are grateful that God spared your life.” I opened the accompanying heavy manila envelope to find the 2004 management accounts of my beloved client whom I was advising on raising $180 million. Though in pain, just like that I was back on the grind, diving into work like a junky in need of his fix. The note was evidence that I was needed and valued. What was it about work?
As the arrival of our second child drew near, I became stressed out and a bit apprehensive because I realized that I had not been present nearly enough with my first child. How would I cope with a second? It didn’t help that my work and travel schedule was increasing thanks to the fact that we were in the thick of all sorts of investment banking mandates. It was an amazing time for a young banking executive, but my family needed me. So I travelled to the Poconos in Pennsylvania, USA where I spent a few weeks with my wife until our baby was born. I stayed with her and my newborn son for another week before heading to Lagos, to work.
We named him Stefan (meaning, crown), Beluchi (meaning, God approves), and Domokumo (meaning, take your time). Now I had two boys who could keep each other company, and Ikenna was such a good big brother. Although I was away from home on business a lot, I was intentional about being present when I was around.
When he was about fourteen months old, Beluchi picked up our indoor soccer ball and kicked it to me. I threw it back and asked him to kick it to me again. He could barely walk, but his second and fifth shots had me intrigued because they were accurate. That was the first spark of his interest in football, which continues to this day as a defender on his school’s team. In his formative years, I subscribed to the strict dad approach, but he was defiant and calmly challenged my authority. He didn’t seem to have a flight gene and was ready to defend himself, even physically, with fire in his eyes. I had met my match. Charismatic with an infectious laugh, he stood out with his signature Mohawk and a ponytail. At weddings or birthday parties, I would look over at the dance floor to find that women had left their husbands just to dance or take pictures with him.
There is a direct relationship between time invested in your children’s life in the formative years and your relationship with them in later years, but for many men the need to be a provider, for self-actualization, and for peer validation amongst others, tips the work-life balance scales firmly in the direction of work.
Beluchi is quieter than a mouse, and I have had to learn to patiently draw things out of him. Talking about our relationship, he fondly remembered many of our one-on-one dates and gave me high marks for now being present more than even before and for going the extra mile to take care of our family. His most memorable time was at age five, when according to him, “You took Ikenna and me to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, and it was just us.”
I am humbled by his scorecard, especially since his memory of our time in South Africa is somewhat different than mine. Yes, I remember the boys-only trip to spend much needed father-son time with my sons. We had VVIP tickets for the quarter-final match between Argentina and Germany in Cape Town. At the stadium, we were ushered to our seats and given a welcome kit that contained lots of goodies including vuvuzelas, which are difficult to blow. Not for Beluchi, he figured it out and attracted attention from people who wondered how a boy of four was able to do what some men found difficult.
But I also remember that all was going great on that trip until the company I worked for heard I was in town and coerced me into taking clients to the finals. I hated myself for agreeing to such a foolish request as it meant that my sons had to watch the finals at a friend’s place while I was putting up pretentious smiles and hanging out with corporate executives whom we were targeting for some landmark deals. What was it about work?
I realize that if my pregnant wife, son, and older sister had been in the Land Rover Discovery with me instead of on the plane to Lagos that fateful day in 2004, the outcome of the accident would likely have been different. My unborn child escaped premature termination and from the day that a voice saved his life, I have strived to be intentional in my every interaction with him. What untold joy this has yielded in my heart.
A quote widely attributed to the nun and missionary, Mother Teresa, says, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” I am still on a mission, not to “work” but to change the world.
These stories are dedicated to fathers living and of blessed memory. I celebrate all fathers present and for whatever reason not present. I see you and acknowledge you my brother. Keep striving to be a better father, knowing that it is never too late to be present in your home or kids’ lives. Choose to be a good dad today and every day that God gives life. Hope you had a great Father’s Day last week!
I dedicate this fatherhood series to my father, Charles Ballantyne Chukuyenum Domokumo Chukuma (15-Mar-1932 to 24-Feb-1993) and to my one and only brother, Charles Bruce “Chaz B” Chukuyenum Ayibatonye Chukuma (01-Jan-1962 to 22-Nov-2014). They were beautiful souls, good-hearted, funny, handsome, and charismatic men who lived life to the fullest and exited the earth’s orbit a little too early in my opinion, but God knows best. See you much later; I’m going to be here for a while longer.
What were you told as a boy that a father should be?