Fatherhood (Part 4)
“What do you mean your water just broke. Oh nooooo! I leave for LA tomorrow morning. I’m going to miss the arrival of my daughter”.
Since the news of the arrival of our third child broke, I had mentally started getting ready. Hearing the pronouncement that we would be having a girl months earlier, made it extra special. I had to make some big changes and so started preparing for the arrival well ahead of the due date. Work life balance was top of the list, as it seemed that the scales were tilted against the family, with work winning the day most times.
I accompanied my wife on the long trip to Los Angeles, where her sisters now live, as she went to prepare for the delivery. Taking days off was an issue because of all the deals we were doing as I now had multiple teams reporting to me in multiple countries. I found a way to get away from work for just six days. A few months later, it was time for the birth, and I planned to leave two weeks ahead of schedule to ensure there were no hick ups. Even with all my planning, finding out that the delivery would be taking place around the same time that my plane was departing Lagos made me feel like a terrible Dad. What type of father misses the arrival of his own child? I thought to myself. I was absolutely gutted.
I shed tears and lamented to a dear friend who coincidentally was on my connecting flight from London to Los Angeles. He was an investment banker too, who had his family living in London though he worked predominantly in Sub-Saharan Africa, so he could relate and also shared his story about becoming a Skype Dad. We were both doing reasonably well but agreed that family life was miserable due mainly to our absence from home.
After the long flight, I was welcomed by an inquisitive immigration office who made me answer his barrage of questions about why I was in Russia, China, South Africa and London within the span of just eight weeks. After the longer than usual delay I proceeded directly to the hospital.
As I arrived at Loma Linda University Medical Center, the hills in the distance that surround the property seemed to reach the clouds, giving the hospital a majestic look. It was almost divine. The beauty of the serenity overwhelmed me. I thought this was a great location fortunate enough to have been chosen for our child’s birth. As I prepared for the meeting, I realized that I was more excited about this encounter with this little angel, than any earthly worry which my brain might have previously entertained. My usually busy and chatty mind was interrupted by the nurse who came to usher me to my wife’s suite.
I greeted my wife, Elisa and apologized again for not being present for this important milestone. On seeing my daughter for the first time, I felt the depths of her love as I looked into her eyes. I took her into my arms to get an even closer look. She was beautiful! Big eyes and jet-black hair…lots of hair. She however looked smaller than the boys at their time of birth. We named her Halona (meaning, Fortune) and Anuli (meaning, Joy). I thought we are fortunate to have such a beautiful daughter and she indeed brought us pure joy, so the names felt befitting. I too had a daughter now; my very own Princess had arrived. I had an aha moment in that instant, like a revelation.
The next morning, our joy was cut short when we heard that Halona had lost a whole pound within two days of her birth and they recommended we stay at least an extra night to ensure they got to the bottom of her weight loss. She was not eating properly and needed to be fed from the bottle. I felt helpless as I couldn’t do anything. We might have taken childbirth for granted before but this time around things seemed different. Two days after we were cleared and discharged.
Her arrival signaled a paradigm shift in my fatherhood journey. I found myself being more attentive and present in each and every interaction. I wanted to do it all and challenged myself to do absolutely everything that involved taking care of this baby. I guarded my family time more than ever before and started taking concrete steps to reprioritize my life. Work became more and more of a strain. I refused to travel abroad to receive a deal of the year award; refused to travel for work if I couldn’t do a day trip; and flat out refused to take meetings after hours or on weekends. I came home before the sun set on most days. When I would venture out on a rare Friday night, my guys knew I had a self-imposed curfew; before 1 am. I was becoming annoying to my friends because I would go on about how I needed to be home to be with Princess Halona.
One weekend, I decided to take a trip to Cotonou, Republic of Benin with my then year and a half old daughter and her two brothers who were now six and eleven. We abandoned their mother. We visited my sister and her family. What a blast we had learning to fly kites, eating French African food, watching cartoons in French, swimming at the beach and eating lots of crepe and ice-cream. I left my laptop in Lagos and simply answered a select few calls. I learnt that weekend how to unplug and just enjoy my crown jewels. I was alone with them so had to attend to their every need. Soon after I returned to work and it was obvious that striking a balance between work and family life, at least for an investment banker, was unattainable. The aha moment or revelation was that I resolved to simply go cold turkey and cut the umbilical cord, so I simply quit. I did absolutely nothing (work wise) for almost two years but spend time with Halona, bond with family and reconnect with old friends. It was bliss!
Around the time Halona was three years old, she started exhibiting signs of being spoilt. I could sense her relatives were getting agitated about her literally getting away with murder (well figuratively speaking). Her brothers in particular, voiced their dissatisfaction with the differential treatment between themselves and their sister. I needed to promulgate some semblance of equity in my household, I promised to punish the habitual offender, Halona. On the faithful day, I shouted at my darling for the first time and asked her to report to my room where her punishment would be meted out. I had planned to lock the door and have her pretend cry while her relatives on the other side of the door would likely be prying with disgusting contentment, at a child getting punished. To my horror and shock the door was forced open by her relatives, all three. So I had to punish my darling in front of these people intent on finally seeing their own flesh and blood cry, real tears, for the first time. I do not remember being so hurt. Afterwards, I kicked them out, locked the room and held my daughter as we both cried as if we had both been spanked. Then I brought out an assortment of chocolates and candy which we ate together as I explained the virtues of an obedient child.
As the first day of school approached, I realized she would need to be able to defend herself. I asked her brother, Beluchi, to assist with training her in the basics. When done, he confirmed to me that he felt confident that if anyone tried to mess with her, he was certain she could handle herself. One day, I got a call from the school that Halona had been in a fight. My chest was tight, but I calmed down as the principal explained that she was ok. She was apparently not the victim but was the aggressor. Now I was relaxed and smirked to myself. I tried to hide my pride and show concern for the boy. I wanted to know what the victim had done to be in this predicament. It turns out that the young lad had tried to jump the queue in front of her friend during lunch time. The misinformed boy then shoved her friend out of the line. Halona promptly stepped up to the bully and without hesitation came to the rescue of her friend by quickly putting the little boy’s finger in a hand lock. Though he was a year older, he was left with a sprained finger and his ego bruised after being put in his place by a girl, my girl. As we say in Nigeria, monkey nor dey born goat and my daughter standing up for injustice and protecting the weak is indeed a trait of mine. I promptly nicknamed her Warrior Princess.
Recently, Halona fondly remembers going to Zambia on a safari, seeing zebras by the pool and giraffes elegantly gliding in the distance, as one of her most memorable trips together. She also remembers the loud roaring of the Victoria Falls and the constant rainfall it created. When I asked what would make our relationship better, she said she would try to pinch and beat me less. She went on to say she felt my love for her and liked that I was able to work from home afforded us quality time together.
Our connection is on many levels: intellectual curiosity, wit, charm, attentiveness, and competitiveness. She amuses me with her corny personality which she most definitely gets from her mother. Her light is bright and I’m inspired by her prayers. She is the game changer who has taught me to listen, be kind, be less strict and just embrace this being a Daddy business. To me she represents a manifestation of God’s love and faithfulness in my life.
My decision to be more present and active in my children’s lives has made me a better father and man.
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 great dad today and every day that God gives life.
I dedicate this four-part 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 by God’s grace.
Last and most important of all, special thanks to my wife, Elisa Salazar-Chukuma, for birthing the idea of writing this Fatherhood series. It was a soul cleansing, physically draining, tear jerking, four weeks. Thanks for spurring me on especially when I wanted to give up. It would have been easier threatening not to feed me – at least I would have lost a few pounds.
Thank you all for following me through this series. Please share your own fatherhood journey.