My father, Nnimmo Bassey, is the greatest man I know. A legit superhero in my eyes. Two days ago, it was his birthday. His 60th. A milestone. This year is a milestone year for me too. Tomorrow, I’ll be half his age.
I don’t know what my earliest memory of my dad is. I just know my initial perception of him was fear. I was scared of my dad in the same way most African kids are scared of their fathers. Dad is usually the disciplinarian, the booming voice, the quick glare that can shut whatever mischief you are up to down. That’s just the honest truth, I was scared of my dad. But being an adult now, and dealing with kids too, I get it. Kids can be rambunctious. And as a young man dealing with young children, these things would happen.
That fear transformed as I grew over the years into deep respect. He became committed to Christ when I was very young, maybe around 5-7. And that marked the bulk of my childhood and teen years. Our lives revolved around 3 places – home, my parents office and the church. Well, there was school too, but that was the bulk of my universe.
I remember the day he came home with a friend, I think it was the late professor Wangboje. I had to draw something to show him, and afterwards, I attended art lessons down the road from our house every Saturday. It was in those lessons, I learned to draw. Funny the moment I learned to draw was instantaneous. I was watching an older kid draw and all of a sudden, my perception shifted, and I understood how to draw in a perception-based way as opposed to a symbol based way. Anyway, I digress.
Watching my father serve at church and become more recognized and called to deeper and higher levels of service was inspiring. There are the pressures of being the child of ministers, but there are also the benefits. Part of that is the air of respectability that is passed on from the parents to the children, and we are blessed to be a part of a loving community. I used to joke that all I needed was to say who my Dad was and feel the energy in the room change.
My dad is an early bird, I take after my mum personally. We can both rise early, but I’m sure given the choice she would rather work to the late hours of the night than wake up at the hours my dad does. I remember the many Sundays he was out the house by 6am to join the beginning of first service at church. The rest of the Bassey Clan would get there at 10-11 for the second service.
My dad is always the one to lead by example and go harder and further than anyone else. I can see him in my mind’s eye now, on the days I woke up and went with him on those early Sundays, standing on the pulpit, sometimes leading the first prayers. I see his selfless service in the outreach to the leper colony in Oshiomo, and his tireless campaigning against environmental degradation by oil companies.
I loved to hear him speak. He is always so articulate and thoughtful in his delivery. My dad is incredibly wise. As a family, we gather in the morning and evening for devotion, we pray together, read scripture and discuss, and those were always powerful times, with guidance and words of wisdom. I remember some of the things he said in those times, such as, ‘you don’t go to school to learn, you go to school to learn how to learn’ and ‘just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should do it’, a statement I go against a lot lol. But the words echo in my mind often.
One thing I really picked up from him was the love of books. Our house was always filled with books, I was reading novels before I was 10, dabbling in play writing, poetry, and stories. In a way, he’s the reason I blog now. My favorite thing to do as a teen was to raid his stash. I would go to the study and his bookshelves and pick out whatever looked interesting to me and take a stack back to my room and pore over them. He’s always asked me when I was going to write a book, and I would shrug and smile. I always thought I would write when I felt I had something important to say.
Even when I made decisions he didn’t agree with, especially in my early 20s, even when he was disappointed, he allowed me to fail on my own terms. Somehow, he trusted me to figure it out, and do what I loved. Which I think is the biggest thing I learned from him. See my dad is an architect and practiced for about a decade, until his work in human and environmental rights activism pulled him in full time. In watching him do what he does, I built the conviction that it didn’t matter what you did, it mattered more that it mattered to you. You have to do what you love, you have to burn with a sense of mission. It was watching him do him, that has given me the drive to do me. To not merely do something respectable or applaudable, but to do something that matters.
My dad is a humble, simple man. He is kind, he is generous. I see the way people interact with him, I have seen the work he does, and the many ways he tries to help. His heart is pure, and bleeds to see the people around him uplifted, and he will speak truth to power from the dusty roads of Benin City to the hallowed halls of Washington. He is a man of true dignity and integrity, and an immense inspiration to me.
I love you Dad. Happy Birthday.