My mobile rang. Up popped the unmistakable long stream of digits of an international telephone number.
I answered. “Hello, Dad”
“Is that you?” came the faint voice at the other end.
“Yes, it’s me, Yewande”
I was taken aback by how old he sounded but even though I hadn’t heard this voice in many, many years, I knew it to be the voice of my dad.
In the movies, this would be a highly charged and tearful call with "I love yous” and “I miss yous” bouncing back and forth but this was real life and real life mundanities kicked in. We were calling mobile to mobile from the UK to Nigeria and so most of the conversation involved me saying, “Can you hear me now? How about now?” I paced around in the park trying to get signal so we could converse normally. It was absurd. Eventually I found a spot where we were both reasonably audible to each other.
“How are you?”
“I can’t believe it’s you” He said. The joy in his heart at hearing my voice showered me. It was like being under a waterfall.
“I can’t believe it” he said again. I could. It had taken six months of therapy and familial detective work to get me here.
Roll back half a year and I was in a deep depression. My dad was the furthest person from my mind. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in a long while. In my teenage years a couple of letters had fluttered back and forth but by and large we’d been out of contact for much longer than we’d been in contact.
It didn’t occur to me that my depression was in any way related to him. All I knew was, it was back. There’d been two previous periods in my life where this stealth problem had crept up on me. The first time, I didn’t really know what it was and so had tried to battle through it. All I knew was, there were about thirty seconds every morning that were great and then like a shit storm in a hurry, the clouds of doom would come crashing in and would remain all day. I relished sleep because this was the only time there was respite.
I started seeing a counsellor then. I’d never done anything like this before and didn’t really know what to expect. I presumed I’d tell her my problem then she would issue a diagnosis, prescribe a course of smiling and send me on my way.
When I arrived, she welcomed me in to her neat but sparingly furnished flat.
I sat down in between the incense and the candles. Hmmm. I had crashlanded into this space from the cynical world of television post-production. I decided this was something I’d keep secret from my pathologically micky-taking colleagues.
We looked at each other. She had a kind face. Lovely smile. I trusted her. She didn’t really say much. I recall she gestured with her hand that I should speak. What? Wrong! I wanted her to, I don’t know, tell me stuff. Even though we’d never met, I expected her to know my whole life. She didn’t, so I had to tell her. As soon as I started speaking, a tearful dam burst. It all came out, troubles in love, troubles in the family, the absence of my dad.
Her face remained calm but she was probably thinking, we have got a lot of work to do.
But work we did and after a few months I started to see a brightness at the end of the tunnel. Some weeks were filled with revelation, some with sadness but slowly laughter and lightness started seeping in. Ever the impatient one though, after five months, I decided I was all fixed and informed her I didn’t want to work with her any more. I elected not to register her perplexed expression and instead gave myself a big pat on the back.
The depression had crept in slowly but I remember the night it went so vividly. I was walking with my boyfriend to an open air screening of The Truman Show on Clapham Common and as we walked across the grass I could actually feel the cloud clear. It was beautiful. I’d thought it would never go and here it was dissipating and my whole body smiled for the first time in a long time. Stella, my counsellor had lived up to her name.
Roll forward to last year however and as I lay in bed, I knew, it was back. I can only describe it as, an impending yet unknown dread. I’m sure Jung or Freud have written extensively on the cause of it. Theories were irrelevant. It was back and was in vicious form. Before, I’d been able to push through. This time, there was no hiding. My poor agent didn’t know what to do with me. Work was all but out of the question. The idea of doing anything filled me from my toes to my head with dread. I couldn’t work, not in any meaningful way. I could only survive the day navigating it one moment at a time. Whenever I thought beyond that day or that week, my heart would race with panic. Wretched thoughts were working their way into my head and getting a foothold.
I knew it was time to call in the A team… well, the S team. I immediately got in touch with Stella. I realised that we had some heavy lifting to do in my psychology.
Some time had passed since I’d last seen her but she still had that warm smile, that openheartedness. In truth, she hadn’t aged a bit.
I sat down and once again let it all pour out of me.
Work, love, life, family. It was the usual culprits but Stella who is a master practitioner when it comes to healing the heart, knew that there was something immediate and specific I needed to deal with, my father’s absence.
He had left the family home when I was seven taking with him furniture, money, stuff, leaving in his wake misery yet relief. He was not, what you would call a good man and with the benefit of time, I think the whole family would agree that we were better off without him. Actually I’ll make a correction, it wasn’t that he was a bad man, he was a lost man who did some bad things and didn’t know how to treat the people he loved, well.
Stella could see that the impact of his absence was woven into the fabric of my emotional DNA. There are many resultant behaviours that come from this, ones I’m still discovering. One is that I made the subconscious decision that I had to be my own father. The positive to this was I became a do-er. I worked hard, was independent and didn’t need to rely on anyone to achieve the things I wanted. The negatives though were plentiful. It made me unable to accept contribution from others as I became fiercely even aggressively self-sufficient to the point where I couldn’t truly let people in, I was hugely competitive with boyfriends and didn’t give them space to be ‘the man’ in the relationship because I was too busy fixing and doing to let anyone else do it. This takes a toll on your femininity too, in fact as a teen I’d often shop at men’s clothes stores, wearing men’s suits and trousers. I remember being in a public restroom and a little girl asking her mum, “why is there a man in the ladies toilets?” yes, I was that person! I got myself a couple of dresses that afternoon.
The fallout from his absence was broad as it was deep and because my decisions were made from such an early age as to who I had to be in the world, I had largely grown unconscious to them and simply believed this was how the world was. I had to fight, no one had my back and I had to do it all by myself.
But this way of thinking was starting to exhaust me and it’s probably in part what had propelled me to be sitting in front of Stella... again.
There was an incongruency deep within me that needed to be reconciled and as a master in her field, Stella was more than capable of supporting me through this. I didn’t know it but she was going to help me repair the split that had been created in me all those years ago.
After a few months of dealing with some more immediate issues, like my relationship with work and also with partners, we started to look at my father. She couldn’t believe that I wasn’t angry with him for what he had done, abandoning three children, leaving his wife but there was no anger no matter how much she prodded and provoked me. Sadly, my topsy-turvy psychology had channelled the anger towards my dear mother because of who she’d had to become to survive, to ensure we all survived. She was a lioness who protected her young however emotional nourishment often faltered.
One day, Stella told me that I needed to contact my dad. I thought for a moment. I had no idea how to contact him. His sister, my aunt had fallen out with him so she didn’t have any details for him. Her daughter, my cousin had told me that my half-brother was now living in London. She gave me his phone number.
He and I had met once when we were children and even then I’d been aware of our suspicious
closeness in age. You didn’t need a PhD to figure out my dad had started up a new family before winding down on ours.
We arranged to meet the following week. We were from the same father but had lived entire different lives, he in Nigeria and me in the UK. While he was settled with children and a grown up job, I was young, free and single, telling people jokes for a living.
As we talking I started the tentative process of asking about my dad. I pushed myself to inquire, how is his health, how old is he, what is he doing with himself??
He told me that my dad was a changed man. Who knows whether it was age, self-reflection or the better climate but he had become a calmer, wiser… NICER guy.
He showed me a picture of him. My heart lurched, in a good way. He looked so sweet, kind, peaceful. He was small too. Me and my brothers would tower over him were we side by side.
Having only seen him as a child it was strange to think I was now bigger than him.
My half-brother gave me my dad’s number and told me he would let him know I would call.
I sat with the number for a couple of weeks. Even though Stella had done her best to prepare me for this moment, nothing really could.
I called my mum who, hitherto had had no idea this was afoot. Her relationship with my dad was a
very difficult one and for her, forgiveness was not going to come easy. He had made her life hellish and in truth he didn’t deserve her forgiveness. I wish she could though as it’s a weight she carries. Forgiving is something I feel, you do for yourself not for them and she doesn’t deserve that burden.
Anyway, I told her and my brothers what was going on and that I was going to call my dad. Unsurprisingly, no one else was interested in speaking with him.
My brothers, who were teenagers when he left, had pieced together good lives without his help and not only that, learned to be good men, great men even, with no steerage from my father (other than, perhaps, how not to be a dad) but for me, because of the age I was when he went, somewhere in my subconscious, he was still my hero, my Dad and I still loved him.
So one sunny, summer afternoon last August I finally picked up the phone and made the call. We spoke for perhaps five minutes, largely about nothing, and it was lovely.
After the call, I had the strangest sensation, like the discord that had dwelled inside of me, melted away. I felt an internal circuit completed. Now I had both my parents, I could do anything, be anything. That’s something that should be instilled in children from a young age. I didn’t have it then but now I did and my intention was to fly.
My dad and I spoke once a week from then until I went to the US and the first thing I’ll do when I get home later this month, is check in with him. A date on the calendar, Father’s day has largely been an irrelevance my whole life and it still is but when I speak to my dad, when we talk on the phone and connect, that’s my father’s day, every time.