See this man that went and died on me and siblings five years ago, today. This man that gave us the false impression that he would be there for us for the longest time, he would say that longevity ran in his family. After all, his father was probably 100 years old when he died and his mother was in her 80s when she died. And we would be angry with him. Then one day, I told him that he needed to stop saying that. He was not God and the fact that our mum died at 46 and our maternal grandfather died very young did not mean that they choose to die young. He apologised profusely about that and said he never meant it as a slight against our mum and her family.
But truth was that we indeed thought that JOPA would live to be at least 100 years. He was never ill you see. He was seriously ill only twice in his life. When we were younger and we remember Mummy only cooking oiless soups with dry fish for him. I was to later learn much later that he had had hepatitis. And the second time was when he had surgery and developed septicaemia and died. He was strong as an ox, this young man. And we all thought that he would be with us till forever.
He was our father and after our mother died, became our mother as well. JOPA was not a saint o but he was the best father a person could want or need. Ah my father. Even now, five years later, I still want to call him and seek his advice. He stopped telling us what to do with our lives once we got in university. Once you got to Uni, if you wanted to do anything, and he said no, you could discuss with him and often times, if you gave a good argument and he saw that you had thought it through, and could convince him, he would change his mind and let you do whatever you wanted to do. And he was always open to correction even from his children. He was not so arrogant to think that he knew it all or that he could not be convinced to change his mind even about important things. He could always see things from our angle. I remember that for the longest time, he always told us that he wanted to be buried in his house. We did not like the idea but did not know how to tell him no. But eventually, one day, he said it again and I told him no. He said, don’t worry, I won’t be scare you. I told him that it is not a matter of scaring us, it was that the house would be devalued commercially if he was buried there. We would not be able to rent or sell the house. And he said to me, you know what? Bury me anywhere you want to bury me. Just like that.
When my boobs started budding and that area became itchy, it was my dad, rather than my mum that I went to open my blouse to. He quickly dispatched me to my mother. It just did not occur to me to tell my mum. I was called my dad’s second wife. He took me to places that my mum would be too bored to follow him to. My mum was a butterfly you see. She was extremely beautiful and flashy while my dad was more subdued. His various shareholder’s meetings, for example, he would take me rather than my mum. And he loved classical music while my mum loved Juju music. So, he and I would listen in companionable silence to water music for example while my mum would be complaining about ‘awon orin ti ko ni oro yi’. We also loved Stevie Wonder. My dad had Stevie’s ‘songs in the key of life’ massive album. My mum would fume about that ‘orin afoju’ that we kept playing. But both of them, were ying to the other’s yang.
We were 6 girls (7 if you counted Sola who died in infancy) and when I hear people saying that their parents pressured them into marriage, or were stressing them about being single, I find it strange. My father was more concerned about us being financially empowered. He would pray for us to have good jobs as fervently as he prayed for us to not ‘gbe egun elegun’ – carry someone else’s bone. Once, I accused him of not being bothered that I was not married. He told me that of course he wanted me to be happily married but more than that, he wanted financial independence for me, to be able to afford whatever I needed and wanted, to be the kind of woman that any man would be proud to have as a wife. And he always told us that if we are unhappy in our marriages, his door was open and we could always come back home.
Simple things like the fact I can whistle better than most men makes me smile. He whistled a lot you see and I so desperately wanted to be like that I started teaching myself how to whistle from a very young age. And when I was very young, he used to whistle my name whenever he wanted to call me. He would whistle ‘OLUBUNMI O’ instead of calling me. You can’t imagine how special that made feel. He really was my first love. The wind beneath my wings. He was the template for devoted fathering. Sir Joseph Oluseye Popoola Ajai, omo korowa, omo tagbata, sun’re baba mi owon.