The toughest blow of my adult life happened in early February when my dad lost a relatively short battle with cancer. I could spit thousands of words about him. How he was born and raised in Sierra Leone, graduated from high school at 15, moved to the United States in his early 20s once he received a merit scholarship from Northwestern University to obtain his Ph.D, his 49 years of happy marriage to my mom, and his close friendship with the iconic late author (and my godfather) Chinua Achebe.
But not today.
Instead, I’d like to talk about him as a father. My dad was kind, understanding, generous, and taught me everything I know about what it is to be good man. He was the first man I ever looked up to and, even at my age, I’m forever thankful for the example he gave of what a good father is like. While it’s impossible to distill everything I learned from him into one piece, here are five things he taught me that I wanted to share.
Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Well
My dad was an incredibly hard worker, someone who would never settle for “okay” or “good enough.” He made it clear that if you’re going to do something, you put your heart and soul into it and do it right. When I was a kid, this started with making up my bed properly in the morning, cleaning up after myself, always being polite, and studying hard in school. No half-stepping allowed.
Despite the fact that he was always so busy and easily could’ve said, “Meh, I’ll just let their mother handle it”, my father never, ever did. Even if it meant he would be late to other appointments, he would make sure that we completed our tasks correctly the first time around. He made it clear how doing a good job came before everything. It’s a very simple lesson, but a damn important one.
Being Kind Only When it’s Convenient Is Meaningless.
We all know that person. He’s the one who’s really cool and nice when he wants something from someone, but he won’t give the time of day to anyone who isn’t in a position to help him. Once the charade is revealed, nobody likes that dude. My dad was the kind of man who didn’t care if you were a CEO or a homeless person. He would smile, look you in the eye, greet you with a “sir” or “ma’am” and make you feel as if you were the most important person within a 50-yard radius. He taught me how important — and simple — it is to be nice and respectful to others and that, above all else, kindness is what should defines you.
Forgiveness Should Be Second Nature
My dad had some bad things happen to him in his life. Some really bad things. I don’t want to go into them because, well, I don’t want to. But, no matter what, he always forgave those who wronged him. But despite all that he endured, he never once did held a grudge or harbored hate in his heart. He knew that could wither a man — and he knew it wouldn’t serve him as a husband and father.
To be clear, forgiveness isn’t inviting your enemies over for wine and cheese. In many cases it means simply stating to yourself, “I’m letting it go,” walking away, and not looking back. Is that easy to do? Of course not. It took a long time to understand this it, and I’m still figuring it out. It’s a lesson that served me well as a man, yes, but also a father: As a parent, I can’t protect my kids from the emotional pain they’ll endure. I can, however, do my best to ensure my girls’ hearts are clear of hatred and anger so they can live their best lives.
Complaining Gets You Nowhere
My grandmother — my dad’s mom — was one of the first women in the history of Sierra Leone to be elected to its House of Representatives. Even though the people voted her in, a pocket of knuckleheads weren’t too thrilled about a woman being a position of power and prestige. Her life was threatened on a regular basis; people threw rocks at her, spit at her, called her names. They tried their best to make life miserable for her.
In spite of that, she kept moving forward with her mission of making Sierra Leone a better country for all its citizens — including those who hated her. My dad always talked about how mentally tough my grandmother was and how he wanted his sons to be the same way. Suffice to say, he didn’t like it when people complained about smal, “first world” problems.
The server messed up your meal at a restaurant? Your kids had a meltdown at Target? Tired after a long day at the office? His message was simple: vent quickly and then get over it. No long-term moaning about the situation was allowed. As a dad, even when my days feel infinitely long and I’m frustrated by everyday circumstances, I always make sure to remember that I have little to complain about for very long. My dad knew this truth better than most. It’s essential to remember.
Life Is a Celebration
This was my dad’s motto. He always said to me, “No matter what you have going on in your world, you must take time out of your day to celebrate life.” Donate to charity, have tickle fights with your kids, sing in the shower, eat ice cream for dinner — just celebrate. Celebrations make the most out of any circumstance — and result in the best memories. And what are parents if not memory makers? My father certainly was.