‘Even though the flower dies somethings by it’s side
a helping hand or a kiss goodbye, to ease it on it’s way…’
Valentines day is back in the place. insert glitter, rainbows, shoes & sex here
I knew I wanted to do a post about love but not that faux kind. A kind of love that is exempt from ego, lies or pomp. A love that exists long after an argument, betrayal or subsequently, untimely death.
My Fathers birthday, (which at an early age was moved to Valentines Day to avoid any need to celebrate a love, I don’t think he wanted to achieve) came and went this weekend, without me so much as shedding a tear. Not because I am not sad but it no longer cleanses me. I would rather celebrate.
And to join me in my celebrations, are the anecdotes of two people, I very much admire and confide in. They are a part of my personal ‘ Where’d my Daddy Go?’ council. Audacious in their quest to not become their circumstance, but poignant enough to understand that sharing their own personal journeys, have helped me understand my own.
The incomparable Musa Okwonga has been a silent partner in the ‘Reconstruction of Candice’ for a while now. As accomplished as I am, I literally have now words to describe the ambience he sets when he walks into a room. So I will leave it to him…
My father, Wilson Okwonga, is one of the greatest inspirations in my life. Though he died when I was aged four, he and my mother are my two leading influences. I get my work ethic from my mother, and I think that I get my idealism from him.
I never really knew him to be honest, so it feels like I’m always playing catch-up, piecing his life together whenever I meet someone who knew him. I know that he died at 42, in a helicopter accident in 1983; he was the military physician to Oyite Ojok, who was part of the coalition who overthrew Idi Amin. He died in a struggle against the current Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. I am a pacifist by instinct, and I don’t know the nuances of the conflict, but he was killed for a cause that he believed in, and for that I will be forever proud of him.
I was angry at him for years for abandoning me, my mother and our family, until I realised why he did what he had done. I have come to understand that his early death is one of the reasons why I feel so driven now. I have a sense of unfinished business, of having to achieve things as soon as possible because we can never be complacent about the time that we have on this Earth.
My father was one of the first black consultant surgeons in England, if not the first, and by all accounts he was a kind and gentle man. I was in Uganda a few years ago and I met someone who had known him. He told me: “Your father was a man without blemish”. I miss my father so much, sometimes more than I realise, and I hope he is proud of me. I want one day for people to say that I was a good man too.
Rochelle Bugg is also part of said council. Her tenacity and strength constantly remind me of the woman I would like to become one day.
Pretty soon I’ll have spent more time without you around than I got to spend with you here. Lots has changed since I last saw you … I’ve grown from your little girl to a lady (if you ignore that holiday in Zante!) What’s remained constant throughout is my love for you and your unfailing guidance as I try to make my way through life. Wherever you are now I guess you have no use for one of those “World’s Greatest Dad” mugs so instead I’m writing you this letter. I’m not sure what the post is like where you are but I hope someday, someway, somehow you get to see this.
The other day I found a file. It was filled with letters people wrote to you in hospital, newspaper cuttings from your younger years and cards laid with flowers at your funeral. I pieced together a whole new side of you from the memories pressed between those pages; joining up the dots between old stories I half remembered and photos of moments I’d never witnessed.
Flicking through I realised how similar we are: So many words scrawled on those tear stained letters were achingly familiar; they’re the same words I’ve seen on my school reports and heard in encouraging conversations with friends. At first this angered me: Why aren’t you here to tell me your stories yourself? Why aren’t you here to advise me, guide me, let me learn from your mistakes and make this whole thing easier?
But then I thought maybe it’s enough simply to know that you DID get through it? I’m privileged to say (without need for a Jeremy Kyle DNA test) that I’m half you. Tattooed within my DNA I have those qualities I admire in you. Maybe not fully formed, but they’re there. That is the greatest gift I could ever hope for. You’ve given me a leg up, a head start. If you were strong enough to make it through your trials then surely by the laws of biology I too can make it through mine?
Someone once told me we choose our parents. I think I found you in the catalogue somewhere between Richard Branson and Mr Miyagi! Enterprising, entrepreneurial, determined, visionary, hard-working, tenacious, charismatic, risk-taking, charming, intelligent, comforting, spiritual, full of perspective: That was, IS, you. If it weren’t for the fact I’m part of the story I’d never believe it …
Born to a travelling family, education was never a priority. Your severe dyslexia in an era when it was barely recognised let alone treated, meant it was little wonder you never saw inside a classroom much after age 13. You couldn’t read or write but firmly spelt out your children would have the upbringing and education that eluded you. You did just that. You achieved more than you would have dared to let yourself dream of.
Dad, you were my superhero: invincible, capable of anything.
You achieved the unthinkable living a life that wouldn’t be out of place in a Hollywood blockbuster. You knew your ‘cryptonite’. You acknowledged it, turned it into a strength and used it to drive you to success: You couldn’t spell, instead you memorised the patterns of common words; learning how to move the pen to draw the right shape needed to spell a word. At work you were captivating, charming, quick-witted and sharp. You joked, flirted, bonded with customers, creating elaborate stories, improvising to get around you not being able to write; unknowingly unlocking your greatest strengths and key to your success in the process.You weren’t a superhero were you dad? You were just a man trying his best. To me that makes you more remarkable than any comic book hero.
You built yourself up only for destiny to sweep it all from under us.
The memories of the hardship have faded but what remains is the lesson that as long as I have people I love and the ability to laugh then I have everything I need: the rest is minor. You called me, mum and my sisters “my girls”; said we gave you reason to keep going. But now the roles have reversed dad; YOU keep ME going! Sometimes I get muddled; let the positives blur and focus too sharply on the negatives. These dark days I turn to where you should be; think what you would tell me.
You see, mum’s ill. They’ve said she doesn’t have long left with us down here (guess you’re missing her up there and want her back?) I’m trying to follow your lead and make the most of the hand we’ve been dealt. I’m digging around to find the positives and use them to build us a tunnel out of this darkness. You instilled faith in me. I know everything will be ok – not because life’s easy or fair but because you taught me to never give up until I get where I want to go. You always told me;
“As long as you do your best darling that’s all anyone can ask of you”.
So Daddy, I hope you can see I’m doing my best and I’m gonna keep doing my best.
For everything you have done and continue to do for me,
Love always …