Julius, my dad, passed on when I was 16 and I never grew up with him, since my parents were separated when I was a baby.
Yet his visits and outings left such a handprint on me that that old cliche 'it's about quality time not quantity time', is a truth I know.
The best fatherly advise he gave me in his no-lecture-few-wise-words way was given in typical Julius fashion - casually and simply - like he wasn't saying much, and at the time it was given, I took it for that, just words, but it remained there, in the subconscious, resounding and informing and becoming part of my becoming...
He'd taken my sister and I to Beach Camp for a party; I was 15 then, and my newly grown breasts and hips and attention from boys were my power. The boys came around, offering cokes, conversation, smiles and requests to dance and as each one came up, Daddy would appear at my side, smiling and charming and getting himself into the middle of the conversation.
I barely had time to revel in the attention before he came up and started chatting and then the boys would be talking with him instead of me. Before I could get back the attention, the boys would be walking off, giving me a regretful smile as they moved away.
After the third one moved off, I started to glare at Daddy; he, though, nodded and smiled at me and seemed not to notice the female teenage vengeance directed towards him.
Up came cute fella number 4 and I issued Daddy a warning look, which he ignored as he moved in to converse. The attraction to me paled next to my father's charm and authority and cute fella's smile towards me turned into surprise and something else as Daddy shook his hand and asked about school and sports and the pool facilities and other such nonsense, all the while smiling with cute fella and then me.
Image:Julius Awon Allong
Photo Courtesy: Joanne Haynes
© Joanne Haynes. All Rights Reserved
As cute fella waved bye to me, I turned on Daddy.
"What you doing? Why you doing that?"
He shrugged, smiled, "Just making conversation."
"No, you making them leave, that's what you doing!"
"Jo." The smile was there but his eyes were serious, "You must look for the ones with staying power."
I steupsed and turned away and started to dance in a frantic attempt to redeem my image.
In rebellion, I made space between me and the fellas who came over, gestured to Daddy to come over and welcomed him with a generous flourish of my arm. You would think he might have been embarrassed, but no, he smiled and filled the space and nodded at me, gracious for my false welcome.
So when cute fella number whatever turned from Daddy and spoke with me, I asked 'What?' because I was already preparing for my goodbye wave and smile.
"I was asking if you'd like to get a coke and take a dance on the floor."
"I..." I looked at Daddy in confusion.
"Okay." I said eventually.
Cute fella stepped aside for me to walk in front of him and then he turned and shook Daddy's hand. As we walked off, I turned back to look at Daddy. His eyes said: "You see?"
Years later, when I started to date, Daddy's words rose up inside me from that trove of memories we all have - the ones we didn't pay much attention to while they were in the making; the ones we only recognize as game-changers when they come up out of nowhere, long after they were made, and whisper the prayers that become our guides on this journey.
I don't have a daughter, but I hope everyday that I guide my sons to build staying power - for relationships, for dreams, for goals...for life.
Saluting you Dad!