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Tribute

Having a good father is like having had a good education. No matter how old you get or how far you travel from your center, it is yours to fall back on. No one or no adversity can take away the values he has instilled in you and the love that he furnished your life with, any more than challenges can strip you of the critical thinking or language skills that sound education gives you.

As you will have guessed, I was blessed with a wonderful father and in this blog, written on a day special to him, I would like to pay him a tribute.

As a child, my father tried to teach me to be careful with money but what I saw was him give money to everyone who asked. His largesse knew no bounds: a cousin getting married meant a big Mels at our house and dinner parties were the norm, not the exception. Every holiday, even before we were out of bed, he made  the rounds of relatives who were ill or recently bereaved, a practice I try to emulate. My father was quiet with his generosity – if I hadn\’t overheard a telephone conversation as a pre-teen, I probably would never have learnt how he arranged for a very ill relative to be air-lifted from the town of his birth to Addis for treatment.

I learnt from my father what a man\’s man is made of – he was as comfortable with the movers and shakers of society as with the uneducated guards who worked in our neighborhood. A less well-off relative once told me a story of my dad that I thought was typical; passing by his office, she had decided to go in and say hello. Noting her shabby clothes and unkempt hair, the receptionist treated her rudely but nevertheless led her to my father\’s office where he was chastised by my father\’s warm welcome of this relative of his wife\’s.

In many ways ahead of his time, my father taught me open-mindedness. He loved the fact that I had friends from all over the world, and spent a few evenings discussing the Quran, which he was reading at the time, with my Muslim best friend. He was amused when I picked up Islamic terms and expressions. A self-made cosmopolitan man, my father had made a point of traveling all over the world before he settled down as a devoted family man.

Speaking of family, if I am a good mother now, I know that it is largely because I channel my children\’s grandfather into the way I raise them. There is no end to the patience and loving kindness required to raising kids, and I am blessed to have had a shining example. My father always spoke to me so I understood and he explained right from wrong instead of punishing me into fear or submission. He laughed a lot with his kids. He also encouraged debate in our home and was not afraid of being challenged.

My father had emotional intelligence decades before Barack Obama was credited with it. I saw him forgive betrayals (that brought stinging tears to my child\’s eyes) with a philosophical shrug. One incident that often comes to mind recalls the early days of the current government. My parents had given refuge to a former employee of theirs who had recently returned to Addis in some trouble, at great risk to our family. A fugitive, he had lived with us for a few months when my mother asked him to take some medicine, and 100Birr to my grandmother who lived close by. My grandmother did not get her medicine and the employee-turned-fugitive never returned. The rest of the family was indignant at the ingratitude but when my father heard what happened, he laughed his deep laugh and said that he wishes he could find the misguided man – to tell him, in his words,  that \’\’it\’s alright.\’\’

My wonderful father was a living example of the Amharic saying, \’\’ke\’fitfitu fitu.\’\’ Family and friends alike routinely gave him great credit for favors that didn\’t even require much effort on his part, because as I learnt at a young age, sincerity and pleasantness go a long way.

As a nine-year-old, I once accused my father of being a chauvinist after he tried, unsuccessfully, to get me to take cooking lessons that my brother was exempted from. My father hardly qualified as a chauvinist, he fully encouraged my mother to get into medical school when I was three years old and did his best to bridge the gap created. Exam times for my mother saw him bundling us up for a trip to Langano, and a favorite family story involves him trying to tie up my wild mass of wet hair with a piece of string. He spent so much time alone with his kids that the first time my mother took us swimming, she was told by the lifeguards that they had assumed that he was a single father.

It is perhaps the tragedy of childhood that we don\’t appreciate our parents for what they are. Just like I did not find it remarkable that my mother was a medical student, I didn\’t know, at the time, that my father was special. I assumed all fathers spoke the truth and called their daughters, \’Princess.\’  I figured all fathers were models of decency who held up the sky above their families. I took it for granted that my father would borrow money from a friend to buy me a piano when I started taking lessons – that was, in my child\’s mind, his job. It was not until I became an adult and learnt more about people that I truly appreciated my dad. It took life twenty years to teach me what an exceptional father I had drawn in the parent-lottery.

If, in twenty years\’ time, my kids will have seen in me a quarter of the qualities that made my dad my hero, I would have led a good life.

Sehin Teferra