5 Life Lessons From My Father

Each Year Opens With His Birthday; a Moment for Appreciation

Photo by Conner Baker on Unsplash

My father was born on the first day of the calendar year. When celebrations and resolutions rear their movements, it’s hard to ignore the thought that the person I have called “Papa” my whole life is getting older. This is the second birthday I’m not with him.

I wish I could be with my family right now as my sister makes a cake, my mother — a speech, and my brother broods quietly while my other sister is hyper-super-duper invested in it all. Between my siblings, our age difference didn’t help when we were younger, but as time passes, as New Years' roll in, we start to appreciate each other more.

I don’t have vivid memories of my childhood, everything that happened before I turned 10 is gone. The habits I had, however, show that the feelings of my childhood remained. It showed when I cared for my baby sister, the things I did for her came naturally to me, but always with a response from my mother:

You used to like that when you were a child.

The pictures are evidence too. I really enjoyed being carried on my father’s shoulders; I loved laughing. I was a quiet, lone child. Before my brother showed up 4 years later, all I had was my Mum and Dad. Then the family grew and of course, life happened.

I couldn’t have had a better father — I mean, it’s not as though I had a choice.

I have seen and heard stories of other fathers enough to know that I have something special. Some might say it’s supposed to be this way. That parents are supposed to care, supposed to fight for their families, supposed to be present.

I disagree.

Nothing is supposed to happen in this world except what happens. Whether we label it good or bad or use it as an excuse or a reason. There are people who make it their duty to be parents and others who don’t — or maybe, can’t.

My father’s story is one I am proud of and will always cherish. He’s been a powerful influence and a huge supporter.

Parenting, by virtue of its nature, is a tricky endeavor. My respect for all parents grows each day that I reflect on my own life as a child, and how difficult it is to nurture, nourish and prepare any other human for this world. I never really appreciated this herculean task when I was younger, and I probably will never fully grasp it until I become a parent.

But until then, while I think about my father on this first day of January, I want to highlight 5 things that permeate my life that come directly from his own life.

Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

Family First

I don’t have much of a relationship with my extended family on my father’s side. I did not know my father’s mother very well — even though she died much later than her husband— his father, on the other hand, I have heard many stories.

My father always found a way to share conversations he had with his Dad: conversations on the farm, or on quiet evenings after he returned from school. Papa told me about how Pa Abel, would do everything possible to send the kids — who wanted to study — to school.

One story that always stood out, which I sort of never understood why my father himself never applied it (until he sort of did when I moved to college), was that my father, as a teenager, was sent to school many, many miles away. His father will give him his own school fees, put in him the car, and have him go. This was in the 60s, Cameroon was a much different country there and this parenting style was probably odd.

How would a man trust a teenager with so much money? How would he allow him to travel such a long distance for education?

My grandfather did everything for his family. In some ways, he might have done too much. I don’t think he ever regretted it. I’ll never know.

No one will.

My father took these lessons, distilled his own version I have seen, heard and observed too many times to be just lip-service. My father would rather go shoeless than have his children starve. This is not a euphemism.

When I was in college when I’d run out of money, I often learned to find another way to raise the money than call home because I knew

A) They won’t sleep
B) They’d do anything to get me that money

My father has never failed to show up for us. Never. Even with nothing. Even in dire inability to raise any funds. With words, hugs and a good story, he’s always been there for us.

Even when we wished he wasn’t.

It’s just who he is, someone who will go to the ends of the earth for his children — really odd, by the way, for the typical African family where most parents will handle far more responsibility than they should, to the detriment of their next of kin. Living like this, is also how he thought me the next lesson.

Focus on the Important Things

Twenty years ago, my father had a choice:

Move to Yaounde, miles from the city where he and my mother had just finished building their own home, make more money and not see his family often

Or...

Work for the government, make less money, lose the status and privileges he’d been enjoying for almost a decade.

You probably know what he chose. I never understood it at the time, and even now that I think about the repercussions of that decision, a clear image of who my father was, and continues to be, emerges. He loved his job in the private sector. It paid well. He was able to bring in more money, take us on trips — the life!

My little sister had just turned two and responsibilities were loading — four kids, a new home in a new neighborhood. We, the kids, never understood this decision.

We felt it anyway.

This is one of those parenting lessons I carry with me: your actions as a parent will always, always affect your kids. They could be as small as how you come back home and lay in the chair and watch TV everyday — or never come home. Or as massive as your passive-aggressive rant when they ask for something you don’t approve of.

When my father left that job, we went through many years of difficulty. And it's the kind of difficulty I can only appreciate in retrospect. Even as I call it difficulty, it seems like an insult because my mother stepped up so high that the image of marriage took a newer dimension in my eyes.

Difficulty, in this case, meant: where we used to have a surplus, we had enough. Where we could get any toys we wanted, we had to know what toys we really wanted. Where money could be easy to ask and get, it came with more consideration.

Through all this time, the decision my father made, flowing from the first lesson, what that his family was more important than any money or position.

He’s always done everything to uphold this — in speech and action. Even more interesting, that this decision to not pursue the money, led him to teach me something so boring, yet, crucial to who I am today.

Stay in Your House

My father doesn’t own a car. No, he’s not trying to make a political statement. He has owned cars in the past and can drive, but driving around has never been a thing he enjoyed. He enjoyed the trips to rural areas where he helped farmers set up efficient systems for their farms. He enjoyed taking us on those trips. He enjoyed bringing the fresh fruits and plantains from Foumbot and Dschang.

But one thing that he enjoyed, even more, was being in his house by 6 pm nearly every day.

“Why would I stay outside when I have a house? What’s the point?”

People say I look like my father — which I certainly do. But it’s this simple logic that makes me proud of the DNA I got from him. When he’d tell us to be home early, it wasn’t to frighten us; it wasn’t a parental move to establish dominance. He was simply saying what he did himself.

His circle has remained small, his problems too. He doesn’t talk about others, he doesn’t have issues with his neighbors.

Before Gary Vaynerchuk made me think about staying in my lane, my father had been rocking his lane since the 50s.

This simple habit, of minding your own business, is one that can allow humans to do what they’re meant to do.

We spend so much time buying people’s problems, getting enraged at the world around us, succumbing to emotional triggers from friends, family, and even strangers on the internet. We don’t even realize how privileged we are to afford such waste.

I’ve learned that when I stay at my house; when I do my job and focus on what’s important, it creates even more time to pursue something bigger. Something, that has become a huge lesson through life.

Work on Your Dreams — No Matter What

“Success is your duty, obligation, and responibility” — Grant Cardone

I finished listening to The 10X Rule moments ago. One thing that has always hit me hard with Mr. Cardone’s overall message is his perspective that parents who use their kids as an excuse to not pursue their dreams are doing their kids a disservice. He asks:

What kind of example are you giving your kids if you give up on your dreams for them?

Aren’t you teaching them to give up on theirs as well?

For over 25 years, my father has been working on his side hustle. He worked on it when he was broke. He worked on it when he had money. He worked on it when he had young children, he would work on it when his last child turns 21.

This year, 2020, is the year when the fruits of his labor are starting to paying off. He’s been able to get the partnerships needed to start running things, and the platforms to make his dreams come to life.

My father would wake at 5 am every day to get to his computer, make calls, edit his templates and send emails. We all know that if you called my father after 8 pm, you wouldn’t get him: his phone would be off, and he’s asleep.

For years, he doubled down on ideas people told him would never work. Even people close to him discouraged his hustle.

He never gave up.

He never talked to us about giving up. He never took a break from the internet as I did. He didn’t make any declarations on YouTube about how he was confused or did not know what he wanted.

He got up at 5 am and went to work.

With the struggles he’s had, the pain in his life, my father has been going uphill consistently against the country he was born in, the people around him, and life’s sucker punches. He’s always found the time, energy and attitude to keep going.

This is only one reason among many, that establishes the final lesson from him.

Be Proud of Who You Are

There’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance, it is said. I think that’s not true. I think if you think someone is arrogant, you have an inferiority complex. If you think someone is confident, you are confident.

The feelings themselves aren't the issue. It’s what you do with them.

I never always thought this way.

There’s a story my mother told me about how my father’s passion for his projects easily came across as arrogance. She was explaining a conversation he’d had with someone they’d been hanging out with — a small chat that probably made a few people uncomfortable. At the time, I didn’t really pay much attention to the details, except that I pictured my father's vibrant fist in the air, spewing knowledge and laughing at his opponent's ignorance.

Remember, this is just an image. I wasn’t there. And that was supposed to be funny :)

However, I wasn’t very surprised that my father would make people feel like this — you know…fidgety. As though they had to correct him or prove him wrong.

I know because that’s what I have had to deal with in my own life.

You see, when you know your stuff, when you stay in your lane and build expertise and learn a lot in an area, the minutia becomes so easy to you that you cannot not see how others can’t see their error.

So, yeah, you can become smug. You can become insensitive — and it gets harder for others when they refuse to accept you might actually know what you’re talking about.

My father is human, and we are all walking bodies of contradictions. Sometimes we say things we don’t do, and do things we don’t say.

One thing though, that my father has said and done, is that he’s been proud of who he is, what he has, where he’s come from and where he’s going.

I’ve never heard my father talk about being humiliated — or hold a grudge because someone insulted him. When people talked behind his back when he ‘lost everything’, he used to fuel his work on his projects — projects that are now paying off.

He’s encouraged us on our journeys, not in a meek you can do it attitude — more of: you have the DNA to win big, now GO!

To people who don’t know me, I can come off as arrogant. When I posted my first YouTube video and my mother shared it with her circle, she got feedback that I should be more humble. My take?

Meekness and humility aren't the same.

In a world where people need their feelings coated and where parents have to protect children from everything, my father has shown pride in how he lives, how he pursues his dreams, how he cares for his family and the house he’s built.

This post may sound like my father and I have the best relationship on earth.

Yes, we do. But it’s not always been this way. It’s also a lifelong work in progress — like every relationships should be.

We are very different individuals with many similar values and worldviews. We’ve grown to respect each others’ opinions without necessarily agreeing, and I have learned to accept that maybe my father is not the strongest man in the world. Maybe he’s not always right. Maybe he could have done things differently.

Maybe…maybe…

But he is my father.

He did what he could with what he had. Et puis c’est tout.

Joyeux Anniversaire papa :)

Written by

Cameroonian writer and video creator. Featured in LEVEL and P.S. I Love You. I write about building relationships and personal transformation.

Get the Medium app