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    All of My Fathers

     

    That’s your father,” my mother said to me. I didn’t know who that man was. I was too overwhelmed by that very moment – one I had anticipated for 16 years – to be 100% sure.

                Years earlier I had come across a black and white passport picture of him. However, the man in front of me wore glasses and looked older than the one I remembered in the two-by-three inch photo. Actually I didn’t want to admit that this short man in the West African political suit with the receding hairline, wearing horn-rimmed, thick-lensed glasses (way too large for his face), and sporting a neatly cropped afro, was my father. We stood face-to-face on a rust-colored dusty road, the side street of a small hamlet in a subdued corner of Ghana’s bustling capital, Accra. The floorless Datsun from which he just emerged hummed reassuringly while a mother hen – sensing the disquiet between my father and I that she and her trail of chicks unknowingly pecked into – scurried to the lawn across the street.

     

    I was angry. I was supposed to be angry. I was sixteen, a teenager, rebellious. Not

    exactly. I was the proverbial good, Catholic school girl, I was everything but rebellious. I

    had an A minus or higher average, never snuck out in the middle of the night to go to a

    party I was forbidden to attend, never drank, never tried smoking on my private school’s

    idyllic grounds nor tried drugs in the homes of my wealthier friends who could afford

    drugs. I didn’t even have friends like that. So no, I wasn’t angry at the world or at life. I

    was just as square as my father’s horn-rimmed glasses.

                But I was angry at my father because I learned how to be angry at him through my mother’s tongue – the same one that also trained my ear to understand of my very first

    language, Twi – and through her regrets and choices, that rendered her helpless,

    overwhelmed, depressed and belligerent. I didn’t grow up with my father but he was

    very present in my life because my mother’s anger was very present in hers. My mother

    refused to go "back home" with him when he had completed his studies abroad.

     

    They separated shortly after I was born, my father required to return to his homeland

    once he had achieved his PhD in Economics; a common practice in the 70’s to stem the

    brain-drain of intellectuals from Africa to the Americas. His full scholarship had been

    sponsored by his native land’s government. They annulled their marriage, my siblings

    and I became instant "bastards" and my mother never remarried. My father did remarry,

    a woman who looked just like my mother. He had found a replacement wife then, six

    years later, replacement children.

     

    Growing up without a dad, I had always wondered about the dusty fishing poles high up

    on the top shelf of the walk-in closet located in our home’s library. I fantasized about my

    dad taking me fishing but that never happened. Instead, during that time, when

    daughters are supposed to adore their fathers and fathers are supposed to dote on and

    protect their daughters, I didn’t have him. I didn’t have that.

                Instead, when I was six, I learned about humor from my best friend’s dad, Uncle

    Jacques who told us French-Canadian jokes and made silly faces when he blew out his

    ruddy cheeks and crossed his eyes at the same time. His chest heaved and shook with

    laughter at my glee. One rainy day with nothing to do, I learned about awe when my

    friend and I discovered a stash of Uncle Jacques’s porn magazines under his bed. We

    giggled at the naked ladies with their yawning vaginas, Zeppelin-sized boobs, and

    wondered when we would start growing hair down there, too. We flipped through the

    pages until we heard steps approaching the closed bedroom door and then discarded

    the once neat stack into a disarrayed pile of guilty evidence of what we shouldn’t have

    been doing. I learned about curiosity that day and also how to tell a really good lie when

    we were asked if we had been reading Uncle Jacques’s magazines. “Nooooo,” we

    answered in unrehearsed, melodious unison, feigning wide-eyed innocence.

     

    I cowered at old Nono’s wrinkled bulk, the arms and chest of a man who had toiled in

    the heat for hours a day in his youth. I cringed at the sight of the white, wiry tufts of old

    hair that protruded from the top and sides of his sweat-stained A-line shirt that he wore

    when he tended his vegetable garden. His city garden seemed to be trans-lifted from his

    childhood farm in southern Italy; a fertile plot of land that he would never have been

    able to clear through customs so he recreated it in his new homeland when he

    immigrated. He leaned when he walked, like the tower of Pisa, caused by either old age

    or the home made wine he pressed in his cellar. The thick leather strap that hung at the

    top of the cellar stairs was a portent of the beating that would befall disobedient children

    if you dared enter his makeshift distillery. Yet, during the holidays he let me and his

    grandchildren – with a wink in his eye – take a sip of that year’s festive batch when our

    mothers weren’t looking. My cheeks flushed and glowed at the furtive ritual.

     

    Uncle Memo, with his broad chest and thick, dark Mediterranean back hair protruding

    from the neckline of his t-shirt, was a strong man to me. Rotund with early pattern

    baldness, he displayed his macho by having me punch him in the stomach. “Harder,” he

    would say. “That didn’t hurt. Again!” And I’d gleefully reel back my arm and lay another

    punch into his soft belly to prove how strong I was. When I was finally able to knock him

    down, topple him over with that last focused blow, I felt powerful.

     

    I learned how to swear from Mr. O’Neil who could string the words “bloody”, “shit”, and

    “hell” in all forms of jaw-dropping combinations and make them sound awesome

    undulating on his heavy Gaelic accent. His wife drove the family car because Mr.

    O’Neil’s love of swearing and liquor caused his driver’s license to be revoked

    permanently. He didn’t work because of his “illness to the spirits” so he was a stay at

    home dad. The first I ever knew. I never smelled alcohol on his breath when he gave his

    daughters and I baths on the nights we had sleepovers. His words never reeked of

    brandy, whiskey or rye when told us bedtime stories, tucked us in, or kissed us each on

    the forehead goodnight. All I knew is that we were loved.

     

    So over a decade later, in my naïve teenage years when my mother said, “That’s your

    father,” at the short-statured and regal man in the sharply pressed West African political

    suit, I thought about all my fathers at home; the one who taught me to be strong, the

    one who taught me how to take risks, the one who taught me how to speak uninhibitedly,

    the one who taught me about tenderness and I responded, “No he’s not.”

     

    About The Author

    C. Poku-Collage

    Catherine C. Poku

    Catherine was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada to Ghanaian, West African parents who immigrated to the Western world to achieve professional degrees in the 1960’s. Her parents were part of the wave of intellectuals from the African continent, and her love of stories came from them recounting their pre-colonial Ashanti oral history, legends, folklore, and childhood experiences, which lured Catherine to a place of reverie. Ms. Poku earned a Bachelor of Science degree from McGill University (Montreal) and a Master of Science degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her inexhaustible love for writing plays and short stories started in her early teens. She wrote

    fan-fiction in her Thirties, and poetry since her early Forties. She launched a blog of original short stories, poetry and anecdotes in 2013, and her poems were recently published on RiverLit.com and in The New York Times, Metropolitan Diary section. Reflecting her multicultural experiences {Poku is tri-lingual; raised with an Italian extended family in an Irish neighborhood while attending Catholic elementary and high schools,} Catherine embodies a global community with unlimited opportunities of who she can be. Her scope of possibilities, as well as those of her characters, lie outside the limited box of stereotypical or assumed social and demographic parameters and perceptions.  Read Publisher Bill Berry’s interview with Catherine:  http://aaduna.org/summerfall2015/conversations/conversation-with-catherine-poku/