My father, Chief Benaiah Chikwem Ezeocha is a great man. He was born in 1937. And 1937 was a very, very, very good year.
Born into a family of 4 boys and a girl, my father was the youngest of all. He was a bright chap and he was very ambitious. And consequently, he is the most successful among his siblings.
As a child born under the British colonial rule, even though his parents couldn’t afford the cost of travelling to the United Kingdom to acquire Western education, that did not discourage my father’s desire for one. Consequent of his hard work, he got admitted for a distant learning program at the prestigious Bethel College, a Christian liberal arts college located in Mishawaka, Indiana, United States. After his education, he ended up becoming an elementary school teacher, a career that took him to several elementary schools in numerous towns in different states of Southeastern Nigeria, and retired as the headmaster of the elementary school in my hometown. He left a great legacy as a teacher. His protégés and folks he disciplined into becoming better people still come around to pay homage to him. He was a great educator and disciplinarian.
As a youth, my father was a playboy kind of guy. He had his ways with women. Built at 5’ 5”, he is a skinny guy, light-skinned and soft-spoken. Girls loved him. He used to tell me stories of his escapades with women. Especially during his teacher-training school days in Nigeria. He lived by himself. Having lost his dad early in his life, he was raised by his mother. And being so connected with his mother who was just getting by, he used to make his female fans bring lots of foodstuff for him to his place, ostensibly to keep him fit and healthy for them, but primarily to have sufficient foodstuff to send home to his struggling mother. He was a smart fella and loved his mother dearly. And I love him.
He met my mother in 1968 and a year after, they got married. He once told me a story of how he had some rivals who were also seeking the hand of my mother in marriage. Always confident of who he is and what he is bringing to the table, he never tried to buy my mom’s love, he never tried to over-woo her, and he never allowed the existence of his rivals alter his approach. To him they never existed. He believed that he was the best man for my mom. He told her so and did everything within his power, in a modest way, to express his love for her and the need for them to get married. He made his case and then sat back. And my mom, yes my mom, for all that its worth, eventually made that right choice of marrying my father.
And of all the men that competed with my father for her hand in marriage, none of them is alive today. Almost 78 years old in age and 46 years after their wedding, my father is still virile, youthful, and kicking. And he and my mom are still in love. What a role model.
My father introduced me to the world of international politics. He was an ardent listener to the Voice of America (VOA) radio programs.
Growing up, we didn’t have the luxury of a television set in my family house or electricity in my hometown. The best electronics my house in my early childhood could boast of was my father’s battery-powered radio. We used to listen to it throughout the day for local radio station programs but every night, once it clocks 9pm, my dad always tune in to the VOA “in order to find out what was going on around the world.” It was a ritual more than it was a routine. At this juncture, my siblings will leave because they were not interested in international affairs back then. But for the lucky combination of the fact that I love my dad and love being around him, and the fact also that I wanted to know more about the world too and have an information edge over my peers, I stayed with him.
So as a 9 year old in 1991, I learnt about America’s dominance of global politics, I learnt about the Gulf War, I learnt about Charles Taylor and Liberia, I learnt about international crisis, I learnt about sky-hijacks, I learnt about the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, I learnt about President George H. Bush as an international statesman, I learnt about Ross Perot, I learnt about the young governor from Arkansas, and I learnt about American politics and foreign relations. As a 9 year old in 1991, after hearing from the Voice of America about series of sky hijacks, I excitingly told one of my close friends who is older than I am about it. He laughed me to stupidity. How could I suggest that someone can hijack a plane? How can I even conceive it? I was obviously hallucinated, to him. If I didn’t hear correctly, I would’ve thought that I was stupid as his ignorance was making him insinuate that I was. But I heard correctly and I stood my ground. 10 years later, 2001 heralds another major ski-hijack that resonated around the world. And my friend has come of age by then, lives in the city, and had access to cable TV. And he learnt about 9/11 and he believed. Something I told him about in 1991 and he couldn’t believe, he later came to believe in 2001. I wouldn’t have had that 10 years information edge over my older friend if not for my father introducing me to the world of international politics through his tiny radio. And for this I will forever be grateful to him.
My father is a decent family man married to a woman of his kind. They both were elementary school teachers and they both believed in education as the best pathway to social mobility. He has 8 kids with my mother and through determination, hard work, and focus; they both saw that we all have at the least, a college degree. In spite of meager salaries. They both had to deny themselves pleasures of life and material acquisition to realize their dreams for us. And by so doing they taught us about what matters in life and what does not. The values they instilled in us will remain indelible.
I am a man in his mid-career who has scored some successes in life. I dreamt of coming to the United States as a child and despite many roadblocks, I made it here. My father taught me tenacity. Some of the things I have achieved in life, I wouldn’t have achieved them if I were not living in the United States of America. And the future looks so bright.
To my father who not only inspired me to love this great country, but who also laid the foundation to the pathway that led to my coming here and living the American Dream, I owe it all to you. The reasons increases each day. But above all, you are my father. And I love you, Dad…….