One thing about most parents is that you can’t play with them, especially when they are the disciplinary type. My father was a teacher and a strict disciplinarian. He was the type who believed in the maxim he said, forgive the stick and pamper the child. So I really couldn’t play ball, ride my bike, jump, and laugh with my dad.
By a touch of fate, when I finished college, my father fell ill and never fully recovered until he passed away. But one day before he died, my dad surprised me. He said, Paul, sit down, let me teach you about generosity.
But before I share with you what my father taught me, this is a summary about my father. My father was a teacher. He was not just an ordinary teacher, he was a director. Along with bank directors, teachers were the most respected people in society at the time. My father had what was known as upper elementary school in those days, that was in the early fifties. Upper elementary school was probably the equivalent of a West African Council of Examinations certificate. But there is a big difference. My dad was taught the “white man” (the British). They instilled in him a sense of duty, hard work, and community. He hardly knew other teachers of his caliber.
My father excelled in agriculture and won awards. His barn was filled with a variety of yams, pumpkins, and other crops. Whenever agricultural shows were held in the catchment area, district, or division, my father always won. I vividly remember some of his exhibits that were bigger, taller and fatter than me. Some were so large that they had to be transported in hand-pushed trucks. Teachers from the surrounding schools flocked to learn from the magician, my father.
My father was as straight as an arrow when it came to integrity. All the relief materials during the civil war, amounting to thousands of tons (or millions of Naira if you will), were entrusted to my father. Interestingly, even when we were starving, he never took a pin, not even a can of sardine, home. I guess he thought we weren’t refugees. So I hated him for that reason. However, when I hear people in the government talking about corruption today, I remember my father with pride.
My father was extremely generous. Needless to say, he trained all of his brothers. They called him senior. No one called him by his first name. In church matters, he never came second. He made the highest donation of One Hundred Guineas (the equivalent of about a million dollars in today’s money) when the Catholic Cathedral was erected in my town in the early 1960s. By the donation of the church, the Catholic pontiff , Pope John XXIII, granted him a papal certificate.
He awarded numerous scholarships to homeless students wherever he went. However, my father never planned the recognition. One thing bothered me. My father never went to college, unlike most of his peers, contemporaries, and even young people. One day I criticized my father. I asked him why he didn’t go to college and mentioned the names of his contemporaries and young people alike. The answer my father gave me amazed me and set off alarms in my head, mind and heart.
My father said he never went to college because he was never nominated by the church. It was incredible! This was a man who received a papal award for his contribution to the growth of the church. My grandfather had previously donated the land where the church was built. So why didn’t the church nominate him to go to college? I also asked my father. My father dropped a bomb. He said the church doesn’t like people who tell the truth. Since then I have upheld my father’s claim about the Catholic Church as gospel truth.
By a stroke of luck, I got a job with one of the nation’s federal agencies upon graduating from college. The agency was created by the World Bank in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Federal Government of Nigeria. It was one of the best-run federal agencies in the country. The pay was one of the best, much better than commercial banks at the time. It was in my game. He had been blessed. I started where my father left off when it comes to generosity.
I made sure the entire clan was fed. I made sure to put all my cousins on my payroll. I extended a helping hand to my brothers. At the height of my innocence, my father took me aside one day and taught me a lesson. He told me, almost in passing, “if they gave medals for all the acts of generosity, there would be no place on my chest for the medals.” My father did not say a word on the subject again until he breathed his last. Around the same time I read a quote from Machiavelli that said, “If you earn a reputation for generosity, you will suffer.”