Last year, I wrote an essay about my dad for Father’s Day. I had written poems for him before, but I wanted to better express how grateful I was to be a branch on his family tree which spanned from the West African nation of Ghana, which freed itself from the chokehold of British colonial rule in his lifetime, to the United States of America, another former British colony which is still trying to work on its democracy. I wanted the essay to serve as a well of good memories that he could draw upon whenever he felt like it. After my dad read the essay, he cried and gave me a hug. Until he actually died this past February, I had no idea that I would remember the essay as the last Father’s Day gift that I gave to him.
Even though my dad exposed me to science at an early age, for some reason, I thought that my older brother and I would be the only two people to have a father who was immortal. I believed that any brush with death would roll off his back like the morning dew on a leaf. I had already been so incredibly lucky to have his support throughout my life that even the impossible seemed possible.
Thus, things just did not seem the same after my father passed away. The Sunday after my dad’s death, church music did not feel right anymore. The notes sounded off-key because I was no longer within earshot of the person who opened the doors to opportunity for me. I felt like I was the directionless conductor of my life because I was thrown off by the fact that the most distinctive voice in my world was nowhere to be heard. While the rest of the congregation sang, tears slowly climbed out of my eyes like bitter molasses finding its way down an unfamiliar hill.
In the aftermath of my father’s passing, I now even see pictures of him through a different lens. In particular, I stared at one of his wedding photos with extra concentration almost as if I was hoping that through sheer force of will I could make him jump up out of the picture as a three-dimensional figure and start this whole fatherhood thing over again.
As I looked more at the photo’s sunny background, I also thought about how even though my parents met in Pennsylvania, they were both born and raised, and eventually married each other, in Ghana. It was in their home country—known for gold, kente cloth, highlife music, and a black star on its flag—that they decided to tie a knot that remained in place for over 41 years on Earth and will continue to bind them even though my father is now closer to the stars that are above all nations.
With all this in mind, when I looked at my dad’s smiling face as he stood next to my mom on their wedding day, my past and my future suddenly struck each other in my thoughts and sparked a few tears. I thought about how their wedding day served as the anchor for my Ghanaian-American life, and I also thought about how my father would not get to directly see me set sail on a new journey after my own Christian wedding. Although he was there to support me during my traditional Ghanaian engagement ceremony, he will instead have an angel’s eye view of me when I eventually follow in his footsteps by also getting married in a church.
Going forward, when I look into my father’s eyes in photos from his wedding day, his Howard University graduation day, or my brother’s birthday, those pictures will take on new meaning because they no longer just capture moments in history; they help form a multi-layered timeline of a soul that was established in Ghana, grew in America, and continues to soar like a bald eagle riding on a black star.Thus, when kente cloth—the colorful fabric which is interwoven with Ghana’s identity—was placed over his casket during the funeral, it was as if even though his body was to be soon permanently immersed in American soil, his spirit was baptized anew in Ghanaian culture as it prepared for its final voyage. Although I did not expect him to make this one last trip, I can at least take solace in the fact that he will carry his roots with him wherever he goes.