I was my father’s Obama. The real Obama is just more organized.
Do they have two heads?
The typical African parent will ask you if the person who got ahead of you in an exam or any contest in life has two heads? My parents never did that to me. I was usually the one with two heads that other parents urged their kids to chase after. I don’t know how they managed to do it. It was not the koboko or the flying slippers, those were meant for grave circumstances. It was more from subtle yet positive reinforcement.
My father knew his flaws and he knew that I knew those flaws. We never discussed them but he showed me he was proud when I didn’t repeat them. He also subtly mentioned overachievers like Maradona and Obama and how much they had achieved when they were my age. I got the message and never became big headed. I knew I just had to do more.
I was his eldest child but I spent the least time with him of all his kids. I ended up growing up on my own terms after leaving my parents at the age of 11 when they separated. I didn’t raise myself, I was raised by other father figures and mentors. I also learned their strength and their flaws until I started to discover mine too.
In primary school, my parents would take me out to dinner at a local hotel’s restaurant to eat “Club Sandwich” each time I was first in my class. It was a ritual that they never missed. I expected it because I knew I would always be best in my class. Being the best became part of my DNA, I never expected to be less than best.
Learning from failure and personal organization
I discovered failure all by myself and from my own doing. As a young child, I never failed in academics or even sport. I had almost total recall. I didn’t even need to read to pass exams. I was also very organized and confident. That confidence became a weakness later in life. It became my own flaw.
I finally started studying during my O-levels but only at the last minute and I still was able to get into the university at the age of 15. Even in that last minute study, I had a pattern. It was very methodical and organized. It was how I was never able to forget anything. It had to fit into a structure in my mind.
The first year of university tested me academically in ways that I didn’t previously know was possible. I almost flunked in the very first semester. I had to start learning a new way of learning. I also started learning new things like drinking beer and smoking. I found a lot of other distractions while trying to find myself. I finally found myself and regained my academic stride in my 3rd year. I learned how to conquer academics, again, it was about what helped me when I was much younger, it was all about being organized. I found a pattern and ended up making the best grades that year and even ended up in the Dean’s list.
I went through the same thing in business, I made all the mistakes because I didn’t really learn from my MBA. There was not much to learn anyway but I should have looked beyond. It took me another 10 years till I got to the UK and started learning from the mistakes of others instead of my own mistakes. I also learned that success in business came from being organized.
It was much later that I finally learned how organized my father was. It was the part of him that most people didn’t see. It was the part that would have made all the difference if he had also not let distractions take over. It was what he was always subtly trying to pull out of me. His handwriting was flawless, his record keeping meticulous.
My parents were always there as I went through all my struggles with failure. A word here or there from them helped to set me straight. They had much more confidence in me than I had in myself. They also did everything to make sure that I succeeded in the path that I chose.
When I decided not to go to medical school after my first degree, they accepted it. When I decided to go for an MBA, my father did everything to see that I got into the program. Sometimes even doing too much.
Preparing to go
I discovered my mortality when I died for a few minutes in hospital when I was 15, it shook me. I rediscovered it again at 21 when I was attacked by robbers in Lagos. Discovery of my mortal weakness was not truly tested until the day I heard that my father died 7 years ago. It was also that day that I discovered that he was building strength in me indirectly in preparation for his exit.
The last conversation we had face to face was weird. He mentioned that where he was going to was now closer than where he was coming from. He had started making alternative property arrangements for those he felt would be problematic when it came to my inheritance. I felt it didn’t make sense. I believed my father would always be there, until one day, I was told he was no more.
All what he was trying to avoid became the very problem he spoke about. That was the organized part of my father preparing for his final exit. It was my last lesson from him. It is the lesson I will pass on to my kids. The best way to succeed in life is not just to be smart or prepared, it is to be organized. Everything else is easier when you are organized.
I spent hours reorganizing my kitchen this evening when this hit me. I decided to put it all in a blog post as I remember my father who passed away 7 years ago today.
We miss you boss. You were my General.