“Dad, how big is the heart?” a ten-year old me inquired.
“Make a tight fist with your hand,” he said in a half-whisper. “Like this..”
I made my fist into a ball, held it tight and gazed at it curiously.
“That’s how big your heart is. It beats every second, every minute, every hour, every day of your life,” he said.
“Doesn’t it ever get tired?” I asked.
“No, it doesn’t, it’s one of the strongest organs in your body, and when it tires, it stops and you die.”
Dad’s heart stopped beating ten years ago, but in my heart he lives on. He had battled illness for quite some time, first the back pains that came as suddenly as they left, sweeping through his body in spasms, at times so severe that he wore a thick back brace fitted under his expensive suits. Then there was the surgery he had when I was out of the country, the surgery that compromised his movement, that frustrated him as he learned to walk again and then with more physiotherapy to drive again. Then there was this, the prostrate cancer that ultimately took his last breath.
Death is such a robber, it has the ability to make people who are bristling with energy and movement go silent, go still and go stiff. Dad was a man always in motion, walking so briskly that as kids, one had to half-run to keep up with him, as he wove in and out of Kenyatta hospital where he worked; lecturing fifth year medical students and gently treating the sick. Speed seemed to be his motto. He drove so fast, cutting corners, screeching to abrupt stops, speeding off again; and because we never wore seat-belts; we often felt like cocktail shakers that had been jostled to and fro, up and down; after dizzying rides with him.
I attended many weddings and funerals with him, when other family members were not available to attend. It was strange that his funeral was the one funeral I wasn’t able to attend, and that he will never attend my wedding. Maybe those times of us together; talking, laughing and enjoying life are times I should cherish as a daddy’s girl, because he invested quite abit in me. On many nights growing up, when my body was wracked up in fever and knotted up in pain, he walked into the room with his medicine basket, pored over the right medication to give me, and made me well. When I had to undergo major surgery, he made sure I had the best medical team in the whole of Kenya, and even then, as things went awry under their watch, as I fought to stay alive, he kept awake and panicky; up to four nights straight when my life hang on a thin thread between life and the hereafter. My heart came close to stopping during those times, but my brother says love brought me back. Dad only slept well when I woke up from the coma.
I am alive today, largely because of the part he played through the years. There’s other reasons I celebrate dad, I cherish the fact that he introduced me to travel.
The very first time we all traveled with him was that time he set off for Montreal, Canada to specialize in renal medicine. He was there for two years, and we joined him the last eight months. I think I was about eight or so; I remember the harsh winters where snowflakes fell and spread out a thick white blanket for miles. I remember loving the taste of the creamy milk and chocolate cookies. I remember the lessons carried out in French at our school. My mum and siblings remember the whining about how cold it was, and when could we get back to Kenya, because in Kenya we always saw the sun, and we always went out to play, and we always wore light clothing.
So we came back.
After that, opportunities seemed to rain down for dad. He went on trips within and outside the country. Conference invites were thrown onto his laps along with air-tickets. Visas were easily given for the few countries that had visa restrictions. Big pharmaceutical companies sponsored him for the most part. He flew with countless airlines all over the globe, stayed in the swankiest of hotels. Our house was filled with brochures, pens, banners from Zandoz, Glaxo, Phillips and other pharmaceuticals; dad went for sabbaticals like he was taking a walk. Naturally, he came back with lots of stories, and gifts; perfumes, clothes, chocolates. I was gobsmacked. I loved to hear the stories, loved to pore over maps to locate the places he talked about; but he encouraged me to study hard, that the world was out there, waiting patiently for me to see it, that there would come a day that I would tire of flying, of being in different places or of eating strange foods.
I think he left me with the gift of travel. I love travel because of him, and instead of tiring of travel, I just want to go to more countries, see the world in all it’s splendor.
Sometimes I visualize him saying, “See, I told you so..a day would come that you would travel.”
Other times, I observe as his face draws out a frown. Frowning at my travels to anywhere and everywhere, whether it includes hopscotching to cities like Mogadishu in Somalia, or taking in archaeological sights at the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, or snorkeling in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand or walking the length of the River Thames in the U.K, or viewing wildlife in the Maasai Mara.
I hear him saying, not that kind of travel...and my response is, ‘Dad, being holed up in conferences the whole day, discussing illnesses and medicines, hearty laughter with colleagues over hour-long buffet lunches, only to slump over in bed at a swanky hotel room isn’t my kind of travel. I’m here to see the world…’
I wish my dad was here. It would have been lovely to travel someplace with him.
Happy Father’s Day, dad!